Austin, Texas has dubbed itself the live music capital of the world for the good reason they have more live music venues than anywhere else. SXSW festival takes place in March of each year, and in early autumn, the massive Austin City Limits (ACL) festival takes place in the central Texan city. And for the past five years, a newer, smaller festival has emerged. Fun Fun Fun Fest took place this year in early November, the start of winter in Ireland but still, shorts and t-shirt weather in Texas.
The festival happens over three days, with four stages (indie-alternative, hip-hop and metal, as well as a spoken word and comedy tent) in the park on the banks of the city lake – right in the heart of the city. Over the three days, State caught performers such as Heartless Bastards, an Ohio based rock band, centered around the songs of guitarist and vocalist, Erika Wennerstrom. Elements of country, indie, alternative garage rock made them a perfect opener for a city like Austin. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, are a hometown group that have played in every kind of venue in the city, but the classic blues-rock voice from Joe, makes perfect for the big stage in the evening sun on the opening day. Local band Okkervil River stood out. In May 2011, they released their most acclaimed album to date, I Am Very Far – their sixth record – and with almost 10 years of performing together and a huge catalogue of songs, they set the standard on the indie stage.
From just across the border, Louisiana native Big Freedia took over hip-hop stage with his rather unique set of ‘bounce dance music’ – the booty shaking stage dancers were a definite draw – stopping by on a date on his Check Your Ponytail Tour.
As with any event like this, there’s always more going on than just music. A huge poster show, showcases some of the best designers and artists with handcrafted gig posters on display and for sale.Being Texas, there was of course a mechanical bull. Next to that, a BMX & skateboarding show, with people flying through the dusty air on ramps that also served as the metal venue.
Glenn Danzig, legendary frontman of The Misfits, headlined. But all was not well with the temperamental singer. Word had it that he started the day by telling organisers he was sick and demanded French onion soup and vitamins to be delivered to his hotel room. A variety of strange requests, kept coming, like protection from the wind, stage heaters (despite the temperature all day being in the mid-’20s) and the claim that he’ll die if he gets sick means he has a massively reduced set, sending home the legions of Misfit t-shirt wearing fans, very angry. Where as Passion Pit brought cheerful electro-pop to the main stage, slipping in new music – in the form of ‘American Blood’ and more – from their rather delayed second album.
Bandanas were used as masks on day two as the dusty park grounds were swirled up by the thousands of feet – which actually totally suited the outfits worn by Mali band, Tinariwen. They were followed by the swirling rock of Wales’ The Joy Formidable, before the eclectic and ukulele-assisted sounds of Merrill Garbus aka tUnE-yArDs fill the park.
Girls pulled a huge crowd to see their set of instantly likeable songs. Christopher Owens slightly weak live voice was complemented brilliantly by three soulful backup singers and with the stage covered in sunflowers, and a shaggy mop of hair covering his face.
An interesting addition to the music festival was the addition of a large wrestling ring, where amateur wrestlers shouted, fought, jumped and threw each other onto the canvas. And to make things a little stranger, ever so often, up on the stage, a film crew, along with movie director, Terrence Malick, could be seen, filming scenes with Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara for new film, Lawless.
Some of the first rain in Austin over nine months meant Sunday started with the dust finally staying on the ground, a welcome relief from the baking sun that Texas folk are accustomed to. Mates of State, the San Francisco husband and wife dup of Kori and Jason performed their indie-pop tunes with the standout song being mass singalong in a Polyphonic Spree style, ‘Get Better’, from their 2008 album, Re-arrange Us. Architecture in Helsinki were one of the few international bands playing here, performed their Australian brand of ramshackle indie electro dressed and styled like characters from the ’80s era Neighbours.
The spoken word and comedy tent was buzzing with activity all weekend. From comedians such as Brody Stevens, most famous for his work on TMZ, Chelsea Lately and The Hangover films to the legendary Henry Rollins who spoke in his unique way about topics from his thoughts on Texas politics (not good) to his toughest on eating smoked rat liver (also, not good). But who wants to come to a Texas festival and not see a hot dog eating contest. So in a way only Americans can do, a group of willing volunteers stood on a stage, wolfing down as many hot dogs in buns, in ten minutes as they could manage. And this being Austin, the liberal capital of the south, they were veggie hot dogs. Not that it made the sight any more pleasant to endure I’m sure. (Tip for any would-be hot dog eating champions out there: the best way to win is to dunk the hot dog bus in plenty of water just before you eat them, makes them go down all the quicker).
Infamous thrash metal band Slayer close the festival on the main stage – successfully capturing the city centre crowd with deafening metal. While Odd Future, who made such an impression at SXSW only 9 months previously, put on another of their incendiary live shows complete with stage invited invasions.
So after three days of music, lots of hot dogs, mouthfuls of dust, the last of Austins music festivals of 2011, comes to a close. Already the bands are being announced for SXSW 2012 and the live music capital of the world, proves it really is the place to come visit if you want to see some of the best, the newest and the most interesting musicians.