Day 1: Saturday, November 8th, 2008.
This being my first time attending the Fun Fun Fun Fest, I wasn't sure how difficult it would be to find parking, so I had my girlfriend drop me off. Not realizing that there was a Longhorns game that day, we got stuck in some major traffic and I was getting nervous thinking I was gonna miss one of the bands I was most looking forward to: the almighty Swingin' Utters. After dealing with blocked off streets and bumper-to-bumper traffic, we finally made it to Waterloo Park. If you've never seen Waterloo Park, it's a large city park in downtown Austin. It's just a couple blocks from the state capital building and about six blocks from famous 6th St. Waterloo Park is a unique place for an outdoor show as it has many hills, a creek, a swing set (big enough for adults) and many nooks and crannies where concert-goers can go to take a nap, chill and smoke a joint, watch the stage with a bird's eye view or make out (I swear I also saw one couple having sex, but I didn't want to be a creep and stare, so I'm not positive). Most of the park is covered in grass, except of course the main area where the stages and food booths are. That area was basically dirt with a smattering of grass and it didn't take long for the whole park to be covered in a cloud of dust (but the punks now had something to do with those nifty bandannas in their back pockets, by putting them on their faces to help with dust inhalation…I always wondered what the purpose for those was).
We pulled up and I jumped out of the car and could already hear the Utters playing and was seriously freaking out thinking I was gonna miss them. I ran past the long ticket-buyer line and, thankfully, the line for ticketholders was only about four people long. After getting my wristband I went in and immediately ran across the park, past the hip-hop and indie rock stages toward the punk stage to catch the Utters. They were playing to a decent-sized crowd and I was able to easily get up front to take pictures and rock out. Johnny Peebucks was flailing around like a mad man and giving it his all the whole time. He even punched himself in the forehead a few times until he started bleeding. It was great to see a man who's probably in his late 30s rocking harder than most singers half his age. The rest of the band played great and they put on what was definitely one of the best performances I saw the whole weekend.
Up next on the punk stage was Killdozer. They were old dudes playing Touch & Go-style noise rock. I wasn't very familiar with them and the crowd was rather sparse, but they put on a good show.
After Killdozer was Municipal Waste, who I had heard of, but never actually heard. I made the mistake of being all the way up front to take pictures and the moment they started with their blend of D.R.I.-ish thrash, punk and metal, the huge crowd went completely nuts with beer and crowd surfers going everywhere. I ran outta there at fast as possible to protect my camera. Watching them from afar was good enough. They put on a great high-energy show, complete with lots of head-banging and metal goofiness. When they did the famous wall of death, they claimed it would be their last due to lame bands like Atreyu and Yellowcard doing it. The kids really gave it their all and it almost looked like a scene out of "Braveheart" (a video of it is available here). They changed the title of one of their songs from "Kill the President" to "Chill with the President" in light of Obama's recent nomination. They also made fun of the indie rock stage, saying it had "that horrible music with the keyboards that makes me want to kill myself." Definitely see these guys sometime if you wanna see a crazy metal show.
Hardcore legends Integrity played next and they were good. I've never really gotten into them and this set didn't change that, but they played well and their fans seemed to be really into it. Moving on…
The Adolescents were good as usual and played all their hits. I've seen them numerous times and they always put on a great show.
I missed ALL and the Dead Milkmen because I was tired and wanted to go home. I realize this is sacrilege to some people, but I just never got into either band and I knew I had a long day ahead of me the next day, so I said fuck it and left.
Day 2: Sunday, November 9th, 2008.
Sunday, I arrived with plenty of time, not wanting to miss any of The Revival Tour. I made it down to the acoustic stage in time to see 7 Seconds frontman, Kevin Seconds, finish his set. He was really good and closed with a funny song about hipsters playing polo on fixie bikes (silly hipsters).
I quickly grabbed a beer and situated myself front and center for The Revival Tour. I was originally bummed that this show was part of Fun Fun Fun Fest because I wanted to see it in a dingy bar at night with a bunch of drunks, but it ended up being great nonetheless. After a few minutes of stage setup, Tim Barry, Chuck Ragan and Ben Nichols took the stage backed by Jon Gaunt on fiddle, Digger Barnes on stand-up bass and Todd Beene on slide guitar. They started with a Tim Barry song, a Chuck Ragan song and a couple more before they all exited and Tom Gabel took the stage. He started with the Against Me! song "Walking Is Still Honest" and the crowd was super stoked. He then played numerous songs off the Heart Burns EP, as well as another Against Me! song -- "Joy." Everyone came on stage to help Tom end with a rousing rendition of "Anna Is a Stool Pigeon."
