Music festival aims to bring psychedelia to Austin fans

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(From right to left) Austin Psych Fest founders Oswald James, Rob Fitzpatrick, Christian Bland and Alex Maas, are excited for the fifth installment of their annual festival. Bringing in acts throughout the country, the Austin Psych Fest shines the spotlight on psychedelic rock music, featuring some of the best new acts from the genre.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Praised by local and national fans alike, the Austin Psych Fest caters to those who like their music strange, transcendent and synesthesia-friendly. Just one look at the festival’s website and you will understand: Bright flashes of neon crimson mix with purple, green and blue, a palette of colors that vibrates and shines with the music it accompanies.

Now in its fifth year, the Austin Psych Fest has come a long way. What was once a one day psychedelic head-trip at The Red Barn has since become a three-day musical adventure, with the festival having relocated to live music hot-spots Emo’s East and The Beauty Ballroom.

“It’s been great to see our ideas and plans come to fruition,” said Rob Fitzpatrick, Austin Psych Fest co-founder. Fitzpatrick, alongside Oswald James and The Black Angels’ Christian Bland and Alex Maas wanted to create a festival inspired by the 1960s psychedelic scene and the resurgence of psychedelic rock.

“The concept was to try to produce a festival that would recreate the environment of venues like The Vulcan Gas Company, The UFO Club and The Fillmore,” Fitzpatrick said. “Christian Bland wanted to invite The Black Angels’ friends and favorite acts to play, who are mostly a part of the modern psychedelic rock scene.”

Even before The Black Angels’ rise to modern psychedelic rock stardom, Austin has always lent a helping hand to one of music’s most interesting genres. The Vulcan Gas Company was one of the first successful psychedelic music venues in Austin, and iconic local group The 13th Floor Elevators have often been cited as the first psychedelic rock band.

“They were a very trippy band,” said Stephen Slawek, Butler School of Music professor. “They used a microphone in a jug to create some aspect of weirdness in their sound.”

Slawek, who has taught a History of Rock Music course in the past, believes that the group, especially frontman Roky Erickson, contributed greatly to psychedelic music’s unconventional sound.

At last year’s Austin Psych Fest, Erickson put on a memorable performance, which Fitzpatrick has highlighted as one of his biggest memories from past festivals. “Seeing the father of psychedelic rock on stage, in [the Seaholm Power Plant], it kind of felt like things had come full circle,” Fitzpatrick said. “At that moment I felt all the struggles, hard work and sacrifices that we went through as a team to put last year together, were worth it.”

This year’s Austin Psych Fest will showcase some of today’s best psychedelic rock acts. More than 60 groups will perform, including local heavyweight The Black Angels and national acts like Psychic Ills and Prince Rama. “There has always been something going on that keeps us from doing it [Austin Psych Fest],” said Tres Warren, Psychic Ills vocalist and guitarist. “We’re glad to finally be able to make it. It’ll be a good time.”

Prince Rama, who were recently in Austin for South By Southwest, also look forward to performing at Austin Psych Fest. “We’re excited to be back on the road and returning to Austin,” said vocalist and guitarist Taraka Larson. “It’s like a homecoming that gets weirder and weirder every time we return.”

There is no purple haze clouding Fitzpatrick’s view on Austin Psych Fest and its future. The organizer hopes to find a permanent home for the festival and bring in larger acts from across the globe.

“We would love to have The Flaming Lips, Animal Collective and Butthole Surfers. There are also a lot of older acts that we would love to have on the bill like The Zombies, or the Moving Sidewalks,” Fitzpatrick said. He also hopes to improve on the interactive and visual aspects of the festival, as well as move toward a more sustainable model in terms of the festival’s ecological impact.

At the end of the day, Fitzpatrick is grateful to have the opportunity to share his vision with people from around the world. “The best thing about all of this is being able to watch people have a great time at the festival, listening to music and connecting with each other,” Fitzpatrick said. “Moments like that stick with you.”