What Makes Fun Fun Fun Fest Fun Fun Fun
From the taco cannon to the "I'm With Gosling" underwear, why the Austin music festival that's not SXSW or ACL delivers on its name.
When Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest started in 2006, it wasn’t really meant to give the city yet another national event, but in its second year on Auditorium Shores, that’s what its become. This year, it marked the final chapter of a four-weekend arts-and-culture marathon that also included the Austin City Limits Festival, the Austin Film Festival, the Austin Book Festival and, just for good measure, Austin Comic-Con and the Austin Record Convention.
Fun Fun Fun’s move to the Shores was incidental (its smaller former home of Waterloo Park is undergoing lengthy renovations), but, having made it, the festival now brings in bigger headliners (some of whom have grown right along with Fun Fun Fun) and draws a bigger crowd–never more so than this year, when Run DMC headlined on Friday.
At the same time, the four-stage festival remains a smaller and more user-friendly musical experience, with total attendance still no more than 18,000 people. That’s less than a quarter of the size of ACL, and only a bit more than the number of people SXSW can bring to Auditorium Shores for music on a single stage.
Here are ten reasons why the festival delivers on its name:
1. Because Jay Z ripped them off
Rap and hip-hop pioneers Run-DMC had not been booked to play a show for thirteen years when Fun Fun Fun announced them in July.
“I’m like, yeah, I want to have some fun fun fun,” Joseph “Run” Simmons said onstage Friday night about the offer.
Except that once that possibility existed, rapper Jay Z stole away the festival’s “first” bragging rights by getting the duo to play his Made in America festival over Labor Day in Philadelphia.
(Fun Fun Fun Fest, Dave Mead)
But hey, if the biggest hip-hop star in the world needs help from a small booking and promotions company in Austin to get ideas for his events, at least he’s got good taste. We look forward to Blue Ivy’s set at FFF 2027.
2. Every stage is really two
At FFF, three of the four stages are actually double-sized, so while one band is playing on the left, another sets up on the right. This inevitably leads to at least one incident where the band that’s setting up accidentally intrudes upon a quiet moment from the band that’s playing, but it’s worth it for the payoff: No waiting around between bands.
Granted, that makes it harder to get beer (and makes for longer lines to do so), but there’s little downside to a music festival with fewer drunk people. And you get to see more bands.
3. Frank’s headliner-tribute hot dogs
Having unveiled the “Slayer Dog” last year, the Austin hot dog emporium tripled the gimmick for FFF7. If you were wondering why Run DMC’s dog is Colombian, well, the answer lies in their home base of Queens.
Don’t mind if we refuse the Refused Dog, though.
4. The Tapas Experience
For me, a festival set is only great when it is greater than the sum of its parts. The setting and the crowd elevates the band to a place it can’t get to playing seventy minutes at a club or theater.
Because otherwise, if I like the band, I’d rather see them playing seventy minutes at a club or theater–not for 35 minutes at 3pm.
But because festival sets can be more ephemeral, it’s also fun to just embrace that, and suck up as much music as you can in fifteen minute chunks. Friday, I successfully saw two songs by Against Me!, six songs of X, a little chunk of Bun B and a good deal of Run DMC in, well, seventy minutes.
5. The Black Stage’s Lack of Diversity
Fun Fun Fun is an aggressively eclectic festival, but there’s also something to be said for aesthetic purity. The Orange Stage is for headliners and the alternative/indie-kitchen sink, the dance/hip-hop-driven Blue Stage can go off in all sorts of direction, and the Black Stage keeps one promise every time–it will be loud.
Whether its punk, metal, hardcore, noise, thrash, art-rock, drone or hardcore, the stage closest to the Lamar Blvd. side of Auditorium Shores is where the crowd gets most amped up, and where the atmosphere does indeed make for something that transcends a club show – even as it is the FFF stage that feels the most like being in a club.
6. The Nites
FFF is actually two festivals–the one that ends on Auditorium Shores at 10 p.m., and the one that keeps going until 2 a.m. in clubs around town. ACL does that as well, but those shows require separate tickets, and with the same bands you can see during the daytime (treating fans who manage to get tickets to a smaller-venue gig).
Whereas FFF puts a mix of repeat bands and completely different bands into the clubs. Friday night, Mumiy Troll, a Russian act that has been around since 1983, played the Parish to a mostly-Russian crowd, its frontman Ilya Lagutenko as flamboyant as anyone who played the Shores in what appeared to be a “Tigger” cape.
And Saturday at Red 7 I caught three national touring bands–the Intelligence, the Blind Shake and King Tuff– in ninety minutes between 1 a.m. and 2:30 a.m., thanks to the return of daylight standard time.
7. This piece of official Fun Fun Fun Fest merchandise
Why? Read on?
8. Terence Malick.
By now, you’re just as likely to run into film director Terence Malick, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, and various and sundry other movie stars in Austin as you are Matthew McConaughey.
Malick’s untitled, shrouded-in-mystery-as-usual film saw Christian Bale at ACL 2011, followed by the memetastic appearance of Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara at FFF6.
And then ACL came around again, and Gosling, Mara and Michael Fassbender were all there. Cate Blanchett was also in town. And then Fassbender and Natalie Portman turned up at the Texas-Baylor game (and not because McConaughey invited them).
So, when the FFF schedule included a thirty-minute “special performance by The Black Lips,” and the Black Lips had just played ACL (with Mara onstage with them, and Gosling looking on) four weeks ago, it was pretty obvious this was a set for Malick’s benefit.
Ho-hum. So predictable.
Or not. As Chad Swiatecki reported for Rolling Stone, Mara and the Black Lips were joined this time by Val Kilmer, who proceeded to make The Doors jokes at his own expense, introduced Mara as “Miley Cyrus” and eventually took a chainsaw to an amplifier and a Bowie knife to his own (not-real) hair. He also brandished a walker.
9. Because even Canadian hardcore bands can’t resist Friday Night Lights
With his band F***ed Up booked on the Black Stage at the same time as Austin’s Explosions in the Sky were on the Orange Stage, Damian Abraham took a moment to praise the band and the TV show it is is so closely associated with, saying that the show is actually how he discovered their music (Abrahams’ own band has also been used on the show, to considerably different effect).
10. The Taco Cannon
You read all about it Friday, and now, here it is in action: