This past Wednesday, the Philadelphia 76ers showed off the world's largest "T-shirt cannon" at its NBA season opener. But you can't eat a t-shirt. And sure, there's also hot dog launchers (which, curiously, were pioneered in Philadelphia as well). But wouldn't you rather have a taco?
Enter Fun Fun Fun Fest, the Austin music festival which kicks off its seventh incarnation today at Auditorium Shores. They've got Run DMC, Bun B, Girl in a Coma, Explosions in the Sky, and many other national and Texas bands booked for the weekend. But they've also got a taco cannon.
Based on the same technology that propels t-shirts, Fun Fun Fun's tortilla weapon is a twelve-chambered, CO2 canister-powered Gatling-style ordnance that will be on the festival's various stages at least twice a day, shooting off an assortment of tacos. Just like in a war movie, one guy fires the cannon, with two more taco soldiers on hand for re-loading.
Fun Fun Fun was already a tacocentric festival, having included a "taco locator" feature in its iPhone and Android app for the past two years. The cannon was ultimately developed in partnership with Torchy's Tacos.
"Torchy's did the R&D on the ammunition, we did the R&D on the artillery," says Matt Mandrella, the marketing director for festival promoter Transmission Entertainment.
He isn't really kidding. Before its initial unveiling at August's Fun Fun Fun "Aqua Olympics," the cannon went through lots of high-end testing to make sure its ammunition would both fire and not disintegrate. Picture a scene from Iron Man , except with bearded Austinites instead of Tony Stark, and shredded cheese intead of uranium.
"We spent a good solid week trying to figure out what to use, and what we needed to wrap things with," says Mandrella. "We would just get everything from frozen burritos from the grocery store to fresh street tacos to Taco Bell and Taco Cabana. We kind of got through it at the Water Olympics, and then Torchy's gave us some good insight—how you can shoot a taco 200 feet and it will still hold up to where you can eat it."
A misfired taco doesn't exactly explode (the way some hot dogs in major league ballparks have ), but, says Torchy's director of marketing and communications Brittany Neighbors Platt, "until we figured out the best wrapping method, we were shooting off many more chalupas than tacos."
"We'd never consider an explosion a catastrophe, however," she continues. "There's no crying over spilled beans."
Each chamber of the cannon is big enough for two tacos, so what ultimately worked was to wrap them together in a something sturdier than foil or paper ("something that's not going to shred," says Mandrella), secure the package further with rubber bands, and then wrap it up a second time in a bandana (which many people found useful on dusty Auditorium Shores last festival) or t-shirt.
"The idea is to keep the taco tight, but also treat it like a lady," says Platt. "The cannon is a fierce piece of machinery, so swaddling the taco with a bit of extra love helps secure its successful launch."
At the festival, there will also be some select "golden ticket"-style tacos, with backstage passes tucked into a few tortilla envelopes.
Platt delivers both a culinary judgment and a weaponry analysis when she makes the case for tacos over tube steaks.
"The taco has a a greater carrying capacity than a hot dog," she says. "The cylindrical shape of the tortilla provides a stabilized cartridge for a more advanced trajectory. The caliber of a taco is simply superior."
With a few dozen double-servings of hefty Torchy's Tacos traveling 200 feet in a big crowd of music fans, one might think the festival would worry about liability, but no more so than the average sports team. (A bit of personal advice from years of covering minor league hockey: be more afraid of the people near you trying to catch the freebie flying object than the actual freebie flying object.)
Mandrella says that they've already found it's not a huge concern, having also run more recent test-runs outside Torchy's Trailer Park in Austin.
"We've actually had a couple of people hit in the head, and we know there's been no pain involved," he says. "[The victims] were more like, 'oh man, I got hit in the head by a taco. It was great!'"
Plus, of course, they're only soft tacos.
"No Doritos Locos tacos here," Mandrella jokes.