The first Fun Fun Fun Fest came together not as a grand plan, but a fortuitous confluence of circumstance.
Graham Williams was booking Emo’s, which was still on Red River Street, and the club’s schedule was full for the first weekend of December 2006. In late summer, he began fielding a surprising string of requests from booking agents. Hardcore punk pioneers Circle Jerks, electronic obscenity enthusiast Peaches and stoner rockers Dead Meadow were among the artists hunting for venues for Dec. 2. Any room in town big enough to accommodate them was already taken.
Williams had done a series of free events in Waterloo Park in collaboration with the Alamo Drafthouse, so he called founder Tim League who signed on to collaborate on another. As Williams added more bands, including Austin indie rockers Spoon who were in town recording an album, the “little show” grew into a festival with two moderately sized stages and a small dance music tent.
Williams named the event Fun Fun Fun Fest after a song from Austin punk legends the Big Boys. A few years later, singing along to “Fun Fun Fun” in his car, he realized how perfectly the song embodies the ethos of the festival he built. The lyrics are about a D.I.Y. approach to music, doing it because you believe in it, not because you’re trying to please the masses. The Big Boys were musical innovators, fusing hardcore punk and funk, in an era when genre delineations still mattered. Similarly, Fun Fun Fun Fest has always presented a cross-genre representation of progressive music from hip-hop and electronic to indie and punk rock.
Williams wasn’t thinking of any of that in the scramble to put the first fest together. He liked the name because “it popped” and also wanted to pay tribute to the band’s lead singer, Randy “Biscuit” Turner, who had died a year earlier.
Graham Williams (Transmission Events partner, festival founder): Dec. 1 a cold front blew in.
Ian Orth (Director of brand marketing): It was crazy. It was super cold.
Lines for hot cocoa and coffee were longer than the beer lines, but everyone who attended spoke warmly of the vibes.
Brendan Hannah (Director of business development): It was out of necessity. Aside from happening really quick… The people who were out there were all the people you saw at Emo’s at a show on any given night … sort of taking that experience from a club to the park.
Graham Williams: It was like, “Wow we’re doing a festival.”… To see bands that don’t normally play festivals on a festival stage was really cool. To see bands who do play festivals on our stage was really cool.
Ian Orth: Austin City Limits had already been going on, but aside from that, there wasn’t anything like what Graham was trying to do that day. Even though it wasn’t established as “This is going to be an annual thing,” you could tell within a few hours of opening that this was going to be the next (big) thing for these type of Austinites … You could tell that it was the beginning of something special.
The next year, Williams struck out across the country attending festivals. He went to Coachella in California, Sasquatch in Seattle and Pitchfork and Lollapalooza in Chicago. “I wanted to see how it worked and how they did it behind the scenes,” he said.
The Alamo Drafthouse, now focused on Fantastic Fest, passed on year two of Fun Fun Fun and in July 2007, Williams joined forces with James Moody, owner of the Mohawk, a mid-sized indie club housed in a formerly cursed venue. It didn’t seem like a viable venue when it opened on Red River Street, to form Transmission Events. They moved the festival up a month to November and expanded it to two days.
Rosa Madriz had been booking shows at the Mohawk since it opened a year earlier. Shortly before the festival she took a leap of faith she wouldn’t confess to her family for several months. She quit her steady day job at the University of Texas to focus on Transmission full time.
Rosa Madriz (Director of talent buying operations): Looking back … I have no idea how we pulled off the festival. There’s no way. We started everything so late. We announced it in August. I don’t even think we booked it to the late spring or early summer.
Graham Williams: Transmission was such a new company. It was all of our friends and people we knew working there overnight trying to set stuff up. People who wouldn’t normally be doing certain roles would be doing two or three roles. That felt like a challenge. And how do we outsource this? Who do we hire to do certain things?
Brendan Hannah: Early on, a lot of our staff was people who lived in the park. That’s who helped us get zip ties up. That’s who helped us make sure the bathrooms were clean. I remember going to the park at 5 in the morning and there would be like 25-30 people. We didn’t have a sanitation company, so they would all come in the morning and clean it out. It was kind of amazing. … We also felt like if we were going to kick them out of their house for five days we should take care of some of them. That was all Graham.
