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Future of Fun Fun Fun fest uncertain after founder moves on

Staff Writer
Austin American-Statesman
Graham Williams is one of the founders of Fun Fun Fun Fest and Transmission Entertainment, the company that produces the music festival. He’s left both and is forming a new company.

In a major shake-up for Austin’s indie music scene, Fun Fun Fun Fest founder Graham Williams has left Transmission Entertainment, the company that produces the festival. James Moody, another key player in Transmission and Fun Fun Fun Fest, also has left the company, putting the future of one of the city’s premier music events in doubt.

Real estate company Stratus Properties — whose holdings include the W Austin, the music venue ACL Live and a new smaller music venue called 3Ten at ACL Live — now holds full ownership of Transmission Entertainment and Fun Fun Fun Fest. Stratus and Transmission had formed a partnership with Stratus taking an ownership stake in the events company in 2013.

Williams, one of the city’s most respected music promoters, began his career at the downtown location of Emo’s in the 1990s. On Tuesday, he launched a new company called Margin Walker Presents with a crew of eight employees who moved with him from the marketing and booking side of Transmission. The business, named after a song by iconic post-hardcore act Fugazi, bills itself as a “truly independent, boutique promotions, marketing and production agency.”

“I don’t think we always saw eye to eye,” Williams said Monday night. “(Stratus) is a really big company. They build sky rises, and we do live music. It was hard to understand both sides of that. They’re good people, just two different worlds.”

The details of the split, which Williams said had been coming for several months, weren’t disclosed. General Manager Bobby Garza will remain at the reorganized Transmission Events, which retained most of the company’s production staff.

“We expect to continue to work with Moody, Graham and their teams to continue to build on their success,” Beau Armstrong, CEO of Stratus, said Tuesday in a statement to the American-Statesman.

In April, representatives from Stratus told the Statesman they had tapped a financial adviser to “explore a full range of strategic alternatives” for the company. On Tuesday, Armstrong said his company remains committed to its entertainment ventures. “Stratus is in the hospitality business, and unique, Austin-focused live music events are an important component of our strategy,” he said. “The company generated $19.8 million in entertainment revenue in 2015. At ACL Live alone we hosted 210 events with an estimated attendance of 245,000 people. In addition, ACL Live sold 168,506 concert tickets during 2015.”

Without Williams or Moody in the picture, the future of Fun Fun Fun Fest, which turned 10 last year, is unclear. Garza said there will be announcement in June. The festival, which has been at Auditorium Shores since 2011, hasn’t set dates or a location for 2016 or put tickets on sale. Early bird tickets were released in mid-February last year for the November 2015 fest.

On Monday, Jason Maurer with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department said the city and the festival “have been in communication.”

“At this time the festival is reviewing dates available (at Auditorium Shores), and has been in discussions as well with Long Center and Palmer about potential conflicts,” he said via email.

In addition to Fun Fun Fun Fest, Transmission Events built a robust year-round concert promotion business, booking shows in venues all over town. Williams said his new company will take over those bookings.

Williams said he also plans to work on festivals and expects to announce soon the first Margin Walker Presents-booked festival, an event he said will be “almost exactly the same as” Fun Fun Fun Fest. He said the new festival will debut this year.

“We’ve been doing what we do for a long time, and we’re pretty good at it and people love it, and they want us to continue doing it so there’s no reason not to,” he said.