Why should Phoenicians care about a festival that's happening nearly 400 miles away, in rival territory no less? Some of you diehard sports fans are probably groaning that we're featuring a music festival in the hometown of the dreaded Lakers, Kings, and Bruins. The short answer is My Bloody Valentine, The Breeders, and FLAG — these bands won't tour in Phoenix anytime soon, and Southern California isn't that far away.
We shouldn't feel too left out, because it's not as if My Bloody Valentine is going to tour the rest of the United States, either, in support of its latest record, MBV.
The festival in question? Los Angeles' FYF Fest, one of the best ones going. Homegrown festivals like McDowell Mountain Music Festival are starting to hit their stride by moving to downtown locales and featuring renowned headliners like The Roots and The Shins, but the Valley of the Sun has yet to perfect the local music festival while maintaining a national appeal.
FYF Fest is a prime example of a music festival done right. After some growing pains, FYF is now in its ninth year thanks to setting itself apart as a reasonably priced, high-caliber music festival. It's also one of the few West Coast festivals to also feature comedians.
It all began at The Echo, a two-story venue in Echo Park much like Mesa's Nile Theater, both in size and the style of music featured. For the first couple of years of FYF — originally referred to by its full name, Fuck Yeah Fest — the festival was split between both levels of The Echo, which OFF! and FLAG frontman Keith Morris says was a bit of a nightmare.
"There were so many people in the room that there was no way I was going to make it to the stage. I would have had to crowd-surf, and that wasn't going to happen, because the people were facing the wrong direction," Morris says of his first year at the festival, when he was asked to speak between bands. "I was at the very back of the room, so I got on my hands and knees and thought, you know what, I'm going to crawl between legs to get to the stage, and that wasn't going to work either, because there was no room to move."
In 2013, the festival is leaps and bounds more organized, setting up at five stages just minutes from downtown Los Angeles, in the heart of Chinatown. Though FYF is a bit smaller than most other multi-day festivals, the stages are spaced out enough to hear each band well while still providing an intimate festival experience.
Morris considers himself the "senior citizen" of the festival and suggests a list of bands to festival founder Sean Carlson each year. "A lot of the bands that are playing this year, like The Melvins, Thee Oh Sees, My Bloody Valentine, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and TV on the Radio, these were all the bands that I've been in their corners and I've been rooting for them all the way through for all of these years." He also includes The Jesus and Mary Chain and Butthole Surfers on the list of bands he'd one day like to see play the festival one day, which includes repeat players such as No Age and Ty Segall.
Morris is a veteran of the festival, both as an unofficial organizer and as a performer. His punk rock supergroup OFF!, which features members of Rocket from the Crypt, Burning Brides, and Redd Kross, performed at the festival in 2011, and Morris returns this year with FLAG.
FLAG is one of the two active Black Flag reunions, the other being led by the legendary punk band's co-founder and only consistent member, Greg Ginn, who recently sued Keith Morris and Henry Rollins for trademark infringement. The lawsuit is still in its early stages, but Morris isn't going to let that get in the way of FLAG.
"We've done nothing wrong," Morris says, firmly. "We know what [Ginn] is capable of doing, and we're not scared. We're not shaking in our shoes, we're not going to be bullied. We'll just proceed forward. We're good guys and we've done nothing wrong, so we don't really have to worry about anything."
Since forming early this year, FLAG has mostly performed at music festivals to meet the schedules of the dads in the band. Although all its members (including guitarist Stephen Egerton, the borrowed member from Descendents) have decades of experience, from a viewer's perspective, FLAG is a labor of love that still seems very new.
"All of this just kind of fell into place," Morris says. "There's a certain energy, there's a certain path that you follow, and we all just happened to land on this road, and the light was green, so we're going."
FLAG won't let a lawsuit slow them down — Morris says that he's not going to stop until "somebody that we deal with on a day-to-day basis tells us we can't do it." Some bands step out of the shadows to play a few reunion shows and then return to an indefinite hiatus. Will this be the case with FLAG? Only time can tell. "It's a big question mark for us. We're going to a bunch of places that some of us have never been to. We still need to do a full European tour, so we'll just play however we can," says Morris.
The fates of FYF bands like My Bloody Valentine and The Breeders hang in the same precarious balance. The latter may stand a better chance, since Kim Deal won't have to butt heads with with her former Pixies bandmate Frank Black, but what if My Bloody Valentine wants to hang it up for good after MBV?
Phoenix could stand to learn from FYF Fest. Perhaps after a few years of growing pains, we'll be able to stage a festival that can attract our own eagerly anticipated reunion acts. FYF has done it every year, previously featuring The Faint and Death From Above 1979, but only time will tell what will become of this year's reunion acts.