Rosa Madriz: They would log in their hours on a cardboard paper and bring it up to whoever was in charge. They worked hard. It’s a huge job and (we had them) kind of watch the stuff to make sure no one else steals it and they kind of did watch the stuff and they kind of did steal some.
In the beginning, security was less than stellar. The first year, indie duo Quintron and Miss Pussycat’s gear was stolen.
Max Gregor (Director of production): The fence was broken behind the stage. It dumped right out onto Red River. So they put all their gear back there just assuming, you know, reasonably … there’s probably security out here somewhere and there just wasn’t.
Things got slightly better when the Transmission crew enlisted a few friends to camp in the park.
Rosa Madriz: They were coming to the festival and we’d be like, “Hey guys, you don’t have anywhere to stay. Do you want to be security?” So they just slept around the beer …. just partied until somebody showed up and that worked out OK.
By the second year, the festival was booking larger acts. New Pornographers, Diplo and Girl Talk all played alongside rising local acts the Sword and Explosions in the Sky. Famously temperamental indie rocker Cat Power was also on the bill.
Graham Williams: Cat Power’s keyboardist needed some specific keyboard that’s only in Tennessee that we had to have shipped here and it was like beyond us and we had to do it and it cost all this money and we weren’t used to that.
Max Gregor: We all went into it with this kind of I don’t give a (expletive) attitude. We cared about the festival, but we didn’t care about your rock star rider needs … (We were) coming from punk rock clubs … I just remember that she needed a bodyguard and we had to arrange all this private transportation, stuff that’s not really a big deal. At the time I remember being like “Oh, Cat Power, why do you need stuff?” Which is ridiculous.
Rosa Madriz: We had one driver for all the artists and he just drove in one van that wasn’t even a nice van … I was booking hotels like on Kayak and the people were all over the place. There’s no way we pulled it off but we did.
The festival started a track record for picking soon-to-be stars that year.
Brendan Hannah: We had MGMT, paid them $500. Then … two years later, we payed them an unbelievable amount of money.
They also began a long tradition of highly anticipated reunion shows. Hardcore punk band Neurosis, who hadn’t played in ages, reunited at the fest as did Seattle garage rockers Murder City Devils. Alison Narro was in her early 20s and she had just spent her life savings on her first digital camera. She was friends with the band’s tour manager, who got her on stage to shoot.
Alison Narro (Director of photography): My mind was exploding. I was onstage with Murder City Devils.
After the fest Moody asked her to be FFF’s director of photography.
Alison Narro: It was almost a drive-by conversation Moody had with me. He was like, “Hey so you’re gonna put a team together and you’re going to have this job. Make up something. Cool, go,” and I was like, “Wait, what? What am I doing?”
Everyone was improvising. Moving into the third year, Gregor evolved his role from stage manager to overseeing production on all the stages.
Max Gregor: As the lineup got more robust, it just got very complicated very quickly. I was really kind of winging it … I was still relatively fresh out of high school … I must have been like 20 or 21. It was terrifying.
James Moody (Transmission Events partner): There was a bunch of learning about expanding the expenses and what that meant for ticket prices and beer sales to make sure that it was sustainable. … For some reason we had some weird way of treating the backstage for a while where drinks were everywhere.
Graham Williams: We were like, “Everyone can have free drinks!” Oh wait …
By the third year the festival was coming into its own. The National and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah headlined. Backpack rap hero Atmosphere performed, and notable punk reunions included the Dead Milkmen and Bad Brains. The fest also began to develop the off-the-wall identity that would come to define it. A press release for the fest announced in between sets fest-goers could ride a mechanical bull or strap on a sumo suit and wrestle.
Graham Williams: Every year we think of funny things … half of them don’t happen because they would be a bad idea or they’re way too expensive and half of them happen. We still do a mechanical bull. … The sumo suits, we failed though. They got shipped to the park and no one could find them the whole festival. So when we were cleaning up and breaking down they were like under a stage in a box.
2008 was also the first year the festival incorporated comedy. Neil Hamburger, Matt Bearden and Tim and Eric’s Awesome show were all booked to appear in the fest’s first version of the yellow stage tent.
Media handout for "Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!" from 2008.
