After cancellation, organizers say SOS Fest is unlikely to return next year

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On October 6, roughly a month before the knights were set to storm the castle, booker Graham Williams was forced to cancel the medieval-themed Sound on Sound Fest because an investor pulled out. A few weeks later, Williams has managed to mitigate the financial loss for his company, Margin Walker, by booking an estimated 80 to 90 percent of the artists scheduled to perform into club shows around Austin, including 15 events that will happen over the weekend of Nov 10-12, when the festival was supposed to take place at Sherwood Forest Faire. But he says the whimsical event that rose from the ashes of Fun Fun Fun Fest last year, to pair indie rock, hip-hop and retro punk sounds with fair maidens and merry men, is likely dead.

TINA PHAN/AMERICAN-STATESMAN. 11/4/16. The Dragon’s Lair Stage at SOS Fest. Sound On Sound Fest is having its inaugural event at Sherwood Forest in McDade, Texas, November 4-6, 2016.

RELATED: SOS Fest to host club shows with Grizzly Bear, the Shins, Ministry, more

“I don’t know. It was such a new brand, such a new name, still in, like, the growing phase, teaching people what it was,” he says. He doesn’t want to speak for everyone involved and, with a busy weekend of shows on the horizon, next year seems very far away, but “it feels a little hard to see that happening again.”

“It’s such a bummer that this thing was so close to becoming this pretty epic event annually and we just got basically screwed and left holding the bag,” he says.

Williams says SOS Fest ticket sales were on track and the investor, who he declined to name, just got “cold feet” about the festival market in general. A devastating mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas at the beginning of October didn’t help.  “A tragedy of that magnitude made this week even harder for potential plan b investors,” he said on Oct. 7, the day after the cancellation was announced.  

Graham Williams poses with a dragon head, on the grounds of Sound On Sound festival in Mcdade, Texas. Dave Creaney/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

RELATED: SOS Fest cancels after an investor pulls out

For well over a decade, Williams has been the music scene’s premier torch-bearer for a new school version of “Austin Weird.” First with Fun Fun Fun, then SOS Fest, he’s demonstrated an uncanny knack for combining well-curated music with brilliant moments of absurdity to create memorable experiences. (Mini bike hot dog jousting! Punk wedding officiated by Henry Rollins! Taco cannon!)  But the festival landscape has evolved in ways that make it much more challenging for an independent promoter to stand up an event without outside financial backing.

“Back in the day, festivals were different,” he says. “Bands got paid, production got paid, everyone got paid that weekend, when the bar sales were in, when the sponsors had handed off the check, when all the ticket money came in to the bank account.”

These days, after well-publicized flops like the Caribbean island disaster, Fyre Festival and Pemberton Music Festival in Seattle, which declared bankruptcy two months before it was scheduled to take place, everyone from artist management to the production companies who provide festival essentials like fencing, lighting and sound, demands more money up front.

“I feel like we’re, kind of, one of many smaller events that are independent, that don’t have a massive company behind them who can put a couple million dollars into an operational account,” Williams says. “So that’s why you need, kind of, investors for festivals…That’s why a lot of the festivals have now been bought by Live Nation — so they can fund it and pay themselves back at the end of the festival.”

TINA PHAN/AMERICAN-STATESMAN. 11/5/16. Armed with ketchup, Derek Van Wagner (left) and Joe Layton participate in the jousting arena while on mini motor bikes during Sound On Sound Fest at Sherwood Forest in McDade, Texas, on Saturday, November 5, 2016. Van Wagner is the bassist of Austin band Magna Carda and performed during the festival. Layton is the tour manager of Magna Carda.

RELATED: Ten years of triple fun: An oral history of Fun Fun Fun Fest 

Williams feels the mainstream festival market has become oversaturated. “I’ve been saying for years that the bubble is going to burst,” he says.

He believes, the “mega fests” like Coachella and Bonnaroo will survive because they have enough backing, but many fests on the second tier will struggle. Williams didn’t mention Austin City Limits Festival by name, but it’s worth noting that Friday and Sunday single-day passes for both weekends and 3-day passes for the weekend two were still available in the days leading up to the massive event at Zilker Park this year.

