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People of the Year 2013 | Graham Williams & James Moody

Head Honchos at Transmission Entertainment

A pair of music industry masterminds who just want to have fun.

“Having Fun Fun Fun Fest at Auditorium Shores is kind of like opening our kimono. Everyone can see and hear what we do,” says Transmission Entertainment founder and FFF coordinator James Moody. “It was a little bit of a dirty secret for awhile.”

After eight years of growth, Fun Fun Fun Fest is now far from secret, but the first incarnation of the festival was decidedly under the radar. It began in 2006 as an all-day, genre-crossing concert held on three stages (hip-hop/electronic, indie, and punk/metal) in Waterloo Park, a 10-acre plot of grass tucked a few blocks north of the Red River music district. The first incarnation was produced by Graham Williams (long-time booker of the original Emo’s) and featured 25 bands ranging from scene stalwarts like the Octopus Project to hardcore punk legends the Circle Jerks. Tickets were offered at a price that even a punk rocker could afford: $20.

The following year Williams joined with Moody to form Transmission, a dream team of industry professionals aiming to provide an independently-minded alternative to bigger event production companies. The pair first met right before Moody took the reigns of the Mohawk, which was originally built as a Mexican restaurant in the ‘60s and had an unsuccessful track record as a music venue. “I thought this joker in his Bad Religion shirt and his love of music is going to lose his ass,” Williams says. Since then, the duo and their scrappy team have turned the Mohawk from a pipe dream into the cornerstone of the Austin music scene.

And although Fun Fun Fun Fest still takes third billing next to SXSW and ACL, the festival has evolved into a three-day event that employs hundreds of Austinites and contributes $27 million to the local economy. The stages are now framed by Lady Bird Lake and the Austin skyline, but the music hasn’t lost its edge. The howling screams of “Angel of Death” by 2011’s thrash metal headliner Slayer could be heard everywhere from Travis Heights to downtown. As Williams puts it, “How Austin is that to be able to hear Slayer from the balcony of the W Hotel?”

What’s most unique about FFF is that it refuses to ditch its signature oddball mentality despite exponential growth and broader appeal. The experience is as much about the gags as the headliners. WTF-worthy happenings like Henry Rollins marrying a couple on-stage or a Taco Cannon blasting out Tamale House to the hungry crowds distinguishes FFF from stuffier stops on the festival circuit. One year there was even a performance by Metalligur, a Metallica cover band fronted by a watermelon-smashing Gallagher impersonator. This year there’s a much broader focus on comedy, with headlining stand-up comics like Jack Black and Sarah Silverman.

Transmission’s left-field approach also applies to their promotion and marketing. Instead of print ads the group relies mostly on social media and inventive tactics like releasing their line-up through DJ sets on Turntable.FM or in coded clues based on the nautical flag system. To help build anticipation for the fall festival they host a summer aqua olympics at Fiesta Gardens with paddle-board jousting and tug o’ war. If Transmission actually holds a real press conference, it usually involves bad suits and power-point presentations graphing the growth of their awesomeness.

“It was always about the ideas more than writing the check,” Moody explains. “When you don’t have the financial resources you’re forced into creativity, which is what we prefer anyways. If we can fight on those terms we feel like we can do pretty well.”

The strategy is paying off. This year Transmission doubled their staff, signed a lease on a larger office space under construction next to the old post office on East 6th, and set the groundwork for a new 1500-person-capacity club on East 6th and Brushy. With the larger staff they’ve expanded their focus beyond booking and put more emphasis on event production services like location scouting, back-line capabilities, and promoting shows in other cities.

They’ve also begun to work more actively with ACL Live’s Moody Theater (no relation), a natural pairing since Transmission’s financial partner Beau Armstrong also has a stake in the venue. The ACL alliance has, Moody says, “peanut butter and jellied” together the two companies’ staffs, giving Transmission more marketing resources and allowing them to continue to book acts that they’ve supported for years but who have grown too big for any of their other venues.

In terms of the city’s overall growth the pair remain enthusiastic and optimistic. “The promise of Austin was this thing where you get to park your car and see multiple shows in one night,” Moody says. “That was always the mystery of what Austin could offer compared to other cities.” He doesn’t see the Waller Creek development threatening that, citing city planning promises to maintain Red River as a music district and capitol view corridors as a defense against the encroachment of condos.

“Things move around,” says Williams. “The Drag used to be the hip place where all the kids saw bands, South Congress used to be all crack heads and hookers. If things really do change, there will be a new Red River.” If that change happens, Transmission will be there.

Credits

Photography by Randal Ford

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