2008: Tim and Eric Awesome Show
Max Gregor: (Tim and Eric) were awesome but also kind of a disaster. There was a box of their merch that was delivered to festival grounds and somehow it was dropped off literally in the middle of the park. Just a box sitting on the ground … while we were building. It was kind of like 60 feet away from the stairs that led up to the merch area so I think people that saw it were like, “Oh that’s somebody who’s setting up merch.” For a couple days it sat there.
So finally we opened up the doors for the festival and people came through and a few hours later Tim and Eric show up and they’re like, “Hey, it’s kind of crazy but there’s just tons of people wearing our merch everywhere. Have you been selling a lot?” And we were like, “Your merch?”
Rosa Madriz: All the homeless folks. They left it out … and everyone who was helping clean the park was wearing all their merch around the park.
Max Gregor: Tim Heidecker was standing there as I was having this conversation with his manager being like, “Yeah it all must have gotten stolen and it was our fault,” and the manager trying to be super cool about it … with the artist just standing there silently. Just staring at me. Like what a (expletive) idiot.
Later Adi Anand, who then worked at now-defunt website the Austinist, interviewed Tim and Eric in a swank little lounge area set up by Prototype Vintage.
Adi Anand (Director of client services): (They) got super fired up in their characters and one of the Prototype chairs was flipped over into the creek behind the (lounge). I had to go down and like bargain with some of the folks who lived in the park who claimed that to be their new furniture.
The festival was dusty in year three, but they got their first taste of real bad weather in 2009. The festival’s lineup was growing, Lucero, GZA and Danzig were all booked to play. Protopunk band Death was reuniting to play their first and only festival gig. Fun Fun Fun’s reach was also growing beyond Transmission’s circle of friends.
Bianca Flores, a recent Lanier High School grad who would later become the festival’s social media manger, went to the festival by herself that year. “It wasn’t my plan,” she said. “My best friend was supposed to go with me but a few days before he was like, ‘Oh yeah, I lied. I didn’t get my pass.’ … It was insane for me … I never experienced anything like that.”
Weather was bright and beautiful for the first day of the fest, but on Sunday it rained.
Brendan Hannah: The park turned into a total mud pit and the golf carts didn’t work. And at the time we didn’t even have radios to get a hold of each other. I remember not having enough tents…it was starting to rain and we didn’t even have a 10-by-10 to cover up their (sound) board.
Rosa Madriz: Our yellow stage was a wrestling ring and that stage had like (three inches) of water on it most of the day … everything kept shorting and not working … and people kept getting shocked.
Graham Williams: It was painful. All day I was so stressed. I was literally running backstage to put out some fire and I remember like slipping and eating (expletive) face first and sliding what felt like 100 feet and then just being covered in mud.
Danzig, who would later become legendary for his Fun Fun Fun Fest 2011 meltdown, took the rain in stride his first year at the fest.
Rosa Madriz: I think he preferred it. I think he felt like he brought some doom or something.
Bobby Garza: Danzig was playing the Sunday of that fest and we have sound checks in the morning sometimes and it happened to be (scheduled) when there were Sunday services (at nearby St. Elias Orthodox Church) … I just remember talking to Moody and saying, “Hey dudes, it’s probably not a good idea to have Danzig sound check while they’re having church.”
Max Gregor: That was the first time I was clued into the whole thing about the city, the parks department, that they even played a role in some of those communications and decisions.
Graham Williams: It was a weird year, but it was also endearing, because you see video footage from it and there’s just this packed crowd and everyone’s either standing in the rain or standing under an umbrella, under a trash bag or a raincoat. Everyone was still there. Everyone’s singing along, everyone’s still dancing. No one cared. Most of the tickets all still showed up.
Bianca Flores (Marketing manager): To see so many different demographics in one place and so many things I’d never seen in my life. It was very eye opening. I was seriously like, “Oh my god,” the entire time. I was 18. I would see girls pushing everyone to get in the front. … The pouring rain. … It’s kind of cheesy to say but I kind of feel like I definitely lost myself while I was there.
Less than two weeks before the 2010 festival, Williams was sent scrambling when headliners Devo had to drop out because guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh cut his hand and was unable to play. It was a booking department nightmare.
