I didn't think I could love a festival again. Don't get me wrong, the Pygmalion festival was a great time, and I will be going to Free Press Summer Fest every year until I die or they cancel it, but the three days I spent at Austin's Auditorium Shores for Fun Fun Fun Fest are possibly the best music festival experience I've had in years.
The first thing I noticed was the size. The festival itself was physically smaller than most other festivals I have been to, easily one fourth the size of Free Press. This, however, (aside from some day-one ticketing snafus) seemed to work to the festival's advantage. I never found myself far from any given show, and unlike larger festivals, found it easier to see half of one act and still be able to catch a reasonable portion of another playing at the same time.
It was as if these Austinites had been reading all of my complaints about other festivals. (And many other people's; I didn't see one white person in a Native American Headdress) FFF had an evenly-distributed bill that wasn't dominated by EDM; on the contrary, Neutral Milk Hotel, Wiz Khalifa, and Judas Priest were among the largest acts. The festival also retained some of Austin's "weird" ethos by making sure that non-music acts didn't consist of merely comedy, (a large festival staple) but kept skating, art, and amateur wrestling as an integral part of the festival, when most festivals its size would have cut them long ago.
The musical acts, as well as the festival goers, were a veritable smorgasbord of tastes. Despite not having Outkast, it was a wonderful experience to see King Diamond and Amon Amarth sharing a bill with Alt-J and 2 Chainz, bringing out fans for each, and plenty of fans of both.
While there was so much going on musically, this was a festival for rapper/producer duos. Run the Jewels (consisting of Killer Mike and El-P) played early on Friday, leading the crowd through not only their masterful second release Run the Jewels 2, but also a chant of "Fuck You Sun Kill Moon" directed toward indie rock's favorite curmudgeon, playing at a neighboring stage. Sunday was no less impressive: Freddie Gibbs and Madlib performed their hit collaboration Cocaine Piñata and Girl Talk brought out Philadelphia rapper Freeway for a rendition of "Tolerated" off of their Broken Ankles EP.
Other notable acts were Nas, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Illmatic, followed by a run-through of the rest of his greatest hits; Flying Lotus, performing as both himself and his alter-ego Captain Murphy; The New Pornographers; and of course Neutral Milk Hotel who easily drew the largest crowds and led sing-alongs of their greatest hits. Jeff Mangum was appropriately mysterious for the whole performance, insisting on no photography, and saying little other than "Thank you, my friends," after a few particularly enthusiastic rounds of applause for songs like "Two Headed Boy" and "Holland, 1945".
Fun Fun Fun Fest may be Austin's third most recognizable festival, (after SXSW and ACL) but what it lacks in prestige, it makes up for in effort, style, and charm. The bill, at least to me, felt cultivated less out of some sort of obligation to round out the zeitgeist, and more out of an interesting and eclectic group of acts that brought people from all corners of Austin together.
Check out a short photo collage by artists Kaung Han and Travis Queriaud: