This year's Gonerfest, the seventh installment of local garage/punk label Goner Records' annual musical festival, was perhaps the biggest and most eclectic to date, drawing bands and fans from all corners of the world to Memphis for five days of rock 'n' roll insanity.
I'm also ashamed to admit that, despite my status as a nearly life-long Memphian, this year was my first Gonerfest experience. I must say that the festival did not disappoint. Aside from the array of really good bands (my favorites from the festival being Destruction Unit, So Cow, and the Oblivians), one thing that really struck me was the fully engaged and enthusiastic crowds, which were unlike anything I've seen at a Memphis club-show before.
Goner's Eric "Oblivian" Friedl spoke to the Memphis Flyer on Monday about Goner attendees, his favorite bands from the weekend, and the future of Gonerfest itself.
Memphis Flyer: How did you do this year, numbers-wise?
Eric Friedl: I don't have final stats, but Friday and Saturday were the biggest crowds I've seen at Gonerfest, and the biggest crowds I've been in at the Hi Tone. That was insane.
What bands did you enjoying seeing live the most? Did anybody surprise you with how good they were?
It's weird, because I know some bands are going to be great. Most of the most enjoyable moments are delivered by the bands you aren't as familiar with. So . . . Guinea Worms, Dave Cloud, James Arthur's Manhunt, Red Mass, U.V. Race, and Outdoorsmen were my favorites of the bands I didn't know so well. I just started making a list of other favorites and it was basically the rest of the bands. Guitar Wolf at Gonerfest was the best for personal impact.
Having done the festival for seven years now, is there anything you'd like to do better or differently moving forward, or do you feel you've basically found a formula that works?
We'd like to be able to pay the bands more, and pay guarantees, hotel rooms, and flights if necessary. That means more guaranteed money, which means more sponsorship. We think there's a great opportunity to reach a notoriously hard-to-get demographic in the people who come here. Hopefully we can convince more folks with money that this is the case. As it is, we depend on ticket sales to pay the bands, and that can get tricky.
We'd rather not get bigger in terms of venues and numbers like that. Lots of these bands lose a lot of impact going from playing for 500 people to 5000. Balancing all this is always a challenge.
Any ideas about who you'll ask to play next year? Is there a wishlist of bands you'd like to get in the future?
We've been lucky in that we've been able to get most of our dream bands to play. We'd been asking Guitar Wolf every year, and it finally happened! No specific wishlist yet . . . maybe once my mind clears. I'm still overwhelmed by what we just went through!
The crowds at Gonerfest definitely had a different energy than your typical Memphis/Hi-Tone scene. Why do you think that is?
Lots of those folks had travelled a long ways to come to this, and they were going to pay attention. You're right, I noticed a lot of people who, even if a band didn't have them going crazy, were enjoying the music and really focused. That didn't get in the way of their partying, I think it was just a different crowd at the Hi-Tone for a different reason. This crowd was there more for the music.
Do you see yourself continuing to do the occasional Oblivians gigs, or could this have been it?
Oblivians are playing October 2nd in Lawrence, Kansas and October 23rd in San Francisco. Nothing after that, but we'd be open to fun shows that seem worth it. Gonerfest was a blast.