“When people used to go to a festival that has 80,000 people at it, and it was the only festival for 500 miles, half the audience were tourists… out of towners,” he says. “Now there’s a version, it may not be as good, but there’s a version of that festival within 100 miles of every other city.”

Williams believes some of these events, “that all have the same lineup in a slightly different version,” will eventually phase out.

TINA PHAN/AMERICAN-STATESMAN. 11/4/16. James Alex of Beach Slang performs on the Keep Stage during Sound On Sound Fest at Sherwood Forest in McDade, Texas, on November 4, 2016.

It’s still up in the air whether his own company will attempt to stage some sort of a festival in Austin or outside the city limits next year. Williams says there have been conversations, but nothing concrete. “Finding the right brand and right concept is what’s important for me … if the event works, if we can make it work, if the idea is cool and the location works, I’m always happy to get involved.”

But right now, he feels good about the crunch turnaround, booking over 50 SOS Fest artists into club shows to salvage some of the fest’s spirit. A week out, tickets are moving well. He suspects about half of the shows will sell out and the other half will come close.

Going forward, he’s primarily thinking about ways to build Margin Walker’s core business, the roughly 700-750 live shows his company routes through Texas each year.

“We have some ideas going around, we’re talking to some folks, but my biggest focus right now is just doing what we do,” he says.  

SOS Fest to host club shows with Grizzly Bear, the Shins, Ministry, more

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Earlier this month, Sound on Sound Fest, which was gearing up for a second showing at Sherwood Forest Faire, was abruptly canceled when an investor pulled out.

When festival organizers announced the decision to cancel the festival, they promised to book as many SOS Fest artists as possible into clubs. On Monday, they released the grid for shows that will take place over the weekend of Nov. 10-12, when the festival was scheduled to take place.

Notable shows include Grizzly Bear at ACL Live, Cannibal Corpse at Mohawk and Washed Out at Emo’s on Friday, Nov. 10; The Story So Far and Yelle at the Mohawk, Japandroids at Emo’s, Noname at the Scoot Inn on Saturday; and Snow the Product at Empire and the Shins at Emo’s on Sunday.

Tickets will go on sale for fans who bought passes to SOS Fest Monday morning at 8 a.m. A general public onsale will begin on Wednesday at 8 a.m.

“Margin Walker is still working on rescheduling all artists from the festival and some of those will not happen until later in the year or even until 2018,” fest organizers said via press release Sunday night.

Here’s the full list of rescheduled shows:

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 10

ACL Live (310 Willie Nelson Blvd Austin, TX 78701): Grizzly Bear ($45 ADV / $55 mezzanine seats)

Mohawk (910 Red River, Austin, TX 78701, Doors 8:00 p.m.): Cannibal Corpse,  Power Trip, Blanck Mass ($25)

Empire (606 E 7th St, Austin, TX 78701, Doors 5:30 pm.): Citizen, Hotelier, Sorority Noise, Alex Napping, Great Grandpa, Oso Oso ($23.50)

Emo’s (2015 E Riverside Dr, Austin, TX 78741, Doors 7:30 p.m.): Washed Out, Austra ($35)

Cheer Up Charlies (900 Red River, Austin, 78701, Doors 9:00 p.m.): Lindstrom, Juan Maclean, Cap’n Tits ($25)

The New Movement (616 Lavaca St, Austin, TX 78701): Naughty Bits, Sure Thing

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11

Mohawk (Matinee Show Doors at 3:30pm): The Story So Far, Turnstile, Drug Church ($25)

Mohawk (Late Show | Doors at 9:30): Yelle, Capyac ($20)

Emo’s (Doors 7:30 p.m.): Japandroids, Cloud Nothings ($32.50)

Cheer Up Charlies (Doors 7:00 p.m.): The Frights, Hockey Dad, Vundabar ($13)

Scoot Inn (1308 E 4th St, Austin, TX 78702, Doors 7:00 p.m.): Noname, Arima Ederra ($25)

The New Movement: Sandbox, The Neighborhood: 7 Year Anniversary, Part 2

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 12:

Mohawk (Doors 6:00 p.m.): Boris, Endon, USA/MEXICO ($20)

Empire (Doors 8:00 p.m.): Snow Tha Product, Castro Escobar, AJ Hernz, Kydd Jones & Tank Washington ($20)

Emo’s (Doors 7:00 p.m.): The Shins, Baio ($59.50)

Cheer Up Charlies (Doors 7:00 p.m.): Ariel Pink, Girlpool, Mild High Club ($25)

Vulcan Gas Company (418 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701, Doors 8:00 p.m.): Hot Clip (DJ set), Tim Sweeney, Lovefingers, Flying Turns ($25)

In addition to the shows above, Ministry will be performing on Sunday, November 12 at the Aztec Theatre (104 N St Mary’s St) in San Antonio, Texas. Tickets are on sale now at livenation.com. Additional shows will be announced at a later date.

