by Brian Audette
“Fun, Fun, Fun that’s what we play
Fun, Fun, Fun that’s what we say
Fun, Fun, Fun no matter what they say
Fun, Fun, Fun we’ll have some anyway”
– Big Boys, Fun Fun Fun
A blazing Texas sun hangs high in the sky. Temperatures approach the officially recognized “scorching” range. One thing is abundantly clear: it’s officially summer and that means music festivals. With school books closed, the mercury rising, and nary a cloud in the sky, across much of the country this is the perfect time of year for multi-day, multi-stage music extravaganzas such as Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Warped. Rather than suffer the sun’s UV onslaught amid sweltering heat, summer in Austin is more about taking a dip in Barton Springs Pool or devouring heaping servings of Amy’s Ice Creams. That doesn’t mean we don’t contribute to festival season though, we just prefer to close it out, post-September with Austin City Limits and FunFunFun Fest. As of last month both festivals have announced their line ups and don’t you worry, I’ve got my opinions and I’m here to share.
Our biggest festival (outside of SXSW) is as usual the dual weekend spanning Austin City Limits or as I’ve taken to calling it: Coachella Texas. This will be my third year in a row skipping ACL and despite some interest in the lineup, I don’t regret it at all. It’s not the music though, it’s the crowd. You’ve likely heard me and other Austin audiophiles complaining about people who go to shows and seem to do anything other than listen to the music. While such nuisances infect even small local shows, their ideal habitat is an undefined radius surrounding mainstream musicians. This makes ACL a prime location for colonization, amplifying the normal problems 100 times over. Like California’s Coachella, ACL has become a place to hang out, to be seen, and to say afterward that you “were there”. If you choose to attend the festival this October you’ll be joining a crowd of too-cool hipsters, shirtless bros, hippie parents with their free-range progeny, hula-hoopers, and middle-aged stoners sitting in the shade at the auditory boundary of all possible music sources. If you’re lucky, you may stumble upon a handful of like-minded individuals who actually came to hear the music, even if it is just “that one song” they like.
While the lineup (including acts like Pearl Jam, Beck, Jenny Lewis, Tune-Yards, The Avett Brothers, and Spoon) is in my opinion the best since my first ACL 4 years ago, I’m just tired of navigating that kind of crowd, especially at the price ACL passes go for. I hate to sound cliche, but … it used to be about the music, at least that’s the way I felt. Though the transition of ACL from music event to happening is largely a result of pop culture trends that treat music as fashion, there is no denying that ACL promoter C3 Presents has steered the festival deliberately toward its current incarnation. I guess I can’t blame them for grabbing a piece of the mega-festival pie and I’m sure there’s plenty to enjoy for those who decide to attend, but I just don’t have it in me to participate anymore.
In a similar milieu, but with an ethos maintaining a more music-cetric, indie-friendly experience (and far fewer hula-hoopers … seriously, what’s with these people?) November brings us FunFunFun Fest. For the past three years this has been my late-year music festival of choice and my experiences have caused me to place enough trust in the promoters to pre-purchase my 3-day passes well in advance of the late spring lineup announcement.
It should come as no surprise to readers of this column that a show with an entire stage devoted to punk and metal would strike my fancy. In all honestly though, while the lineup of FunFunFun’s Black Stage manages to maintain the tradition of meatier music with a selection of heavy and light weights including Judas Priest, King Diamond, Rocket From The Crypt, and locals Crooked Bangs, as a whole it skews away from my punk and metal wheelhouse this year, although I am psyched for Gorilla Biscuits. The Blue Stage (while less “my thing”) has always had a couple artists I’m looking forward to and this year is no exception, with major acts like Girl Talk (who I missed at FFF two years ago due to a schedule conflict), Atmosphere, and locals Zorch. The Orange Stage, while often my least attended of the four (including the Yellow/comedy stage) actually has my favorite overall lineup this year. While the reunion of 90’s space rockers Failure (one of my top 5 all-time faves for nearly 20 years) is more than enough to justify my price for admission, the inclusion of Deathcab for Cutie and Neutral Milk Hotel (bands that would have been ACL-only a couple years back) along with Guided by Voices, Knapsack, Tinariwen, and locals Mineral and The Sour Notes more than makes up for my Black Stage malaise.
At the end of the day FunFunFun Fest has a great lineup across all stages in a year where the event is being squeezed by the renovation of their usual staging area, Auditorium Shores. Still… I’ve gotta say that I’m a little bummed about the Black Stage. Look, here’s the deal: Right after the FunFunFun Fest lineup was announced and I became disappointed that some of my Black Stage “Guess the Fest” picks wouldn’t be playing, I decided to see if any of those bands were instead going to be at any of the out of state hardcore-friendly fests this year. The disappointment really set in when I saw the lineup of Gainesville FL’s Fest (taking place the weekend before FunFunFun) where I found bands like Apologies, I Have None, Banner Pilot, Dear Landlord, The Flatliners, Denton TX’s own Marked Men, Lifetime (another Top-5 fave), PUP, Paint it Black, Screaming Females, Teen Agers, Toys That Kill, Who Needs You, and Wringer, many of whom I’m a big fan of.
Obviously I can’t expect all my favorite bands to show up for FunFunFun Fest every year and it’s unfair to make comparisons when Gainesville’s Fest is an all punk/hardcore event, the equivalent of three FunFunFun Black stages instead of one. I am concerned however that if this keeps up, I’m going to have to start taking most of early November off to travel to Gainesville for Fest and then come back the next week for FunFunFun. To mitigate this situation I have a humble proposal, one that I think benefits everyone: FunFunFun Fest needs a Gray Stage. We can keep the Black stage for the garage, crust, classic punk, and metal, but let’s leverage the fact that these other bands are basically already in the neighborhood doing another festival around the same time and get a whole new stage for all the pop-punk, hardcore (melodic or otherwise) and the “real” (read: pre 00’s) emo bands. Why let Gainesville’s Fest or Philly’s This Is Hardcore have all the fun? FunFunFun Fest is named after a song by Austin’s first wave hardcore claim to fame Big Boys and that alone should be enough to make it a hardcore destination. Besides, we’re way cooler than Gainesville.
Brian Audette lives somewhere in Austin within a pillow fort made of broken dreams. He only comes out to see shows and buy beer. He has a surprisingly well maintained lawn and is using it to breed an army of attack mosquitoes with which to take over the world. Brian can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @bjaudette.