Last weekend the seventh annual Fun Fun Fun Fest, a music event featuring primarily progressive acts and legendary old school talent, rolled through Austin and brought with it some of the best independent shows, band reunions and modern inventions to appear on a festival bill so far this year. Over three days, about 15,000 people per day were treated to a genre blend of great entertainment and poignant moments from the likes of RUN-D.M.C, Against Me!, Girl Talk, Refused, Santigold, Dum Dum Girls, Tanlines, Japandroids and Nicky Da B as well as the antics of one very popular taco cannon.
The most hyped show of the weekend, RUN-D.M.C's reunion after 13 years, provided an instant time warp to the '80s and access to an experience I never thought would be mine. D.M.C appeared coolly in a black Nirvana t-shirt and Rev Run showed his flamboyant personality and hip-hop skill that had made him perfect for reality show fodder. The classic RUN-D.M.C banner hung large, high and proud behind the turntables, with a large "JMJ" across the top.
"Put your goddamn hands in the air," the Reverend demanded at the beginning of the set before reminding the crowd shortly thereafter that he lived by the "Preach on a Sunday, rap on a Monday" credo. And although they played a petit set, RUN-D.M.C squeezed in most of the old favorites like "Tricky" and "My Adidas," which brought the energy and excitement of a happy reunion.
The most moving part of the set, however, was an emotional tribute Rev gave for fallen crew member, Jam Master Jay:
Some years ago my DJ Jam Master Jay...he got killed on some senseless violence. He got murdered. And you know, me and D back then, we were like you know what, let's just don't do it no more you, cause Jam Master Jay, to tell the truth, was everything to us...he was our whole band.
But you know what... I brought Jam Master Jay's kids out here. They're both incredible DJs, so Jam Master Jay's spirit still lives on through his kids...I told myself if I ever came back out here I gotta bring his kids out. Because they gets busy on these turntables. So Jay, I know you lookin' down here and as I do these shows, man, I just want you to know, Jay, I got your kids man.
With that, the legendary duo gave the stage to the boys and their turntables and pulled off a show that left a nostaligified crowd in its wake.
Another seminal moment was the chance to see punk rock band Against Me! for the first time since their lead singer had come out as transgender and transitioned from Tom Gabel into Laura Jane Grace. The decision to go for it seemed astoundingly brave and honest, especially for a band that falls into a genre with a "tough" reputation, and I was eager to experience the update myself.
As it turns out, Gabel's transition into Grace seemed to have no impact on the emphatic crowd's level of excitement or the band's ability to deliver a killer show. Against Me! tore their way through favorites like "Teenage Anarchist" and "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" and Grace's voice sounded almost exactly the same as I'd remembered from three years ago. Amped-up fans wearing torn black t-shirts still crowd surfed their way to the front and landed in the arms of giant security guards, who ushered them to make their giddy exit stage left. The sense of support was palpable, and it was clear from both sounds and response that it made no difference what gender the lead singer was as long as Against Me! was willing to play for the fans.
Then, some of the sets were new to me or just straight up excellent shows. Sharon Van Etten eased everyone into a weekend of revelry on Friday afternoon with her hauntingly gorgeous vocals and unassuming stage charm. Tanlines made for a perfect Tecate infused daytime indie pop party, while inspiring a consumed fan behind me to confess "this is my favorite synthesizer sound!" Nicky Da B brought the New Orleans bounce extravaganza and dancers in pink hot pants were not afraid to scale the stage, scaffolding with their jelly. Girl Talk, a 2007 Fest alum, became the usual ecstatic dance party that felt like the coolest sweet 16 on earth thanks to the balloons, confetti, glowing accessories, toilette paper guns, hordes of dancing fans on stage and "Jock Jam"/"Jessie's Girl" mash-ups. Araabmuzik blew the proverbial roof off the Shores auditorium with seismic electro-sample beats and, despite a yellow alert diva moment, De La Soul carried out a show of well-loved hip hop classics.
As for the other entertainment and innovations on site, the alternatives to music were much more than an afterthought. Project Loop built a gigantic pirate-themed skate ramp for boards and BMX bikes that was open all weekend for shows and free skates, resulting in a hypnotic way to pass time between sets. There was a porta potty photo booth and a ring for "Anarchy Championship Wrestling," which amounted to comical performance art and a light heckling outlet. The comedy stage included everything from hilarious sets by renowned comedians like David Cross and The Daily Show's Wyatt Cenac to Veggie Dog eating contests and Air Sex Championships.
No single item, however, got people more excited than this year's piece de resistance: a taco cannon that shot warm tacos 200 feet in the air, twice a day, into a crowd of screaming fans. Some were sweetly wrapped with backstage passes and other just delicious to eat, but the excitement levels carried the news to all the way to Good Morning America and beyond, proving that perhaps we've gone too long in this world without that kind of artillery.
Indeed, with extra surprises and like these and others, like D.M.C performing "Cats in the Cradle" during a solo set or Val Kilmer randomly cutting his hair during a surprise appearance, there was hardly a dull moment. It's that kind of silly fun, combined with the incredible lineup of artists that has enabled Fun Fun Fun Fest to provide an epic weekend of entertainment and embody the creative and quirky spirit of Austin itself.