Graham Williams: We didn’t have time to fix the problem. We just had to get something plugged in so people wouldn’t want their money back… and we really got a three-pointer with (vintage punk band) Descendants….I knew that they were going to reform and their agent hit me up, just coincidentally, to talk about the next year and it was like, “Oh my god, your timing’s perfect. We’ll give you Devo’s fee. We’ll fly them out.”
Max Gregor: (It was the) happiest accident of my life. … Descendants are the band that got me into punk. So when I found out that was happening I was jumping for joy.
Alison Narro: I felt like I was going to jump out a window.
Graham Williams: It was complicated because the singer’s like a really high up biochemist at Dupont. … His job is like insane, like he can’t miss a meeting or some new cancer-curing drug doesn’t happen. And it was on a Sunday and he had a meeting on Monday morning and I remember literally looking into chartered flights. … They ended up doing a Skype meeting in his hotel room. … That was so impressive.
Max Gregor: It was really cheesy. (Graham and I) were talking about what song we were going to stage dive to and I was like, “I’m going to stage dive for ‘Suburban Home,’ ” and he was like, “No, I’m going to stage dive for ‘Surburban Home,’ ” I think we both did.
Alison Narro: It was really cool to see younger generations of kids. It was just stage dive after stage dive … the energy that was coming off of that area was fantastic.
"Weird Al" Yankovic performed at Fun Fun Fun Fest in 2010.
2010: Weird Al and the Segway
One of the more difficult requests on the rider for "Weird Al" Yankovic’s elaborate stage set for his Friday night pre-fest show was a Segway. Yankovic rides one of the upright movers on stage during “White and Nerdy,” recreating a scene in the video for his parody of rapper Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’.”
Graham Williams: It was so hard to find a Segway in Austin and the one company found out what it was used for and then they were insulted because they thought it was making fun of Segway riders.
Max Gregor: No, it was actually the opposite. The impression that I got was that they were kind of blissfully ignorant on that front. … I had flagged down the Segway group while they were riding around Austin. … We sat down and we were talking about it and I was trying to explain, “Weird Al comes out on stage on a Segway.” … In my mind immediately, he’s like hilariously making fun of Segways or something — It’s Weird Al.
And I got finished explaining this and they were like, “You know what, this is so great because we’ve been looking for an opportunity to show people how cool Segways are and if we could get on stage at a major music festival, then man, people are going to be riding Segways all over this town.” I was like, “Yeah, totally.”
In 2011, construction on the Waller Creek Tunnel project closed down Waterloo Park, displacing Fun Fun Fun Fest. For over a year, festival organizers worked with city officials to move the event to Auditorium Shores. In the summer, they hit a potential roadblock: The three days they wanted for the festival would exceed a cap on the number of event days allowed at the city center park. The Austin Music Commission successfully lobbied on the festival’s behalf to have the cap (an administrative policy, not a city ordinance) amended. The fest went forward with plans to move and to expand to a full three days.
Bobby Garza (General manager): The easiest thing for them to have done at that point was to move it out of town and make it a big camping model. Do a big blowout festival, and it’s not going to be in Austin any more. It will be on the outskirts of Austin, which is what a lot of festivals do. But in talking to Graham and Moody, their commitment was, “This needs to be an urban festival. This needs to be downtown This needs to be accessible to kids by bike. This needs to be accessible by public transportation.” I think those values get lost a lot in some of these conversations. … I was was the only kid that was a council staffer (for City Council member Mike Martinez) that played music, who was a musician that was actually working in clubs and could explain to people why it was really, really important.
The distance between Waterloo Park and Auditorium Shores is only two and a half miles, but some fans of the fest were unhappy.
Adi Anand: Personally I didn’t want to leave because of the location. It was right there next to the Mohawk. I never thought about the whole festival as something that would be outside of the whole stomping grounds of Red 7, Mohawk.
James Moody: Auditorium Shores has traditionally always been for South by Southwest free shows or Reggae Fest or whatever community event and it didn’t feel as raw, or as heavy, or whatever you want to call it, as what we did. So walking people down and across the water was kind of a big ask.
