When Austin started billing itself as the Live Music Capital of the World, it forgot the first rule of nicknames: You don’t get to give them to yourself. And sure enough, the declaration had unintended consequences. As soon as it went into effect, every taco shack and barbecue joint in town decided it too needed to be a live music venue. So now you can’t eat an enchilada plate in Austin without having to endure some songwriter who should have left his guitar in his dorm room when he got out of college. These days, a corollary slogan begs a new bumper sticker: Live Music Can Ruin Just About Anything.
But this weekend’s Fun Fun Fun Fest represents the dog that wags the tail, not the other way around. It’s driven by Austin’s Red River scene, the four-block stretch of garage rock, punk, and indie pop clubs running from Sixth Street to just shy of Waterloo Park, FFF’s home since it began in 2006. By then the strip was already the heart of live music in Austin, a place where tattooed misfits mixed with button-downed hipsters the way hippies and rednecks used to blend at the Armadillo. “What FFF books is my concept,” says festival mastermind Graham Williams, the longtime Austin talent booker who turned Red River club Emo’s into one of the country’s most important punk venues when he started scheduling shows there in 1993. “It’s for kids on the scene who don’t go to other festivals. It’s independent music, what once would have been called punk. But now that means a lot of other things, all under the umbrella of progressive music.”
So it’s a niche festival. But for the kids who will go, the niche has breadth. They’ll see old school and underground hip-hop, like Pharcyde and the Cool Kids; quirky pop acts like Japanese girl group Shonen Knife and inscrutable Canadian songwriter Destroyer; fabled punk bands like Death and Gorilla Biscuits; and also acts that seemed to make sense to Williams, like hard-drinking Memphis bar band Lucero and heavy metal comedian Brian Posehn. “We go from Missions of Burma to Of Montreal,” says Williams. “That’s the post-punk indie sound by the band that started it to the ones who are doing it now.”
Still, the easier way to understand FFF may be this: My old boss enjoyed taking his kids to the Austin City Limits Music Festival. The person in the office now who’s most excited about FFF is the intern who got busted last weekend for skateboarding in our parking garage. He’s fired up to go see Wu-Tang Clan founding member GZA perform his album Liquid Sword in its entirety. Says James Moody, a Red River club owner and Williams’s partner at Transmission Entertainment, the festival’s promoter, “Fun Fun Fun is where kids take their dads to show him what they like to listen to.”
No one should confuse FFF with ACL. First off there’s those lineups—not even Sunday’s headlining act, Danzig, would make sense at ACL. Then there’s FFF’s trademark skateboard half-pipe and mechanical bull. And there’s the size of the crowd. While ACL attracts 65,000 people to each of its three days on Auditorium Shores, FFF is hoping to have 9,000 attendees. “The park would look like a World Cup game if 10,000 people come,” says Moody. “We’d have faces pressed against the fences. That’s not going to happen.” And since FFF-goers aren’t apt to be football fans, Williams and Moody don’t have to schedule the festival when the Longhorns are out of town, like ACL does. UT is in fact playing a home game this weekend, just six blocks away. “There’s not a lot of overlap there,” said Moody. “But there is a nice Only-in-Austin feel to the idea that you can go see the Horns in the day and then walk down and see the Jesus Lizard at night.”
As should be obvious, the FFF name doesn’t come from the Beach Boys tune. Fun Fun Fun was also the title to a 1982 song by the Big Boys, heroes of Austin’s early punk rock scene. And they were singing not about girls and their T-Birds but English post-punk bands Joy Division and Public Image, Ltd.
“This is the last bastion of what I moved to Austin for in the first place,” said Moody, who grew up in New Orleans. “I don’t mean to beat my chest about it, but this kind of thing isn’t done anymore. It’s punk, its hip-hop, it’s DJs, it’s local. And it’s all independent.”
Visit the Fun Fun Fun Web site for details and schedule.