Tim Barry followed with an amazing set (my favorite of The Revival Tour). He didn't play anything off his new record and said he didn't care. He told a heart-wrenching story (claiming he was being emo) about two of his best friends dying this year and then went into one of my favorite songs, "Wait at Milano." He said he was just gonna close his eyes and sing it to himself and that's exactly what he did. The emotion coming from this man was unreal and I doubt I was the only person there almost brought to tears by his performance.
Ben Nichols came out next and played a handful of songs, some off his new EP, The Last Pale Light in the West, and I think the rest were Lucero songs. I haven't heard much Lucero, so I'm not sure which songs he played, but he was amazing and I will definitely be picking up some of Lucero's music.
Last but not least was the incredible Chuck Ragan. He played a bunch of stuff off his solo record and some Hot Water Music songs. Then everyone came on stage and played together, ending with a fantastic performance of "Revival Road," which they wrote and recorded while on this tour. It was a great finale, especially when Ben Nichols (who was singing without his guitar for the song) grabbed his guitar at the last minute and got all the boys to go into one extra chorus of the song. Overall, The Revival Tour was as awesome as I had hoped and I couldn't have asked for a better show.
Due to the three-hour Revival "show," I unfortunately missed Leftover Crack, Scared of Chaka and DOA. I walked around for a while, got some food and checked out the merch area which was in a sort of tree house / deck area that is a permanent fixture in the park. I felt bad for Heather Gabel, who was selling merch for all The Revival Tour guys and looked rather exasperated by the throngs of people clamoring for shirts and CDs. Hey, I guess it's better than the alternative.
I eventually made my way back to the punk stage to see Cro-Mags play an excellent, highly energetic set of old-school New York hardcore. Singer John Joseph ran all over the place and the crowd was stage diving and slam dancing like crazy. I've never owned anything by these guys, so I don't know what they played, but they put on one of the best shows of the weekend.
Following them was the Bouncing Souls. I've always liked their old stuff more than the newer material (although I did really like The Gold Record), but I'm pretty sure they only played one or two songs off Maniacal Laughter and nothing off of The Good, The Bad & the Argyle. They played great, though, and the crowd really loved them. I just can't help but yearn for those mid-`90s days when I would see them play my favorites like "The Guest" and "Neurotic." Oh well. The Souls still beat most bands nowadays when it comes to playing real punk rock with heart and they never fail to please the crowd.
Now, for the headliner we were all waiting for…Bad Brains. I had never seen them before and I went into this expecting to be let down. Was I let down? Yes, but not as much as I expected. Let me say that during the Bouncing Souls, I saw one of Bad Brains roadies ask some people in the front of the crowd for papers. Someone obliged and gave him the papers and I saw him specifically ask for four. So I think it's safe to say that H.R. smoked (at least) four joints before taking the stage and it showed. The band comes out and H.R. is wearing a weird shawl thing that's almost covering his whole face like a burqa. He proceeds to spend most of the show standing in one place, often holding his hands in prayer. He had his set list neatly folded in his jacket and would take it out between songs, unfold it, read out loud what they were playing next and then carefully fold it back up and put in his pocket. They played all the hits, starting off with "Attitude" and ending with "Pay to Cum" and an encore of "I Against I." The rest of the band played great and should have smacked H.R. so he'd move a little. It must be very frustrating to have him fuck up what could still be such an awesome band. He never grabbed the mic, he just stood there and sang into it. Sometimes it sounded okay, but he didn't sing with the aggression that those songs are known for. The reggae songs were a little better suited for him due to his lack of energy. It was hilarious seeing him sprinkle water on people and saying he was baptizing them. I just couldn't help but stand there and laugh at this spectacle of a man, while remembering those great videos of him doing backflips and going nuts. I saw many people around me doing the same thing. It's almost as if we watched out of obligation. I'm glad I saw them and it wasn't as bad as I've heard it could have been, but I will probably never make an effort to see this band again.
Overall, the Fun Fun Fun Fest was a really great time and the location and atmosphere was better than any music festival I've ever attended.
As an added bonus, Drag the River played an after-show at Red 7, about six blocks down the street. Chuck Ragan, Ben Nichols and Tim Barry made special appearances and played a couple songs each before Drag the River, featuring only Jon and Chad (unfortunately no full band for this show), played an all-request set to a somewhat small crowd until 2 A.M. It was the perfect ending to a great weekend.
Many pictures from these performances can be found here. Please forgive the quality as they were all taken with a low-end 4 MP camera.