“I imagine it’s pretty difficult to get a Taco Cannon approved in a Live Nation meeting,” joked festival co-founder James Moody, distinguishing Fun Fun Fun -- tongue firmly, prankishly in cheek -- from the rest of the festival marketplace.
Moody, who heads up Fun Fun Fun’s marketing and advertising, and co-founder Graham Williams -- who heads up the festival’s booking and managed Austin live-music institution Emos -- have produced one of the fastest-growing festivals of its kind in America. Per its internal numbers, total attendance last year broke 50,000, a nearly 500 percent increase since 2009 -- putting it in the mix with hometown festival juggernauts South by Southwest and C3’s Austin City Limits. Last year, Fun Fun Fest was one of Google’s most-searched-for fests, right alongside them.
Still, FFF has stayed relatively low-key in a booming and crowded festival market nationwide. Compared to the rest of the Live Nation/AEG-dominated field, Fun Fun Fun could seem like some Keep Austin Weird lark. Indeed, Fun Fun Fun likes to distinguish itself as an underdog, most of all with its social-media marketing, full of memes and jokes. Even ACL, recently announcing its lineup, seems to have taken some cues this year.
“I like to think that I add a fresh voice that our younger audience can relate to,” said Bianca Flores, the festival’s marketing manager and curator of its social-media voice since 2012. “I never thought I would be able to make a living playing on the Internet all day.”
Billboard sat down with Fun Fun Fun Fest founders -- Williams, 37 and Moody, 39 -- and two of the acts they’ve helped reunite over the last decade to talk about the festival’s most memorable moments, its growth, booking diverse talent and what’s next for that crazy Taco Cannon.
Billboard: Fun Fun Fun is one of a handful of fests known for pulling great legacy bookings. What’s the motivation behind that?
Williams: Just a core belief that the independent music scene is all connected, from hip-hop to DJs to indie rock to punk and beyond. The same goes for the different generations of the genres, not just the genres themselves. So [past FFF bookings] from the ’70s like Television or Public Image Limited, ’80s acts like Run-D.M.C. or Descendents or ’90s bands like Hum or Jurassic 5 are pieces of the puzzle that make up the scene.
Rob Halford: Judas Priest welcome any opportunity to fly the flag of metal, especially at such a well-known event like Fun Fun Fun. I think all of us have a different take on how we enjoyed the experience. For me, it was the eclectic mix of artists taking part all under the banner of music for everyone! Obviously, our focus was on the metal and our fans but as far as the overall inclusion and good times we had put together by FFF we felt the whole deal was extraordinary!
Williams: Kids are now finding out about new bands and have all these older bands to thank for it, since most new bands cite the legacy acts and classic bands from their genre as their main influence for a new wave of music. So whether it's giving the older act a platform for a new audience or giving the older fans a chance to see these acts that rarely or never play, there’s a pretty equal balance.
Would you say that’s a main draw? What do you think attracts festivalgoers to that? Would you say it’s worked?
Williams: It's key to not only do one thing. All “hipster stuff” won't work for what we do and all old-school acts won't either. It's a mix of acts that make sense and work well together that makes the fest flow nicely. We're lucky that our audience is such a mix of ages and fans too. I go to Coachella every year but nobody watches the older acts, since [most] of the ticket buyers are kids now. It's even like that a bit at Pitchfork Festival too. Where some fests like ours, Primavera Sound and a few others seem to have a more diverse audience and enough fans of every kind of band. So usually, certain acts don't have to play to a small crowd. Instead, they get their time in the limelight.
Fun Fun Fun Fest: Snoop Dogg, Slayer, Television Top Eclectic Austin Lineup
?In 2012, Reverend Run of Run-D.M.C. credited FFF with getting Run-D.M.C. to play again. How’d you pull that off?
Williams: Well, being that they were the first cassette tape that I owned, I made it a goal. It was the fire that pushed me to hustle on that one. We were trying to find that “one act” for 2012 and I came across [Run-D.M.C.] on a roster of an agency we do shows with. I hit up the responsible agent… He hit me back that he had just had a meeting with them about it being the ten-year anniversary of Jam Master Jay's death and they were considering doing something special.
Rev. Run: It was perfect timing for Run-D.M.C. when FFF approached us. I got a call from management, then me and D.M.C. sat together and made a collective decision. FFF offered the perfect environment for Run-D.M.C. fans. It’s the type of festival that puts up unlikely acts that you wouldn’t find playing together. They put all genres under one roof!