Austin club ranks No. 1 in Yelp’s top U.S. music venues list

East Austin club, the Skylark Lounge has placed first in a Yelp list of the top 50 music venues in America. The folks at Yelp say you should go to the local dive bar for “A piece of old-school Texas music and pretty good pizza.”

The Texas Eastside Kings play Skylark Lounge. American-Staesman

The club has a rich history, that current owner Johnny LaTouf shared with us when we caught up with him in 2014, about a year after the venue opened.

RELATED: Skylark Lounge creates warm homage to East Austin heritage

“I walked into this bar and I felt the history,” he says. The space was a lumber yard before becoming the Airport Bar and Grill, a neighborhood hangout for black folk, and later a lesbian bar called Bernadette’s. LaTouf decided to “grab it and try to preserve it.”

He was determined to create a space that caters to both sets of the bar’s former clientele. He wanted to fill a vacuum for East Austin natives alarmed at the way black and Hispanic entrepreneurs were being pushed out of the neighborhood, watching the local culture “getting obliterated off the map.” He also wanted to welcome the area’s newer transplants and tourists looking for an authentic Austin experience.

“The other bar people in town told me ‘Are you crazy? You cannot have a bar that is going to have gay people, African-American people, Hispanic people and white people coming to it. You need to figure out what your demographic is and you need to go for it,’” LaTouf says. But he was committed to the diverse vision.

These days, the club, a dimly lit haunt with candles on the tables and a regular roster of classic blues musicians onstage, does brisk business. A diverse  mix of old and new Austinites flock to the Eastside hideaway for an intimate musical experience with an authentic old Austin feel.

EDM Jesus and 5 other things we saw at Euphoria Fest

With mild temperatures and bright blue sky, the riverfront property of Carson Creek Ranch was positively idyllic for the first day of Euphoria Fest, the dance music festival that continues Saturday and Sunday. The crowd was young, the bass was mighty and the grooves were strong. Here are a few things we saw at the fest.

1. Fantastic use of color and light.

The stage design at Euphoria Fest is spectacular. There’s some next-level artistry at play. Colorful structures around the stages and above the crowds are designed to create beautiful light pictures after dark. The largest stage had giant circles on either stage with kaleidoscopic color wheels. The other big stage had a giant fox head with eyes that glowed at night. And at the Dragonfly stage, set in a natural amphitheater overlooking the river, lacy light patterns played across the woodland backdrop across the river after the sun went down.

A-LIST PHOTOS: Euphoria Fest, day three | Day two

2. That hoop life

Unsurprisingly, the Euphorian hoop game is strong.

And after dark it’s illuminating.

3. Euphoria Jesus

Rejoice sinners! Look who we found hanging out by the bar. He was actually begging off a young woman who was legitimately asking for personal salvation when we found him. He graciously diverted his trip to the bathroom (even the divine must relieve themselves, apparently) to bless us with a pic.

4. That hammock life

The Euphorian lounge game is also strong. There aren’t “chair people” crowding the outer edges of the stages at Euphoria Fest, although we did see a few air beds, but the fest has several built in chill zones including a few groves of trees that are strung with hammocks to help fest-goers recharge between sets.

 

 

5. Fairies, unicorns and assorted woodland creatures. There were plenty of fairies roaming the field, including Fairy Juju, who’s actually a professional fairy. (She also spreads magic at the Texas Renaissance Fest.) We also saw multiple unicorns, many women wearing bunny ears and at least two men roaming the field with fox tails tied around their waists for no apparent reason. Overall, there were significantly more mystical woodland creatures than you see at the average music festival.

