Among a population used to nearly nine months of summer each year, just a couple of days of cold and gloomy conditions can cause some seasonal depression. So after Fun Fun Fun Fest’s on-and-off rainy first day and a second that yielded Austin, Texas’ most wintry weather so far this season, Sunday’s consistently blue skies and pleasant, 60-degree sunshine felt like a fresh take for the festival, which celebrated its 10th anniversary with tens of thousands of attendees over the three-day run (Nov. 6-8) in the heart of the city’s downtown at Auditorium Shores.
The climate shift provided a late-but-not-too-late reinvigoration: Fest-goers could finally don bizarro (fest-appropriate) getups instead of cowering about, bundled and shivering inside thick coats, and countless kiddos attended alongside dedicated parents. Likewise, the most spirited interchanges of the weekend abounded between fans and key performers like Chromeo, Big Freedia, ODESZA, L7, Ms. Lauryn Hill and Venom. Here are a handful of those standout moments.
2:20 p.m.: The crowd for Title Fight at the Black Stage is harnessing the life-giving power of the sun. A new stage-diver/crowd-surfer launches him or herself from the middle catwalk every few seconds. One fan even rides on a body board — which he must’ve brought with this plan in mind. It’s hilarious and uplifting to witness. Forecast says “surf’s up” for the duration of this clear-skied day.
3:55 p.m.: Minneapolis-based indie hip-hop collective Doomtree isn’t drawing nearly as many people as Wu-Tang Clan did the night before, but the crowd gathered at the Blue Stage is 100 percent more faithful. While a sadly scant population of the Clan’s crowd knew the lyrics or lore (one genius threw up a West Coast hand sign when RZA asked to see Ws in the air), the small army of Doomtree die-hards is loudly shouting back the socially conscious lyrics to songs like “No Way” and “Low Light Low Life.” When Cecil Otter, one of the outfit’s four MCs present this day, asks who has and hasn’t seen them previously and the latter question draws more cheers, he replies, “Good, that’s kinda why we’re doing this.” The group is putting in the work to positively promote third album All Hands (released in January) and visibly succeeding.
5 p.m.: New Orleans’ widely touted Queen of Bounce Music, Big Freedia, is solidifying why he’s the only artist to have performed five total times over four nonconsecutive years at FFF. The crowd is easily the biggest the Blue Stage has drawn all weekend, providing ample contenders when Freedia calls for people to climb onstage for a twerking contest during mainstay track “Azz Everywhere.” One can’t help but feel slightly off-put when there are more 10-and-under children atop parents’ shoulders during the visually an lyrically explicit display than at any other show of the day, but the FFF veteran finishes gracefully with a touching sentiment: “Tonight is really special for us because we performed here five years ago. We have definitely grown in those five years, so thanks to those who continue to support New Orleans bounce music.” Bounce on, Freedia.
7:25 p.m.: Between MSTRKRFT wrapping up a high-octane DJ set on the Blue Stage and Chromeo kicking off the largest electro set of the weekend on the massive Orange Stage, there was hardly anybody not locked into a solid dance groove between 6-8 p.m. North Carolina-based synth-pop outfit Future Islands is swooping in now on the Blue Stage to keep those vibes alive. The high-energy set feels more momentous than ever when frontman Samuel Herring remarks, “I feel like we’ve gone places together. Fun Fun Fun was actually one of he first big fests we played (in 2011), so thanks for giving us a shot.” The masses are certainly here for their return, but it feels slightly less triumphant than it should with such minimal lighting. Herring’s agro-dance theatrics are one of the group’s main draws, and the inability to witness them — even on the adjacent Jumbotron — is a significant bummer.
8:30 p.m.: Ms. Lauryn Hill hits the stage only 13 minutes late and kicks off her set with something slightly different than the norm: She sits down on a front-and-center couch with her massive band behind her to play classical guitar rhythms on “Mystery of Iniquity”, “Ex-Factor” and Fugees cut “How Many Mics.” It’s a slightly underwhelming beginning, but Hill’s intermittent grins show she’s in high spirits, and that positivity cuts through splendidly when she stands up to rap through fierce renditions of “Lost Ones,” “Fu-Gee-La” and “Ready Or Not.”
Her punctuality in this case (she’s notoriously at least an hour late to most gigs) is paying off — a sizable crowd (albeit small group relative to Jane’s Addiction’s Saturday draw) is going ape for her. I’d harbored doubts she could fill the shoes of D’Angelo, but she’s just surpassed the 10 p.m. sound curfew – power cut, no sound – and everyone is content to help her finish closing number “Doo Wop (That Thing)” (now acoustic) with an inspiringly loud, en-masse chorus. All in all, the show wraps as one of the most successful Hill outings of the last decade and provides FFF Fest the ending oomph it needed to make its 10th anniversary a memorable affair.