How Orlando could stage a more successful (and more droolworthy) massive music festival

click to enlarge Fun Fun Fun Fest at sunset
Fun Fun Fun Fest at sunset
Fun Fun Fun Fest at sunset Does Orlando really need a music festival on par with massive festivals like Coachella or Bonnaroo? I’m not actually sure it’s a need, so much as a missed opportunity. We have successful niche festivals that by focusing on certain music genres are able to create really spectacular experiences for music fans heavily invested in one kind of sound (Orlando Nerd Fest, Total Fuck Off, and ask anyone living in a 10-mile radius of this weekend’s Electric Daisy Carnival, how could we forget EDC?). And then there’s Florida Music Festival and Ralphfest, which are both admirably locally focused, but the national headliners are rarely the current hip bands that when stacked on a lineup have the potential to draw concertgoers from far-off places in the way Disney draws Mickey maniacs. (Ralphfest experimented with a national headliner this year, featuring Sebadoh, a poignant way to pull in a favorite act of the festival’s namesake. FMF, in its defense, is more conference-oriented, and you could argue the past-their-prime bands they book have more seasoned advice for young musicians than new acts who just broke the scene.) This weekend, I attended Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, Texas, a festival that’s smaller than the city’s other major music festivals like South By Southwest and Austin City Limits, but seems to me to be the perfect model for a similar music festival offering in Orlando (strewn throughout this post are videos and photos from my experience). Not too big and not too small, but just right. The key, and where Orlando Calling ultimately disappointed, is the organization.

A video posted by Ashley Belanger (@ashleyedits) on

Fun Fun Fun Fest features daytime shows in an outdoor park from noon until 10 p.m. All the major headliners perform a daytime show that allows for tons of people to experience a shortened set in the way festivalgoers are accustomed. With four massive stages, they assigned each stage a color and these colors communicated to attendees what type of music would be featured on that stage. Black was for heavy music; Blue was for electronic, dance, hip-hop; Orange was for indie artists; Yellow was for comedy and primarily acoustic acts. They were far enough apart to mostly not disturb one another, but close enough and staggered enough to straddle stages if two bands you liked performed simultaneously. This organization is something I think Orlando Calling attempted by more crudely dividing types of music by day, but if they had given folks a reason to attend both days by dividing genres by stage, not only could they have sold more full festival passes, but they would have given attendees two days of memories and possibly exposed people to more music.
A video posted by Ashley Belanger (@ashleyedits) on
After 10 p.m., the outdoor shows at Fun Fun Fun Fest’s Auditorium Shores ended, and more shows continued at various clubs in Austin within walkable distance. You could catch longer sets in more intimate settings for major headliners at night, and entry was free with your wristband. They also had a variety of bands only playing what they dub “Fun Fun Fun Nites,” so you could add more bands to the bill without overcrowding the daytime atmosphere with small stages/tents, which would also force attendees to make even more decisions on which bands they want to prioritize and which they will have to skip. With added “Nites,” you can truly see everything you want, and you can even plan to catch your favorite bands more than once. That’s reason alone to justify the cost of the ticket. When you are nervous you can only see a few of the bands billed, your willingness to pay for an expensive ticket diminishes.

A video posted by Ashley Belanger (@ashleyedits) on

click to enlarge Iceage at Fun Fun Fun Fest
Iceage at Fun Fun Fun Fest
Iceage at Fun Fun Fun Fest Perhaps the closest we’ve had to an experience like Fun Fun Fun Fest was Orange You Glad Music Festival. [Full disclosure: I ran press duties on the last OYG.] OYG featured a variety of more current bands in clubs throughout Mills 50 and down into Audubon Park. But it wasn’t as walkable, maybe, as Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest setup, and its lineup was necessarily small due to venue size, so you didn’t have the avalanche of droolworthy bands that Fun Fun Fun Fest boasted (Girl Talk, Modest Mouse, Death From Above 1979, Dinosaur Jr., King Diamond, Angel Olsen, Metz, Iceage, King Tuff, Black Lips, Gary Numan, the New Pornographers, Neutral Milk Hotel, and it goes on). It’s been said before, but after a dreamy weekend of complete music indulgence, I find myself wanting to repeat: Orlando has the potential to create a memorable, major-ticket music festival. But to rival cities like Portland, Austin, Seattle and Chicago, we need to be more organized/creative with how music is staged and more precise and tasteful with the featured artists. My hope is that this inspires our city’s promoters to try to stage something like Orlando Calling again in the future. Obviously, we have the Big Orlando coming up Dec. 7 at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, which is a step in the right direction, but just pardon me for now for dreaming of an even bigger Orlando music festival to come.


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Ashley Belanger

Associate editor, music nerd, NBA junkie, Florida explorer and obsessive pet owner.
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