6. Very progressive electronic music. The focus of Euphoria Fest is electronic music, dance bands with a healthy sampling of hip-hop added to the mix this year. But it’s not all thumping techno. Parisian artist French Kiwi Juice took the stage solo with a guitar, bass, saxophone, drum pad and two keyboards on stage. Sometimes he built the grooves live using loop pedals. At other points, he solo-ed over sound beds. Either way his forward-leaning mixture of jazz, R&B and house music was thoroughly enthralling.

 

The best free parties at SXSW 2017

South by Southwest is just days away, the free beer is being tapped and you can almost smell the free food from here — so whip out your calendar, because here are the best parties that you can get into without having to shell out hundreds of your hard-earned dollars for a festival badge or wristband. Many of these parties fill up fast, though, so make sure to get RSVPs in where needed and be prepared to arrive early and wait in line.

FULL LIST: Check out the SXSW 2017 Unofficial Party Guide

People pose for photos with members of the Crash Alchemy troop circulating among the crowd at the Lagunitas Brewery Couch Trippin' day party at the Historic Scoot Inn March 16. 03/15/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN
People pose for photos with members of the Crash Alchemy troop circulating among the crowd at the Lagunitas Brewery Couch Trippin’ day party at the Historic Scoot Inn March 16. 03/15/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Sunday, March 12: Tumblr’s Never Going Back Party

While there are plenty of free events before Sunday (you can search for them in our SXSW 2017 Unofficial Party Guide), this one will surely kick off the music portion of the festival with a bang. Hosted by microblogging platform Tumblr, the proceeds from the party at the Mohawk featuring Sleigh Bells, Girlpool, Pvris and Hoops will benefit Planned Parenthood.

Monday, March 13: Just Another Manic Monday presented by The Onion/AV Club

Featuring big names such as red hot rapper Lizzo, electropoppers Sylvan Esso and folky group MOTHERS, you’re going to want to get to this one early. Even though it’s free and open to the public (no RSVP necessary!), SXSW badge holders get priority access.

RELATED: Who is Lizzo? Meet one of the hottest artists of SXSW 2017

March 13-16: Pandora Discovery Den

The Pandora parties are always lit at SXSW, and this year is no different — the day-by-day schedule hasn’t dropped yet, but the lineup includes the ubiquitous Lizzo, indie-pop duo Lewis Del Mar and Texas country singer Sunny Sweeney.

Tuesday, March 14: She Shreds Magazine Showcase

She Shreds, the magazine devoted to women guitarists and bassists, is putting together some of the sickest female musicians for an epic girl-power showcase. All-female quartet Chastity Belt, pop-punk duo Diet Cig and bright indie rockers Ian Sweet are all playing at Las Cruxes, the part-art gallery, part-boutique tucked inside Farewell Books.

March 15-16: House of Vans

The House of Vans is coming back to the Mohawk for its fourth consecutive year for two days of music. The lineup includes chill electropop group San Fermin, punk-pop sisters Bleached and garage rockers The Black Lips.

Day-by-day lineup:

March 15-18: Waterloo Records Day Parties

Austin’s famous record shop, Waterloo, hosts epic day parties every year in the parking lot in front of their store. You’ll be seeing a lot of these bands — Minus The Bear, Chicano Batman, PWR BTTM, Cherry Glaserr — at a lot of the other free parties around town, but don’t you want to tell people you saw Austin legends Spoon play a set in the parking lot of Austin’s legendary record shop? Yeah, thought so. Also, for you millennial kids wanting some serious nostalgia: Jojo. Yeah, that Jojo.

Day-by-day lineup:

March 15-18: South by San Jose

Hotel San Jose and Jo’s Coffee are two of the most Instagram-worthy spots in Austin, and they’ve become among the most popular stops during SXSW thanks to day parties featuring live music and local vendors. No RSVP needed, just show up and enjoy the sweet sounds of trippy psych rockers Temples, Austin soul singer Black Joe Lewis and local country singer Emily Gimble, who previously played in Asleep At The Wheel and is the granddaughter of Johnny Gimble, legendary Texas fiddle player and original member of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

Day-by-day lineup:

March 15-17: Culture COLLiDE’s parties

Culture COLLiDE takes over Rainey Street ever year and throws parties at some of the bars you may associate with Sunday Funday, but now you’ll associate with your favorite SXSW memories. The showcases at Container Bar feature bluesman Benjamin Booker and up-and-coming pop sensation MUNA, and you can find alt-pop singer-songwriter Banks alongside hometown heroes White Denim at Bar 96.