Moody created a nautical theme for the festival’s branding that year, a nod to Aqua Fest, a long-running Austin summer event on the Shores that ended in the late ’90s. They designed posters and merchandise reminiscent of the beloved old Austin festival. They released their lineup in a video coded in the maritime language of flag semaphore and hosted an Aqua Olympics competition at Fiesta Gardens that included a North Austin vs. South Austin tug o’ war across the lake similar to the one Aqua Fest traditionally included.
James Moody: I still think we own the only rope in Austin that can cross Town Lake.
Ian Orth: For me, I’m born and raised in Austin. … I had all these memories of being a kid in Austin again. When we moved to the Shores … it felt like the good guys were winning. … We’re right here in the middle of the city and we’re able to show the city, “Hey, we’re not a bunch of weirdos,” and “Hey this isn’t an exclusive thing.” This is a moment for everyone in Austin to come down and experience what, in my opinion, a real festival should feel like.
From a financial perspective, the move was risky for Transmission.
Bobby Garza: You had a festival that probably topped out at like 7,500 people at Waterloo. The park at Auditorium Shores has a capacity of 20,000. So you’re saying we’re going to take our fest and we’re going to try to expand it three times. Nobody does that in a year and really has some level of success.
Max Gregor: I was literally designing a brand new venue from scratch. … That took a full year of trial and error, mapping everything out one way and then walking through it and trying again.
With the state caught in a crippling drought, conditions on the ground were very dusty that year, but the fest landed an excellent lineup headlined by Public Enemy, Slayer and Passion Pit. They also built on the fest’s quirky aesthetic. They placed a photobooth in a portable toilet in the middle of the field and a couple of fest fans were married in the yellow stage tent by former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins, who was booked to do a spoken word set. Internet phenom Sergio the Saxman, who spent the day roaming the field shirtless, playing “Careless Whisper,” provided musical accompaniment. Notable guests at that year’s fest included Ryan Gosling, Val Kilmer and Rooney Mara who showed up to film a scene with Austin director Terrence Malick on the blue stage.
On the first day, Glenn Danzig was booked to close out the black stage with a set of material from his early bands the Misfits and Samhain. The set went disastrously wrong — Danzig went on an hour late, railed against the festival and unsuccessfully attempted to start a riot — but ironically, his epic meltdown emerged as an iconic moment that would define the fest’s offbeat appeal.
Graham Williams: Throughout the weekend people were making their own shirts which were Danzig jokes. And Ted Leo did a secret set of Danzig covers where he came out dressed as Danzig because apparently he has a Misfits tribute band … and they happened to all be in town. I feel like that fest, that year we were able to plant our flag in the park and say, “Ok we made it to the next step up. We were able to do this.”
The first day of Fun Fun Fun Fest, 2011.
2011: Danzig, hot dogs and French onion soup
Rosa Madriz: Right from when (Glenn Danzig) landed, which was pretty early, one of my drivers was like, “He’s being difficult already … he’s talking about not wanting to play. This should get passed along.” It was like, before noon and he was sick, saying it was too cold. It was like 70 degrees. It’s lovely weather.
And then I got another message from my driver and he was like, “He really needs this chicken sandwich from Wendy’s and French onion soup.” And I was like, “OK, if that’s what he needs to feel good about playing, we will get that for him.” I sent a runner to go do it. I was like, “Top priority. Drop what you’re doing. Go get this.”
(It’s) really difficult to get fresh French onion soup during whatever time I sent him. No restaurants had it. They were like, “Oh, we’ll have it at dinner,” and I sent him like everywhere. I think he ended up finally finding it at TGIFridays or something. Brought it back to him he ate it. Then he needed us to go to GNC and get some supplements.
Later, Danzig was hungry again.
Bianca Flores: (Stage manager) Timmy (Hefner) told me to go pick someone up in the golf cart. So it was him. He wouldn’t sit in the front with me, so he sat in the back. I was like, “OK, rude.” … We go as far as catering and they were already done with food at that time because it was right before he went on and dude’s like upset with me and I was like, “Oh, I’ll figure something out.” Well, the thing is, I got him hot dogs at Frank. I was like, “This is the headliner, let’s get him some hot dogs.” He got hot dogs. He sat in the front with me. He was nice. Then I took him back to the stage and that’s when the whole thing happened. Right after.