Williams: We put together a big [presentation] and just really sold them on the idea that we're a unique event that, like Run-D.M.C., never believed in being [just] one thing and instead embracing music as a whole. It didn't hurt that Public Enemy had a good experience the year before and, apparently, [frontman] Chuck D put in a good word for us.
Reverend Run: We would definitely come back and play Fun Fun Fun Fest again. It was an experience we will never forget.
What are some dormant legacy acts you haven’t booked yet that you’d like to score for future years? Ones you’d like to bring back from the past ten years of Fun Fun Fun Fests?
Williams: Lord, that list is a mile long and some of them are highly unlikely. But if ten years ago, you'd told me we'd be reuniting Run-D.M.C., getting Television to play the United States again or getting Descendents’ first show after a decade-long hiatus, I'd have told you to go fuck yourself and stop teasing me. So anything is possible. Fugazi is our number-one most-asked-for band [but] I just can't imagine they'd do FFF, or any fest for that matter. Jawbreaker is a big one. N.W.A. with someone filling in for Eazy, what with the film coming out. [There’s] Aphex Twin, Bikini Kill and the list goes on and on.
Let’s go through some of the memorable moments of the past ten years: Glenn Danzig’s onstage meltdown around his legacy set in 2011. Take us through that fiasco in terms of logistics, how you two and the crew dealt with it behind the scenes.
Moody: Graham was dealing with the drama all day via [Danzig’s] manager and agent, who were all equally frustrated with what was going on. The weather was great, everything was good to go. But somehow, [Danzig] landed in Texas and decided immediately it was too cold and he wanted to go home. He actually tried to tell us to move the festival inside. So we knew it was going to be a long day… He requested two things: French Onion soup (real French Onion soup from the Four Seasons) and a Wendy’s chicken sandwich... Anyway, that was all part of the build up to him arriving on site and an unending string of clusterfucks unraveled into the most epic meltdown in FFF history. The main reason I was bummed about Danzig melting down on us is because we didn’t get a good set. We are all fans.
Williams: We jumped through so many hoops for that dude: lighting rig, stage size, PA system and he tried to use every production excuse to get out of playing, finally saying, “I'm sick. I got a deathbug.” He went on stage 45 minutes late, losing half of his set. We explained that he needed to cut some Danzig songs, so he could still play the Misfits/Samhain songs that were scheduled for the last half of his set. He didn't. By the time the band did one or two Samhain songs, we had to pull the plug. [There were] city rules in the park and we're not having the festival screwed for the rest of the weekend due to one childish outburst. [Danzig] stood on stage trying to incite a riot from the crowd because ‘The fest won't let him play!’ but most of the crowd walked away or laughed him off the stage. The few that bought his bullshit took to the Internet and we had to make a public statement to squash the rumors he started. We had planned on taking the high ground, but didn't have a choice. We told everyone the full nasty story about their hero and his bullshit and lack of respect for his fans. It backfired on him. I felt kinda bad for him, as he's a guy people love to hate, in a way, and he's sort of an emperor-wears-no-clothes kinda person surrounded by yes men. I don't think he expected the blowback.
During FFF7 in 2012, director Terrence Malick shot his forthcoming film Weightless on site. I recall spotting Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Val Kilmer around the grounds or on stage. I’ve never heard of a major Hollywood film -- not a documentary, not a concert film -- with big stars being shot on site, during peak hours, at a music festival before. How did the logistics of that work?
Moody: Man, I have no idea. That whole thing still creeps me out.
Williams: A friend of ours was working as an assistant to Malick and [the film crew] had been shooting at various music events. We gave them a lot of access, as we thought it would be fun and were friends with some of them. It ended up being great, hilarious and a spectacle in a good way. Gosling and [Mara were] making out side stage, the band [in the film] almost got puked on by The Black Lips, Kilmer cut his hair wielding a chainsaw... It was fun. Plus, most of them seemed genuinely into the bands playing.
This kind of stuff must help the festival be more visible. Did it do that, successfully, you think? Did it bring the kind of attention you want? I know FFF likes to stay separate from the mainstream and having Hollywood stars there seems like the opposite of that.