See the full lineups:

March 15-17: StubHub LIVE

If you missed Sleigh Bells at the Mohawk or Banks at Bar 96, you can catch them at Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden for StubHub’s day parties. Other heavy-hitters on the lineup include D.R.A.M. (of “Broccoli” fame), glam blues-rockers The Shelters and witty pop duo Electric Guest.

Day-by-day lineup:

Thursday, March 16: Bloody Mary Morning presented by KLRU and Austin City Limits

If the free Shiner beer, Tito’s Bloody Marys and Tacodeli breakfast tacos ’til they run out aren’t enough to get you to this annual party in the GSD&M Courtyard, then the music should be: San Diego blues-rockers Little Hurricane, trance-y, dance-y quartet Sundara Karma and, of course, Lizzo will get the party going even though it’s an early morning.

Thursday, March 16: MTVu Woodies

There isn’t much information out in the world about this year’s MTVu Woodies just yet (other than the fact that Rick Ross is hosting the awards), but we don’t need a lineup to say this is one you don’t want to miss. If you need proof, ask me about the time Macklemore went crowd-surfing and I ended up with one of his rings as a souvenir.

March 16-17: Twin Peaks at the Showtime House

It’s not a dream: You can visit a pop-up version of the iconic Double R Diner from “Twin Peaks” at Clive Bar — and yes, you can get a “damn fine” cup of coffee. You can also catch sets by Neko Case and M. Ward, but Dale Cooper probably won’t be there.

Day-by-day lineup:

March 16-18: Quantum Collective Southwest Invasion

If you’re looking to catch ’90s heroes Hanson for free at this year’s festival, it looks like this is one of the only places you can do it. Quantum Collective is bringing the party to the roof of Whole Foods downtown, but even if you’re not an MMMBopper, there are plenty of names on the lineup that may interest you: Kate Nash, In The Valley Bellow, The Relationship (Brian Bell of Weezer) and more.

Day-by-day lineup:

March 16-18: SXSW Outdoor Stage at Auditorium Shores

Probably the biggest of the free events each year takes place at Auditorium Shores. Only two of the performances have been announced: An “All Latino Resist Concert” presented by Voto Latino on Thursday and a Prince tribute featuring Wyclef Jean and members of Prince’s band The Revolution on Friday. A third show is set for Saturday, March 18, but the lineup has not been announced. Admission requires the SXSW Guest Pass, available for free at guestpass.sxsw.com. The The pass also allows entry into a select number of music showcases, film screenings, exhibitions and other events.

Saturday, March 18: Rachael Ray’s Feedback

Celebrity chef and Food Network star Rachael Ray has been throwing her party at SXSW for the last 10 years, and the long lines every year will tell you exactly how popular it is. But for good reason — the lineup is always great (this year it features Weezer, De La Soul and Action Bronson, among others) and the free food is pretty delicious.

Parties for a good cause

March 15-19: KUTX Live at the Four Seasons

With buzzy bands from Hurray For The Riff Raff and Real Estate to Maggie Rogers and Temples and Spoon, KUTX’s parties are some of the busiest at SXSW — and totally worth that early-morning alarm. For just $10 (I know, we said these parties were free, but the money benefits the Seton Shivers Cancer Center), you get access to the shows as well as a breakfast taco, a granola bar and coffee.

Day-by-day lineup:

March 15-18: KGSR Live Broadcast

For a $5 donation to Make-A-Wish Central and South Texas, you get four hours of early-morning tunes from artists like Spoon, Jimmy Eat World, Third Eye Blind, Hanson, The New Pornographers, Bob Schneider, Karen Elson and more. You can see the full lineup here (the schedule hasn’t yet been announced).

Honorable mentions

If you’re wondering where the Fader Fort is on this list, we’ve omitted it because it’s not a public event this year — there will be no public RSVP and guests will receive invitations to the party through email. Other popular parties, like the Spotify House, Hype Hotel and the Friskies-sponsored Grumpy Cat event, do not appear to be returning this year.