The future of one of Texas' most popular music festivals has been thrown into turmoil this week. Graham Williams, the man who founded Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest 10 years ago, as well as Transmission Events, the company that books the festival, announced Monday that he was leaving to form a new company called Margin Walker Presents. And the ripple effects have been felt all the way in Dallas.
According to Kris Youmans, however — the talent buyer and promoter for the company formerly known as Transmission Dallas — those ripples won't actually be all that big.
"It's business as usual," Youmans insists. Following Williams out the door at Transmission, the Deep Ellum office relaunched yesterday as the new Dallas outpost for Margin Walker, hosting its first show under the name last night when Four Tet played Club Dada. "Nothing's changed other than the name."
Transmission Dallas originally formed in October, 2014, with the merger of Austin's Transmission Events and Youmans' Tactics Productions. That move followed a business partnership between Transmission and Stratus Properties, an Austin real estate company that now is sole owner of both Transmission and Fun Fun Fun.
"I guess they didn't really feel there needed to be a booking portion of the company. Just putting on events was what they were interested in," says Youmans, who is also co-owner of Three Links in Deep Ellum, of Stratus. He says that while there had been talks of change in recent months, those decisions were made entirely in Austin. "I don't know where all this spurred from, to be honest. I'm kind of riding the wave. It feels better to me already, you know?"
Youmans is careful to point out that Transmission Dallas hadn't interacted with Stratus in its previous day-to-day operations. "They did not take over, they invested in the company. We ran it. We worked with Graham, so if anything ever had to go all the way up — which it never did — it went to Graham," he stresses. "It was strictly an investment partnership. That happens a lot in business partnerships, and they dissolve."
Joining Williams at Margin Walker would appear to be the most natural move for Youmans and his team, which also includes talent buyer Ryan Henry and marketing manager Chris Sakaguchi.
"I've known Graham for damn near 20 years. He was booking Emo's [in Austin] back when I was doing house shows and Rubber Gloves in Denton back in the mid-'90s," says Youmans. "So we would book a lot of the same shows even back then...We're both like-minded in how we see live music and how concerts work."
The seeds of Transmission and Tactics joining forces had first been sown back in 2012, when the two companies promoted a handful of that year's At the Drive-In reunion shows in Texas.
"It was a crazy success. It was an easy show to do. You didn't have to do anything; whisper the word and date and it sold out immediately," Youmans remembers. "We saw the potential in partnering up and expanding out of just Austin. To be honest, that was one of the aspects of the company that enticed Stratus, was the expansion."
That expansion has proven to be up and down in the past year and a half. Transmission had also taken over the booking of San Antonio's Paper Tiger, but threw in the towel last year on its efforts to run Fitzgerald's in Houston. "That one didn't work out so well," Youmans says, with a laugh. When Transmission first set up shop in Dallas, the plan was to have them handle the booking at Club Dada, an arrangement that has since been abandoned.
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"Booking Dada was something we felt we needed under our belts when we started, just to let agents know we had a good mid-sized room we could pretty much have access to," Youmans says. They also briefly handled the booking at Double Wide, but having guaranteed shows every weekend night didn't necessarily fit their booking model, as they also book at venues like Granada Theater, Trees and The Bomb Factory. "It just made more sense for clubs like Dada and Double Wide to have their own dedicated person to just...could curate that room as best as possible."
Youmans speculates that that boom and bust cycle might have been part of the motivation for Stratus to change direction.
"The business model of a booking entity is just something that a lot of business people don't understand," he says. "You can have up and down months, but you have to be able to look at the big picture. It's like playing the stock market."
As for what happens with Fun Fun Fun, well, that's still anyone's guess. "What you've read about that is probably the basic knowledge I have," Youmans says. "Fun Fun is now fully owned by Stratus. I don't know what's going to happen to it." Perhaps Margin Walker will just have to start a new festival of its own?