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Fun has arrived

It was dusty. It was windy. There was a prima donna, but promoters of sixth annual music festival earned fan loyalty

Joe Gross
jgross@statesman.com

Six years ago this Dec. 1, the first Fun Fun Fun Fest took place at Waterloo Park. It was very cold. (Singer Glenn Danzig would not have enjoyed it.) There wasn't enough food. The stand selling coffee did very well indeed. Headliners included Spoon, Circle Jerks, Prefuse 73 and Lucero.

Last weekend at Audtiorium Shores, from the online streaming by Pitchfork to the massive amount of (largely social media driven) publicity generated by a Danzig debacle and randomly occurring appearances by Ryan Gosling and Terrence Malick, FFF entered a new phase. It was a massive leap forward in band size, public and national awareness, physical footprint and production.

"This was a next-level move for us," festival promoter James Moody of Transmission Entertainment said. "We think we have made a statement about who we are."

Right now, Moody said he plans to hold the festival at Auditorium Shores again next year. He added that although he sees the festival continuing to grow, there are no plans to expand into more mainstream, Austin City Limits Music Festival-style headliners.

"There are cross-over moments, and we love the big headliners, but we don't have big headliner aspirations," he said.

Exact numbers aren't available yet, but Moody said the attendance for the weekend was near their goal of 15,000 people a day, with slightly more people in the park Saturday than on Friday and Sunday.

The weather from Friday to Sunday was hilariously all over the place. It dipped into the low 50s Friday night and was dry and gorgeous Saturday, with dust that made for bank-robber chic most of the day. At some moments, bandanas and dust masks seemed to cover the majority of faces in a crowd.

Sunday, light rain kept the dust under more control.

But through all of it, nobody seemed to complain. Maybe it's because it's a younger crowd used to going to shows, maybe it's because it's not as hot, maybe it's because the crowd is smaller and there are no chair areas, but there was none of the drunken rudeness and provincialism over one's blanket-covered personal space too often present at ACL Fest.

Back in 2006, we wondered if Transmission could pull it off at all. They did indeed.

This year, we wondered could they pull it off with much bigger bands, crowds and stakes.

They absolutely did. They should start selling tickets to next year today.

Additional reporting by Peter Mongillo.

The Dark Lord of French Onion Soup

Glenn Danzig's "Legacy" set was supposed to include Danzig's solo material, songs from his band Samhain, and a set of Misfits songs with guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein. Instead, it ended in anger and disappointment Friday when the punk icon took the stage nearly an hour late, bumped up against the 10 p.m. sound curfew and denied fans all but two Misfits songs.

Danzig then stood in defiance on the stage and attempted to get the crowd to riot. Some trash, including a shoe (did someone go home wearing only one shoe?) and some of the fest's ubiquitous 24-ounce Tecate cans loaded with dirt, was thrown at the stage. No riot happened.

News of the set spread rapidly on social media; negative comments aimed at promoters prompted festival booker Graham Williams to post a lengthy response on the Fun Fun Fun Facebook page (read the full transcript at austin360.com/music).

Nestled in Williams' blow-by-blow of Danzig's day of complaints and demands — Danzig has a cold (a "deathbug"), it's too cold and he won't go on, he wants a plane ticket so he can go home, he wants the fest moved indoors — was news that Danzig insisted on French onion soup to make him feel better.

The soup quickly became the joke of the weekend for festivalgoers and performers, including reunited punk band Hot Snakes and Saturday headliners the Damned, who repeatedly mocked Danzig from the stage. (Sunday headliners Slayer posted a photo of Campbell's French Onion Soup on their Facebook page with this caption: Great show tonight @FunFunFunFest got everything we needed.)

The highlight of the fallout, however, might have been Ted Leo's performance Sunday: "I'm having some vocal issues today. But I don't have anyone to bring me French onion soup," he said.

After a great set of his own material, the punk veteran, who also was fighting a cold, ran to the back of the stage and emerged wearing a black wig and tank top. He "apologized" for Friday's set and played his own set of Misfits covers. People up front went nuts.

"It was one of the biggest prima-donna rock 'n' roll moves I've ever dealt with," festival promoter Moody said later about Danzig. "He knew about the sound ordinance. We are not going to break the law for Glenn Danzig or anybody else."

What transpires backstage is generally off-limits, Moody added, but Danzig's unwillingness to work with the festival was so extreme that they felt justified in revealing what had happened.

— Peter Mongillo

More highlights

Cloud Nothings. What started as a basement project from Cleveland-based Dylan Baldi has evolved into a nice live act. On Friday the band alternated between chaotic instrumentals and hook-heavy songs dominated by Baldi's gravely voice.

Black Milk. The Detroit producer/rapper Black Milk has production credits a mile long on songs from some of hip-hop's top talent. His Friday set demonstrated that he has vocal skills to match. It didn't hurt that he brought along a wildly good live rhythm section.

Thee Oh Sees. San Francisco-based band makes music that alternates between frantic, chaotic blasts of garage rock and weird, jangly psych pop. At Fun Fun Fun they went all out with two drummers and a wall of drone behind frontman John Dwyer's freaked-out vocals.

Big Freedia. From Black Milk to Syrian dance king Omar Souleyman, the Blue Stage was consistently strong all weekend. New Orleans-based bounce master Big Freedia's "Azz Everywhere" somehow doesn't get old.

Okkervil River. Will Sheff and Co. started a little slow (or maybe it just seemed that way after Big Freedia's set), but by the time they got to "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe," the energy picked up a lot. The band sounds looser and more comfortable than when their tour started earlier this year.

Tinariwen. This group has been playing music for decades, mixing music of the Tuareg people with American blues rock. Their set Saturday dipped back and forth between moments of rock and soul groove to sprawling Tuareg folk music.

— Peter Mongillo

The Damned, whose good humor and thrilling power on their 35th anniversary tour (!!) made them the anti-Danzig.

Slayer's precision, career-spanning set and sheer volume.

Hot Snakes using both drummer Jason Kourkounis for the 1999-2003 songs while drummer Mario Rubalcaba stepped in for the 2003-2005 songs.

Tinariwen's desert blues; I could have watched two more hours.

Negative Approach singer John Brannon's voice. Still terrifying after all these years. Plus Cannibal Corpse and Total Control, both of whom I would love to see again soon.

— Joe Gross

The Damned. Energetic, practiced, triumphant and humorous far beyond all reasonable expectation for a band celebrating its 35th year, the British punks tore through their entire first album, large chunks of a few others and made Danzig look like even more of a regrettable loser. And that was no easy feat.

Ted Leo/TV Casualty. A ragged (in a good way) set ended with the always wise-acre Leo putting on a Danzig costume and leading his band through Misfits songs including "Bullet," "Where Eagles Dare" and "Skulls." An inspired joke, perfectly executed.

Public Enemy. Even if they're firmly in legacy mode at this point, tracks from those first four albums still hit like Howitzers. And it's never a bad thing to have Chuck D around, breathing lyrical fire while Flavor Flav reprises his comic jester routine a little too well.

— Chad Swiatecki