Williams: That stuff just sort of happens. We don't actively try to do that. Lots of fests invite celebrities and make a thing out of it. If people are there and shit happens, it happens because it's real and unique and people will want to see it and write about it. Whether it involves a guy nobody knows crowdsurfing all weekend in his wheelchair, Henry Rollins marrying a couple on stage or Fassbender on stage with The Black Lips filming a movie, sometimes it's just weird and that's cool.
Do you think, with your growth, you’ll outgrow the venue in coming years?
Williams: It's hard to say, as you never know when dealing with a city park, which we don't have control over. But as of now, we're happy with the location and size. We love the city and location but I am a little jealous of the Bonnaroos of the world that literally own their own land and [have the] ability to be flexible.
Moody: Size-wise, I feel like we have reached a sweet spot for what fans want: accessible, different, creative, fun, and still as much about discovery as we are nostalgia. All of those ideals dictate what the size of the event will be because they are purposely self-limiting.
After ten years, has FFF found a resting pulse creatively and/or commercially, do you think? You’ve added comedy, extreme sports, the Taco Cannon and so on to a unique lineup of music so far. Do you think there’s more to add or change?
Moody: I think we will always test boundaries because we hate it when the big events just push out the same old thing over and over again.
Williams: Every year, we add more. We may even take stuff away if it feels stale. Someday, I want a taco catapult that shoots more than a cannon. It's about the fans and their needs/wants and delivering 100 tacos at once sounds a little classier than a dozen or so from a gun.
Fun Fun Fun has added so many of these non-music aspects to its experience. What’s the broader festival experience you want FFF attendees to leave with on this, it’s tenth year, and for years to come?
Moody: Coming up with new, goofy ideas is a pretty organic process for everyone [on staff], because we are fans too and we want it to feel different. We want everyone to laugh. We want FFF attendees to always leave with a story… and with the expectation that something super unexpectedly weird and hilarious will always go down at FFF no matter what.
Williams: We took a general vote of the staff on what we'd like to see and it was almost unanimous that dragons needed to be involved [in future festivals]. That and a Millennium Falcon on site you can go inside but I feel like the licensing from Disney/LucasArts would be more than our talent budget. If Star Wars would like to promote their newest movie to a bunch of fans, hit up our marketing department. We have room for you!
The Taco Cannon is a sensation among FFF attendees. How did this even get started? How was it conceptualized?
Moody: I think the concept arrived inside of some beer drinking. I remember being on YouTube and someone was shooting t-shirts into a crowd at a Duke game or something. The idea was taking [it] and making it better and perhaps more delicious. So the Taco Cannon was born… After a few misfires, we figured out how to package the [taco] ammunition properly and it worked. Next thing you know, we are on Good Morning America!
Fun Fun Fun Fest 2015 lineup:
Jane’s Addiction (performing Ritual de lo habitual), D’Angelo and The Vanguard, CHVRCHES, Future Islands, RIDE, Cheap Trick, ANTEMASQUE, Toro y Moi, American Football, The Growlers, Fuzz, Mikal Cronin, The Charlatans UK, Viet Cong, Alvvays, Speedy Ortiz, Murder By Death, Cass McCombs, Steve Gunn, BRONCHO, Grifters, Creepoid, East Cameron Folkcore, A Giant Dog, Think No Think, Ringo Deathstarr
Wu-Tang Clan, Chromeo, Schoolboy Q, Grimes, ODESZA, Neon Indian, Rae Sremmurd, MSTRKRFT, Hudson Mohawke, Gesaffelstein (DJ set), Peaches, Joey Bada$$, Big Freedia, Afrika Bambaataa, Slow Magic, Lido, Doomtree, BADBADNOTGOOD, Anamanaguchi, Shamir, Bomba Estereo, Snakehips, TOPS, Haelos, Two-Nine, Roger Sellers, The Outfit, TX, SURVIVE
Venom, NOFX, Gogol Bordello, Coheed and Cambria, Drive Like Jehu, L7, Dag Nasty, Desaparecidos, American Nightmare, Converge, Chain of Strength, Skinny Puppy, Babes in Toyland, Parquet Courts, OFF!, La Dispute, Title Fight, Fucked Up, Head Wound City, Dwarves (performing Blood, Guts & Pussy), King Khan and BBQ Show, Benjamin Booker, Andrew Jackson Jihad, Nothing, together PANGEA, Power Trip, Joanna Gruesome, American Sharks, Future Death