Max Gregor: So the person that was actually in front of Danzig dealing with all those crazy requests was me. So I was like in his green room. … I was kneeling on the ground while he was telling me about how he was going to catch a cold because the wind was going to hit his chest that was in a mesh shirt and that he was going to tell people to riot because we didn’t have wind walls. While his giant security guard was towering like 7 feet above me. I was like, “What this person is telling me is absolutely ridiculous and not founded in reality,” but there’s not much I can do other than be very respectful because this guy looks like he really wants to hurt me if I tell him anything that is on my mind.
Alison Narro: He wanted heaters (to follow him) from his trailer to his stage. They showed up and he was like, “He cannot be seen from any angle except the front.”
Williams finally convinced Danzig to go on stage almost an hour late. When the festival was forced to cut him off at 10 p.m., only 20 minutes into his set, he had a fit and tried to convince the crowd to riot.
Alison Narro: They start ripping the scrim and breaking branches and throwing stuff. We’re done (for the night) at this point, then I get a radio from Max … I haul ass in the golf cart and had to photograph all this stuff they had destroyed.
Williams made the rare move of publicly calling Danzig out online. “Hi. I book the fest. Those that are hating could NOT be more wrong,” he wrote on the fest’s Facebook page. “Yes, someone has your money and ripped you off. His name is Glenn. Stop by his house in LA with some kitty litter in trade for your refund, but we still had to pay him and he didn’t deserve it after what he pulled.”
Graham Williams: We normally wouldn’t have addressed something like that but he had done so much damage to us onstage.
Gregor struggled with the experience personally.
Max Gregor: There was this artist that I completely admire — holy (expletive) the Misfits “Static Age”—who knows what I wouldn’t have gotten into if I didn’t get into that extremely important punk rock record…So having that experience one on one…I was just immediately like, this guy sucks, this guy is not a cool dude.
Moving into 2012, the festival scored their biggest reunion show yet. Rap outfit Run D.M.C., who had not performed as a group since their DJ, Jam Master Jay, was killed in 2002, signed on to headline.
Graham Williams: Their agent felt … we were the one to make it work because Darrell, DMC, doesn’t really listen to rap anymore. … He really likes crossover stuff and doesn’t like to be typecast in these hip-hop fests. … And we had Public Enemy the year before. I think Chuck D had put in a good word and said, “You guys would love this. It’s really cool and edgy but also huge.” After we announced it, Jay-Z called (them) and said, “You have to play my festival first.”… And we weren’t rich enough to be like, “We’re paying you a bazillion dollars. You can only play our festival.” But we were the first ones to announce it. We made it happen.
Hip-hop at the festival was bigger than ever that year. De La Soul, Bun B, A$AP Rocky and Danny Brown all performed. Also, an underground Seattle duo, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, put in an early evening set supporting their brand new album “The Heist” months before they took over the world.
Variety and an eclectic sensibility remained the festival’s calling card.
Bobby Garza: One of my favorite Fun Fest experiences on Auditorium Shores was seeing Saul Williams … his spoken word stuff is so powerful and I was so curious. I was like, “How is this going to translate, because you’ve got a million things going on?” … He didn’t say “Hi, hello.” He just walked in and started talking and it was so intense, but you could hear a pin drop in that tent. And it was amazing. … That sort of speaks to Fun Fun fans. They were there just for that experience. … I don’t think there’s any other festival that really embraces so many types of experiences.
Beyond music, the star of the 2012 festival was the Taco Cannon.
Brendan Hannah: I think there was a show at Club Deville with Chingo Bling and they had like a Water Winger for water balloons and they were doing that but with tacos. … Next thing we knew we had a big Gatling Gun T-shirt cannon that we rent every year.
Neil Maris (Production manager): I caught wind at some point in July that there was this taco thing and then (I remember) it just showing up at the office and me getting this call like, “Taco Cannon’s here.”… Moving it’s the worst. It comes in this like 7-foot crate. Someone got it to the warehouse.
Max Gregor: That move was the beginning and end of my relationship with the Taco Cannon. I remember being out behind the old office with the trailer and the Taco Cannon and not knowing how to fit it in there. And everyone had walked out from the office and been like, “Oh, you’re moving that thing? See ya.”
