If there was a junior varsity level for festivals, Fun Fun Fun Fest would most definitely fall under that category. One of its main draws is its lack of crowds, a definite double-edged perk of being a smaller festival. Questions of attendance have hung in the air like the sword of Damocles threatening to take the Auditorium Shores event out completely. Attendance has allegedly so far surpassed previous expectations, though organizers have complained that there were “too damn many comps.” Issues of bringing bodies to the festival still don’t adequately address the caliber of their crowds, however. The more (ahem) offbeat acts like Big Freedia and No Age were met with only slight amusement and sometimes a bit of confusion. C’mon, Austin, step it up. This will be your only warning.
Another somewhat frustrating issue with the festival was its incredibly lackadaisical timekeeping. Reports of the comedy stage being twenty minutes behind only echoed the delays on the main Orange Stage. Due to god knows what reason, the iconic Johnny Marr kept fans waiting for a good twenty minutes before taking the stage. Rest assured that, despite the delay, Marr and co. sounded damn good. Hailed as a “godlike genius” by NME, the prolific guitarist drew heavily from his recent solo endeavor, The Messenger. Marr was rocking yet the crowd warmed only slightly to his bravado.
The equally iconic Kurt Vile was set to take the stage next, though by the time Vile was ready, that delay had widened to a good forty minutes. Fans became anxious and the photographers covering the festival were even worse. I lost track of just how many exasperated cries of “fuck this” were thrown around the photo pit. The mass of cameras and disgruntled bodies ebbed and flowed like a frenetic river. Meanwhile, Kurt Vile was treating the gig like a living room jam session. Not to say that there was anything lacking in his instrumentation. The prolific songwriter from Philadelphia is one of the few true masters of folk rock.
Oh how I wish Austin would’ve brought it for Big Freedia. The queen diva of bounce is having her strongest year yet with mainstream success and the premier of her own show on Fuse. It’s not just a New Orleans thing for audiences to absolutely lose their shit at the sight of a booty pop or roar each call and response completely unprompted, yet the crowd at Auditorium Shores was legitimately confused when Big Freedia tried to get them to sing “somebody’s gon’ be my victim” during Gin In My System. At least all fifteen people brought onstage were game for a booty battle.
Shortly after, Lupe Fiasco was set to hit the Blue Stage. The MC’s narrative rhymes are evocative and definitely dramatic, yet it came as quite a surprise to have the real story be less about his performance and more about the issues that plagued it. The ire Lupe Fiasco presented towards his stage crew was the type that make a tour seriously unpleasant. Sound issues prompted him to intersperse verses with pleas to “fix that buzz” and he was forced to irritably yell backing track numbers between songs for the latter half of his set. Once a slight sprinkling of rain came down, lights shut off and roadies set about dismantling an LED wall without any warning or real reason.
“I apologize for the technical difficulty. Obviously there’s a fucking torrential downpour out here,” he said before heading back on stage to attempt to finish his performance, which actually ended a good twenty minutes earlier than it was supposed to. A throw of his arm, the drop of a mic, and the return of music pumping through a PA signaled the final moments of a seriously tumultuous set. Luckily, RJD2 stepped in and seriously saved the day, his ebullience absolutely electric and contagious. Very rarely do you see producers onstage physically hefting vinyl to an array of turntables and legitimately playing something more than, well, a play button. RJD2 proved to be the strongest headliner in a festival that also saw Flag and Snoop Dogg perform. Though, not much could be said for the latter’s performance, especially regarding sound issues.
If you thought Lupe Fiasco’s freakout was something to behold, Snoop Dogg went in the complete opposite end of the spectrum when it came to a deafening silence that overtook his set. Save for his monitors, damn near all of the audio on the Orange Stage went out for a solid two to three minutes. No matter how inebriated they were, fans shouted to front of house roadies that the sound was gone. It soon returned but Snoop Dogg didn’t miss a beat in his performance throughout that gap. Add to that some seriously questionable song choices (he does one piddling portion of California Gurls yet practically covers the entire damn song?) and you’ve got an underwhelming ending heading into the night shows.
FFF Nites were just as diverse as the festival itself and, having missed Flag almost completely, yours truly decided upon the Misfits’ late night set at Elysium. And, well, there were sound issues. Visually, the Misfits were still pretty rad but an overworked hazer firing more fog than there was beer spilled on the floor (read: a fuckton) will do that for ya. Would festival hump day reel in the issues plaguing Fun Fun Fun Fest’s eighth incarnate? I sure as hell hope so.