Although at times it seemed the sky might be ready to burst forth with torrents of rain, in fact they ended up providing just a colorful canvas of blues, grays, purples, reds and oranges for the very first Freak Show Festival put on by a new production company here in Austin, 3 Way Events.
It was a good thing too because seeing your first major show wiped out by a weather event can make a guy think twice about having another one.
Spread over a couple parking lots on 7th street the festival grounds were a large piece of barren old asphalt that was hard on the feet, but provided an almost perfect location. Right off 6th street, with plenty of parking, and a stunning Austin downtown skyline with the Frost tower providing a spectacular backdrop to the large portable stage and light kit. The festival grounds also provided plenty of space for the circus and sideshow tents and as each act started on a different stage, there was plenty of room for the crowd to comfortably shift around to watch the action.
With infamous side show master Jim Rose providing the freaks, (yes Mr. Lifto was there) the show had a main stage for the bands, a big top for the freaks, acrobats, clowns, and jugglers, a pole stage where a bevy of beauties kept the troops entertained and drew a constant crowd, as well as sideshow and "Museum of the Weird" displays, it would be difficult not to find something entertaining to do, even without the music.
The freak show and it's acts made for a great way to fill the time during set changeovers, and it was kinda funny watching the crowd shift around like a pack of "Homer Simpson" clones going from donut shop to donut shop.
But the bands proved to be the icing on the cake. Fusing the horror and circus freak theme with the psychobilly sounds of bands like Reverend Horton Heat, the Horrorpops, Koffin Kats and more, the music just seemed to meld with the whole event.
Opening up the musical part of the show Austin based The Blue Flames did yeoman-like work filling in for a missing opener last minute, though I doubt the ladies appreciate being referred to as "yeomen". They played their way through a sharp solid set that kept the early arrivals interested, which is difficult in a festival situation, especially if your a last minute replacement. But they sounded great and put on a good show, and even spent time taking pictures with fans after their set.
The second band on the bill, the Detroit based trioThe Koffin Kats, laid down a strong psychobilly setlist accompanied with a little standup bass aerobics. It was hard to tell whether more smoke was coming from the machines or the band, as they burned through a blistering performance. This was a great band and it was good to see them on a large stage where they had some room to maneuver. I doubt you would get the same impact in say Beerland. I look forward to a return tour, hopefully very soon.
Ok, I am always a sucker for a hot chick with a guitar, especially one that plays really really wellbut Sarah Blackwood, guitarist and frontwoman for the third band Toronto based The Creepshow, absolutely blew me away. I mean I know there was a band on stage with her somewhere, I could hear them, but I found it very difficult to point my camera at her bandmates because she was just so engaging through the lens. Her live performance was electric and she seemed to have almost an aura surrounding her.
I ran into her before her set and didn't know who she was, but she is just a tiny waif, a wispy thing that barely looks like she could hoist a guitar, much less yield one like a machine gun, and that probably works to her advantage on a number of levels. This was the surprise best set of the evening for me, and that's' saying an awful lot because every band on this bill was solid.
With the big white standup bass providing the color contrast, The Horrorpops were the forth, and next to last, band on the Freak Show Festival bill and they crashed through a long list of crowd favorites, the city lights behind them providing a colorful backdrop.
If it seemed they brought their own audience with them, the Horrorpop's have long been a staple on the Red River club scene and have paid their dues establishing a core audience here in Austin. It was noticeable, because the crowd response was huge with just about everyone it seemed singing along to every song.
Attendance at the festival had seemed to start off a bit slow but by by the end of the night a good 3500-4000 people were packed against the main stage for the Reverend Horton Heat's closing set, the crowd awash with psychobilly hairdoos and tattoos. Old punks, young rockers, circus freaks, the crowd seemed to run a wide spectrum.
Having seen the Reverend perform in Austin innumerable times since the late 70's, it was difficult to shoot his set without singing along ("I want my $400 bucks!") and he is such a pro after all this time the songs sounded like they were coming straight off his albums.
I was hoping that there would be a chill in the air so that he would put on his red jacket for the set, but it was still in the seventies by the time he made it onstage and he was dressed in his usual black. Still with the Frost Tower in the background, the smoke and lights made for an interesting shoot, and a great way to round out the night.
Thanks to 3 Way Events and JingerSnaps photography for the hook-up. It was a great first show and I look forward to the next one!