At the time FFF had a small warehouse so the Taco Cannon lived in Gregor’s backyard for several months and did a stint outside Torchy’s Tacos before heading to the fest, where it would immediately become one of the most popular attractions.
Graham Williams: The Taco Cannon actually worked too well. We’ll be like, “Let’s do something else now,” and the crowd is like “Taco Cannon. Taco Cannon.” So, OK, we’re shooting tacos again.
In 2013, the festival booked its first mainstream superstar, rapper Snoop Dogg. Also on the bill were M.I.A., Santigold, Ice-T, Jurassic 5 and a repeat showing from Slayer. FLAG, a Black Flag reunion project, Julie Ruin, a group of former Bikini Kill members, and Deltron 3030, who had just released a second album over a decade in the making, were some of the notable reunions.
The Dogg-father’s Friday headline set was a break-it-down, sweat-it out dance party. The crowd ate it up, but behind the scenes trouble was brewing.
Max Gregor: That year gets into this turbulent city relationship. …During Snoop Dogg we had some issues that made things seem not so peachy in that space that we were in. … The Austin Police Department had a new group of cops who were intended to do sound monitoring. … It seemed from my perspective they did not know how to use the sound equipment they were given.
Bobby Garza: We do our best to advance with bands that there’s a decibel limit and there’s a hard cut-off time. Sometimes I think that gets buried in the contract and we didn’t call it out probably as loud as we could have. And Snoop started pretty loud and the bass is obviously pretty heavy. … We have a designated person that’s supposed to interface with the sound cops every year. Instead of talking to us, (the police) went up to front of house and said, “You have to turn it down.”
Max Gregor: I got a call from (Snoop’s) production manager saying, “There’s a cop hovering over our sound engineer and I’m very upset about it.” I said, “Totally understandable, I’m going to go out there and see what I can do.” I ran out to front of house. The production manager beat me there and was over top of the cop with his finger in his face screaming at him at front of house.
The situation escalated to the point where it was unresolvable.
Max Gregor: At the end of the night I got reamed out by that production manager in kind of a career highlight moment. Small office space with all of my bosses. He screamed at me, red in the face, until he just could not speak anymore.
Rosa Madriz: We could all hear it from the trailer.
The next day Garza organized a meeting with representatives from the police department, the city and the festival to talk about sound.
Bobby Garza: We invested in sound technology that doesn’t throw everywhere off into the ether. We’re trying to point sound in a certain direction and if the cops are measuring at the most intense point, sure it’s going to sound pretty loud, but the way we understand the ordinance and the way it’s written is (sound should be measured) at the property line. Once we went through that whole dialogue, it got much better.
Neil Maris: All of the city offices are kind of growing with us. The good that came out of it is the following year we already had conversations about sound and decibel limits and how we’re going to test. … We were the first festival to have readers at key points online so we could monitor and the cops could monitor and the music department would monitor so they could call us.
Last year Fun Fun Fun Fest was the first event to return to the newly remodeled Auditorium Shores. The park wasn’t fully open, so the fest was forced to shift their footprint, using part of adjacent Butler Park. The biggest story going into the fest was Judas Priest. According to Williams the fest wasn’t an easy sell to the British metal titans.
Graham Williams: You think, “Why wouldn’t they play Fun Fun?” Well, keep in mind when you look at our lineup…they’re used to playing metal festivals so they’re like, “There’s DJs? There’s acoustic? There’s a comedian?”
On stage they were beasts, and on the ground they were charming, if a bit eccentric.
Alison Narro: I go and talk to the tour manager and he’s like, “Oh sorry, we’re just cleaning up this sex dungeon.” And there’s like leather daddy toys everywhere. And I’m like, “Don’t get me wrong dude, super into it.” But he was just really funny, sweet. He was just like a nice older man who’s been Judas Priest’s tour manager forever.
The music was fantastic, but unfortunately for fest staff, the biggest story on the ground last year was the will call situation on Friday. By mid-afternoon, a line of fans trying to pick up their wristbands stretched down Riverside Drive, across the First Street bridge and all the way back to City Hall. Some fans waited as long as six hours to get into the festival. Eventually, festival organizers, in coordination with city officials, opened the gates and let everyone into the park.
