It may seem a tad bit presumptuous, or even a tad boastful, to call your music festival Fun Fun Fun. But this is Texas after all, where the steaks are larger, the cowboy hats are bigger and the music is louder, and with a decade under their belt, this fest can lay claim to each ‘fun’ in its name… and maybe even a few more.
It should be noted, FFF is an ambitious festival. Growing steadily since 2006, it’s now found a home in the massive Auditorium Shores Park, which offers an excellent view of the Austin skyline, and has made a reputation for itself by both offering a platform for up and coming talent and orchestrating reunions of beloved acts. It’s also a “genre” fest, streamlining concertgoers’ itineraries by dividing the fest’s four stages between hip-hop/electronica, indie rock, punk/metal and comedy. These boundaries weren’t strictly set, however, most notably on the Jash Yellow Stage, where the comedy acts of the daytime gave way to some of my favorite musical acts of the Fest come sundown.
Now, the fest has added yet another element of debauchery, branching out into the city of Austin for “FFF Nites,” a series of shows held once the Auditorium Shores action wound down at a head-spinning list of venues, largely, but not exclusively, by bands who also performed during the day. Nites heightened the madness and the brilliance of the festival experience, alleviating some tough decisions as to which band to catch, and giving a first time visitor such as myself a chance to see up close and personal how Austin stakes its claim- rightfully it seems- as the Live Music Capital of the World.
F3F (another loving abbreviation thrown around) was a weekend of both discovery and rediscovery– I not only came out with a store new favorites, but with a renewed love for some bands gathering dust in my iTunes library. There isn’t nearly enough time and space to recap all of the bands I saw, but certain acts floated to the top of the pile as standouts.
Friday night got a blistering start thanks to Benjamin Booker on the Jash Yellow Stage. The New Orleans based musician turned out a sultry, sweaty brand of blues-rock, shaking and storming across the purple and blue lit stage. Booker performs as if under a trance, eyes often shut tight as he croons raspily into the jumping and screaming crowds. The rowdy electricity of guitar meshes with the soulful intent of his vocals for an unforgettable live set that left me buzzing.
Later that night, Cheap Trick proved to a new generation of fans why they’re rock n roll royalty, seemingly taking great pleasure in rolling out hit after hit to the massive crowd gathered for their Friday night, stage closing performance. Taking black as white as their set theme, tiles lined the floor, and lead singer Robin Zander looked dapper in an all-white suit and hat. Thousands screamed along to “Surrender” and “I Want You to Want Me,” and each new tune riled up the crowd afresh, as the theatrics kept coming. Rick Nielsen made sure to show off his famous guitar collection, the five-neck guitar among them.
Fucked Up was one of the few acts I caught on the punk/metal leaning Black Stage, and despite their awkward, midday slot, they drew a steady, dedicated crowd with their friendly brand of hardcore. Frontman Damian Abraham seemed genuinely gleeful to be at the Fest, thanking members of the Festival team by name, hugging stage divers and spending an ample amount of time in the pit himself, doling out hugs and high fives to anyone within reach. Attracting a steady stream of stage divers before 4 pm is quite a feat, a testament to the band’s occasionally melodic, hair thrashing metal, perfect for both newcomers and hardcore rockers alike.
Cass McCombs has been an indie darling for a while now, and his Fun Fun Fun set proved why. Perfectly housed in the tented Jash Yellow Stage, the light show played and bounced within the walls, heightening the psychedelic groove of his set, which ranged from straight rock n roll, to folk/country.
I’ve been a fan of Future Islands for a long time, even before 2014’s Singles catapulted them- deservedly- into the spotlight. But I’ve never seen them perform live, so I was thoroughly unprepared and outrageously delighted to discover the band’s performance style, driven by the tormented, theatrical sincerity of lead singer Samuel Herring. I caught the band twice, once late at night on an outdoor stage at the packed Sidewinder club in downtown, and again on Sunday evening, as the sun set over the Austin skyline and the closing Fest. The Baltimore based band cut their teeth playing Austin clubs, a fact the Texan concertgoers around us seemed to relish. Austin is the city that took a chance on them, Herring reminded the massive, swarming Sunday evening crowd. Like several of the other bands of the weekend, this Festival seems to hold a special place for the artists in attendance, a personal element that oozes into the performance and makes the massive event seem like one big love-in. Singing in his throaty, garbled baritone, Herring high kicks, wiggles, spins, gyrates, thumps his chest and so much more, backed by the Of all the acts I saw, Future Islands’ is the one I just can’t shake, and now, listening to recordings just won’t do… the show is just as important.
I’m not an electronic music fan as a rule, but as any good festival is bound to do, I strayed past stages and out of my comfort zone, such as when Seattle “production duo” Odesza lured us into the pit with their soaring synth, pulsing bass and undeniable energy, from songs I had never heard, to the intoxicating (pun intended) mega-hit remix of Zhu’s “Faded.” The night before, Grimes took the final slot of the evening, transformed from the mousy, mysterious breakout act of 2012’s “Oblivion” into a full-fledged pop star. Claire Boucher leapt and pranced and whipped her long braid around the stage, transforming the chilly Austin evening into a massive, synth-fueled dance party with songs from her recent release, Art Angels, an album fully developed in its infectious, electro-pop glory.
There’s so much more to recap, from Andrew W.K.’s motivational speaking to a full skateboarding rink to Anarchy Wrestling bouts throughout the day, but I could go on and on. So last but not least, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the food, a hallmark of FFF, understandably. With a steady supply of Shiner beers, the official drink of the fest (they even made special cans and koozies to commemorate the tenth anniversary), keeping me blissfully buzzed, I gorged between (and during) acts on pulled pork BBQ courtesy of SLAB BBQ, the best tacos I’ve ever had, casually slung out of a non-descript truck in the media tent and even a “Venom” hotdog from Frank, made in honor of British black metal band Venom, who made their first ever appearance in Texas at the Fest. It wasn’t until afterwards that I found out the secret ingredient of the dog was rattlesnake.
Between Austin City Limits and SXSW, the Capital of Texas certainly doesn’t have any shortage of musical events, but thanks to a delirious and unforgettable weekend, FFF will stay (for now at least) the nearest and dearest to my heart. Hell, maybe next time I’ll even rock a pair of cowboy boots.
– Emily Gawlak
Photos By Mounika Garlapati