In the wee hours of Monday morning, the events of Fun Fun Fun Fest 2011, a genre blending Austin Indie music festival divided into Rock, Metal/Punk, DJ/Dance and Comedy stages, came to a close after three days of non-stop shows, Ryan Gosling sightings, and after parties that seeped from the fest grounds into downtown. Big draws this year included Slayer, Public Enemy, Lykke Li, tUnE-yArDs, The Damned, Major Lazer, Odd Future, M83 and the Black Lips and over the weekend these old school legends and buzz-worthy artist played both the festival and music clubs around town late into the night.
Onsite at Fun Fun Fun Fest, blue skies and good moods prevailed for most of the weekend despite the dusty conditions and this year's fest was considered by many to be the most successful one yet thanks to some huge talent, spacious new grounds, a stream of the entire festival on Pitchfork, the addition of FFFnites (a set of after hours free showcases for ticket holders), a strong social media presence, and customized phone apps -- including a taco locator! -- which took the fan relationship to new heights.
As for the shows, the festival delivered a variety of highlights from small acts to headliners, starting with a performance on Friday afternoon from New Orleans queen diva Big Freedia. Fresh from her tattoo done onsite, which read "AZZ EVERYWHERE," Freedia and her entourage brought the booty shaking Bounce bonanza like no other. The 45-minute set was raunchy and wild revelry that even had Ryan Gosling watching from the wings.
Later that night, Public Enemy took the Blue stage and right before they started I made my way to the second row without too much maneuvering -- an advantage of the moderately-sized event (approx. 15,000 people) and expanded footprint. Although my hearing has not quite returned to normal from the glory of "Fight The Power" or Flava Flav's trademark, eternal "OOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH" belted out at a brain rattling volume, the oddly playful, confident, relaxed vibe of these hip hop godfathers was truly something to behold in person. Closing out Friday, I was able to tear myself away from Public Enemy at the last minute and run over to Passion Pit just in time to hear "Sleepy Head" and watch the crowd go berserk.
On Saturday, the bill was packed with bands I couldn't wait to see, including a smiley and spirited tUnE-yArDs, who showcased her looping afro pop-inspired vocal tricks and instrumental talents with a stick in each hand and drum on both sides. Around the same time, Tinariwen took the stage in a rainbow of robes and regaled the crowd with their Mid-east style folk-rock, dance, hand drums and traditional Tuareg melodies.
Later that night, Swedish pop babe Lykke Li appeared for her set, draped from head to toe in flowing black garments. Although she started about 15 minutes late, all was forgiven quickly as she seduced the crowd with a set of mostly songs from Wounded Rhymes, including the especially sexy "Get Some," and commanded the stage in dramatic gusts of wind and smoke.
After that, Major Lazer closed the Blue stage and brought what most have come to expect from the dj/reggae/dance/party boys known for working their crowd into frenzy. During their set, a predictably rowdy, fun and ridiculous dance party of seismic beats ensued as Skerrit Bwoy (live show front man) poured a handle of Sailor Jerry into the mouths of front row ragers, while Diplo spun and invited ladies up to join them for a vigorous, ankle-grabbing good time.
As for Sunday, the Yellow stage had a strong showing with a sweet wedding performed in the afternoon by Henry Rollins for two Fun Fun attendees who had met at the festival in a previous year. The nuptials were followed closely by a veggie dog eating contest that still makes me queasy to think about, and an hour of the spoken word from Henry Rollins himself rounded out the Comedy stage that day.
The ultimate draw, however, was Slayer who closed out the festival with an epic 90-minute set and display of legendary metal that lived up to all the hype and expectation. Dressed in Slayer shirts themselves under a stage set of glowing pentagrams, their skill, intensity and power was astounding as they tore through songs like "Raining Blood" and "Mandatory Suicide." The crowd was well-behaved and overall seemed delightfully small for such a huge band. I had never experienced a metal show like that before and, on any level, it was plain fascinating to see icons like that at work.
Throughout those three days and nights, Fun Fun embodied the laid-back, quirky, music-craving spirit of Austin and proved rewarding for fans willing to take the risk on a roster that wasn't entirely familiar. With the addition of Fun Fun Fun nights, the weekend was like a tiny SXSW and field day for those seeking some killer shows, new favorites and all kinds of entertainment.