Tumbler of ice water in the face, hungover fuckers in Austin. Time to wake your asses up and do two things: one, RSVP here for the party we’re throwing tomorrow with Waaves, Obits, Annihilation Time, and Titus Andronicus; and two, read this interview with Neil Hamburger from our Guide to Festivals.
Vice: 1. Regardless of the time slot, music and comedy festivals must be an electrifying and prosperous opportunity for stand-up comics because you’re guaranteed a huge audience. Your thoughts.
Neil Hamburger: The audience are mostly swine—young, intoxicated, and with poor taste in entertainment. There is nothing electrifying about it. The size of an audience makes no difference; performing to these people is like performing in front of a brick wall. No one puts on their best performance at a festival. An entertainer who tells you otherwise is lying.
2. What advice do you have for festival organizers in general? What tips do you have for the organizers of, say, SXSW, All Tomorrow’s Parties, Coachella, or Bonnaroo so that these well-oiled machines stay true to their efficient models of operation?
They need to partner with local law enforcement to have sniffer dogs at the gates to ferret out all the dopers and pill freaks, thus keeping the festival grounds free of vomit and overdose corpses. They also need to enforce a strict “no viral marketing” policy, so that the poor schmucks who have spent $100 to attend the thing don’t have to worry that every pretty girl who strikes up a conversation with them is actually shilling for Sprint or GoGear.
3. Once you are booked to perform at a festival, do you became intimidated or excited at the prospect of performing at the same event or, in some cases, on the same stage as some of your heroes within the realm of music and comedy?
No, because most of these acts I cannot stand. I was actually excited about the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, because several of my associates were in attendance and also because of the respectful way that the whole thing is run.
4. If you decide to take things even further, there’s the possibility that you might even meet two or three artists whose work you enjoy immensely. These situations can conceivably further one’s career. What do you do to mentally prepare for such meetings?
I have rarely been part of any social scene at the festivals. Generally we performers are whisked onto the stage and whisked off as soon as we are done or, in some cases, before we are done. At the Big Day Out festival in Sydney, Australia, I did sneak into P.J. Harvey’s dressing room after she had left and removed much of the food platter that was left over and that was going to be thrown away anyway.
5. Switching gears a little, one of the best things about attending and especially performing at a festival is the exposure to a wild variety of artist merchandise, some of which might even turn out to be free if you’re lucky. Once you’re booked to perform at a festival, do you start socking away extra money in order to afford visits to a multitude of merch tables? And as a performer, what ranks as the best free promotional or complimentary item that you’ve ever come home with?
I have no interest in the poorly designed T-shirts offered by the unskilled dunces who usually “perform” at these events. As for promotional items, sometimes you do get a free pen or key chain or t-shirt or, inevitably, a CD featuring local also-rans. Nothing with the potential to cheer you up.
6. At which festival did you end up rubbing shoulders with the most (important) people?
I was on a festival bill once with Blink-182, and another one with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Not really important people—in fact, they are the polar opposite of important—but they are subjects of a couple of my jokes, which I did tell at those events.
7. If applicable, has any festival experience proved to be a bad one? How, what, when, and why?
No, it’s always the greatest time of my life, and we are always available for more bookings of this type.
8. I expect this can be particularly hard for those booked to perform at festivals, but how do you fine-tune your daily schedule so that the maximum number or best variety of bands/artists can be enjoyed?
I usually miss the other acts. It is bad enough being caged up in the Guantánamo-like atmosphere of the so-called VIP backstage area; I would not want to venture out into the even worse world of the pulsating, oversold, underwatered crowd.
9. What tips do you have when it comes to getting the most out of the regional cuisine?
The festival food? The sad truth is that with few exceptions, it is usually even worse in the “artist” area than on the grounds themselves. So some of the top entertainers of our day are forced to don false mustaches and eyebrows and slowly work their way through the crowd to the food area to purchase an oily funnel cake or a bloomin’ onion. It is one of many degradations that your favorite stars must go through that no one in their fan base ever suspects.
10. And last but not least, do you try to patronize every indie record store a city has to offer? If so, do you limit yourself to a special budget per store when doing so? Do you show restraint with a festival’s numerous merch tables just so you can go “crazy” in the area record stores?
By “indie record store,” do you mean Salvation Army, Goodwill, Deseret Industries, Savers, and the rest? If so, yes, I do patronize those shops, when there is time, before the 900-mile drive to the next festival.
(photo by Dan Monick)