Graham Williams: That was easily the worst day of my life. … I’ve never been that stressed out. We went eight years without a mistake, like any real mistake. There would be a little hiccup that we’d make up in minutes, but the first time that we’d had a total breakdown everything went wrong at once.
Bianca Flores. It was a learning experience for sure. … It got to a point where you have to be careful about what you say and you can’t address everyone because you have to figure out a game plan. … It was a nightmare.
Sawyer Stoltz (Director of marketing): It’s like you betrayed a friend and it’s going to take a while to get that trust back. People did take it personally and we’re equally as upset as they are.
Bianca Flores: It really sucked to know that you’re hurting these people who care so much about the festival.
The fest endured a barrage of social media outrage immediately after the incident, but after a few months the blowback seemed to die down.
Graham Williams: Every once in awhile someone will chime in online. I feel them to a degree. I really felt bad for everyone that day, the people who were waiting in line, but on the other hand the people who are still talking about it, we’ve got to move on. It was our fault. … now we’ve got to make it right and make it up to you next year.
Williams is confident that there will be no issues this year.
Graham Williams: I’m not concerned about it because that’s all we talk about. What are you doing to fix the line to our ticketing company and what are we doing to support them on the production side, messaging, how do we get the word out.
IF YOU GO
When: Noon to 10 p.m. Friday-Sunday.
Where: Auditorium Shores, 800 W. Riverside Drive.
Tickets: $199 3-day, $89 1-day. VIP options available.
Fun Fun Fun Fest has grown from a ragtag event organized by a group of friends “who just put their time in because they wanted to see it keep going” to one of the nation’s premiere discovery festivals. Despite the expansion, it’s maintained the new school Austin weird character, the adventurous spirit and the deep heart that make it stand out. This is due, in no small part, to the dedicated staff that produces it. “We are such a small team,” Flores says, “We’re tiny compared to other festivals and we’re all so different but we all love each other so much.”
Fun Fun Fun Fest organizers built their event as “the un-fest,” a haven for the outsiders, the punks, the hip-hop heads, the socially awkward music nerds. “We were a festival for people who hate festivals,” Moody says. Among those people, the fest has long inspired fanaticism.
James Moody: People felt like it was theirs. It was for them, the way they like to listen to music or the way they saw themselves.
Bobby Garza: The vibe always feels like at Fun Fest, it’s less of a festival and more somebody’s house party that just got really big.
Ian Orth: That feeling of everyone’s community and everyone’s friends, it really transcends over the entire festival.
Sawyer Stoltz: It just has a completely different free-spirited vibe that you want to be a part of it.
Brendan Hannah: Every year that we do it more people are turned on to it. More people come out and have a great time and word-of-mouth is a very powerful thing.
The folks behind the Fun (and Transmission Entertainment): Left to right, Brendan Hannah, Neil Maris, Ian Orth (in van), Max Gregor, Graham Williams, Rosa Madriz, James Moody, Bianca Flores, Adi Anand, Sawyer Stoltz and Bobby Garza.
As told by …
Adi Anand: Handled media for FFF in 2007 while also with Austinist, now the director of client services for Transmission Events.
Bianca Flores: Marketing manager, began volunteering for the festival in 2010.
Bobby Garza: General manager of Transmission Events beginning in 2013, served as a City Hall liaison for the festival in the early years.
Max Gregor: Director of production, started as a stage manager in 2006.
Brendan Hannah: Director of business development beginning in 2008.
Rosa Madriz: Director, talent buying operations for Transmission Events since 2007.
Neil Maris: Production manager at Transmission Events since 2012.
James Moody: Partner in Transmission Events and Fun Fun Fun Fest.
Alison Narro: Director of photography for Fun Fun Fun Fest beginning in 2008.
Ian Orth: Performed the first year of Fun Fun Fun Fest. Director of brand marketing for Transmission Events.
Sawyer Stoltz: Director of marketing, began working for Fun Fun Fun Fest as a volunteer in 2010.
Graham Williams: Partner in Transmission Events, founded Fun Fun Fun Fest in 2006.