by J.D. Reager
This year's Gonerfest, the eighth installment of local garage/punk label and independent record store Goner Records' annual underground music festival, was perhaps the biggest yet in terms of numbers, drawing fans from across the globe to Memphis for five days of rock 'n' roll insanity.
Goner co-owner Eric Friedl spoke to the Flyer this week via email about this year's festival and what could be on tap for next year.
Flyer: How much time/work/etc. goes into producing Gonerfest each year?
Friedl: It's a lot. Booking bands, hitting up sponsors, making posters & ads, writing the program guide, getting t-shirts and stickers done, producing the extra goodies (this year a giveaway 7" record), coordinating volunteers and bands and equipment and trying to staff the events and the store, and then try to think of what else we're forgetting and plan for any contingencies. The weirdest thing is that the hardest part comes about two months before the event, when all these things have to be already in motion, and then there is a lull while we wait for all the stuff to get produced, and then the festival actually hits and all these people show up and it's a whirlwind of 16-18 hour days. Get to the store in the morning to try to get organized, stay at the club til 3 a.m., get up and do it again. It's crazy and great!
Is it easier to organize the festival now that you've done it so many years?
It is. We don't have the empty-stomach feeling that no one is going to show up. But there are always moments where we have to improvise and rely on our network of friends to work through whatever new situation has presented itself for us this time.
How many folks from out of town and overseas would you say Gonerfest attracts each year?
It's about 80 percent out of towners, we figure. There are a surprising amount of Memphians who sort of take a vacation within Memphis, take off work each day, and come to all the events. But the majority are from out of town. It's kind of weird, and it's kind of not weird. These people love Memphis and get to eat barbecue, fried chicken, wander around and check out Stax and Sun and the Mississippi and see their favorite bands from here and from all over the world. People plan for Gonerfest to be their yearly vacation. That's pretty amazing, and we're so happy that Memphis shows them a great time. One of the Icky Boyfriends (Gonerfest performers from San Francisco, CA) said, "People here are so nice - we're not used to it!" People go home and talk about what a great time they had here. We might not be a huge festival but we bring people from all over the place to fill hotel rooms, take cabs, eat at local restaurants, and spend money in all kinds of ways. They're happy to do it! All that said, we're not throwing a festival that's NOT for Mempihis, either. We're throwing the best festival we can. Some Memphians get into it, and a lot of out of towners come, too.
Do/can you attend every show?
We still have the store open, so we have to take some time in the store and miss some of the bands. We try to catch as much as we can - there's always a band you don't expect to be as good as they are that just shows up and blows your head off. But we all miss some of the festival doing other things.
What were some of your favorite moments from this year's Gonerfest?
Ahh . . . James Arthur's Manhunt basically blowing my head off. And I thought knew what to expect from him. Mikal Cronin's set. Australia's Straight Arrows at The Buccaneer. Brides from Chicago reuniting. Al Budd's Shirks from D.C. Alarm Clocks, Icky Boyfriends. The Gories! Memphis' Sex Cult and Manatees destroying as new bands. The best had to be putting Reverend John Wilkins in front of all the festers on Saturday afternoon. He went straight at 'em and they loved it. It was a totally magical afternoon.
How did you feel about all the unofficial/guerrilla-style shows going on around the festival this year?
It's cool. There's too many bands that want to play for us to book, and the people in town for the fest want to see more music, so these afterparties and sideshows mean people can see bands until six in the morning or whenever. I mean, Cheap Time, The Royal Pendletons, Redondo Beat - these are great bands that we would have at Gonerfest, and that we have had at the fest. We just run out of room for 'em all. All the side-show people worked together so as to not conflict with each other or Gonerfest and I think everything worked out great, with the exception of the Gary Wrong Group trying to do a show in Overton Park late on the Saturday night. Ah well.
Are there any bands out there you'd like to bring in for a Gonerfest that you haven't been able to yet?
We'd love to have bigger bands playing if we could still do it at The Hi-Tone. We had The Clean from New Zealand booked twice and it didn't work out both times. The Fall (UK) would be fantastic. The Spits seem like they should play Gonerfest. Mudhoney? We would have loved to have Tav Falco. We've got a lot of ideas.
When will you start working on next year's show?
We've already started making lists of bands to contact- once this fest was booked we kept coming up with bands for next year. And we're working on getting our package together to give to sponsors to get money for next year. We've got some new ideas - we're always trying to make things better and fresh for the people who come back year after year. Companies - if Gonerfest sounds like something you would like to be involved with (targeting a traveling, music-crazed 21-50 year old demographic), get in touch!