Graham Williams has been bringing incredible shows to Austin and the rest of Texas for nearly 20 years.
Graham Williams has been bringing incredible shows to Austin and the rest of Texas for nearly 20 years.
Photo by Chad Wadsworth

Margin Walker's Graham Williams Goes Full D&D at Sound On Sound Fest [UPDATED]

UPDATE: Friday afternoon, Sound On Sound announced the cancellation of this year's festival, citing "several recent roadblocks outside of our control." Their full statement is below.

We are extremely saddened to announce today that Sound On Sound Fest 2017 is being cancelled. This is one of the hardest decisions we have ever had to make. Due to several recent roadblocks outside of our control and in an effort to do right by our fans, the decision to cancel the event was our only real option.

All ticket holders will be 100% refunded for the costs of their tickets. That refund process has already been initiated through our ticketing partner, Eventbrite, for all attendees who purchased ticket(s) through their site. There is no action necessary on your end and you can expect to see the refund on your credit/debit card statement within the next 5-7 business days.

If you bought a physical ticket, please email info@soundonsoundfest.com to process your refund.

If you have questions about this entire process, please contact us at info@soundonsoundfest.com. We are dedicated to answering any questions and concerns that you might have.

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We are currently in the process of rescheduling the majority of the artists who were set to play Sound On Sound Fest at other venues in the area, and will be announcing the shows and individual show tickets available for purchase very shortly. There are many acts who were touring through November 10-12 who are still performing as well as a number of artists who will be flying back in for new dates this year. For all these rescheduled shows, fans who purchased Sound On Sound tickets will get the first chance to purchase single tickets to any makeup shows this fall. Fans will be emailed a link with details in advance of the public onsale with a limited time to purchase before tickets open to the general public. We will announce the schedule for shows on Monday, October 16. The private presale exclusively for all Sound On Sound Fest ticket holders will start on Monday, October 16 and run until Thursday, October 19 at 8 a.m., when the public onsale begins.

We truly love our fans. We appreciate you sticking by us while we work hard to make this right. Be on the lookout for new show announcements from Sound On Sound Fest artists and ticket links for these replacement shows.

In music, you can cross paths with people directly and indirectly for decades and not actually speak to them. Since the late '90s, I've attended shows in the Austin area that were booked by one person, and went on to enjoy the two festivals he co-founded, Fun Fun Fun Fest and now Sound On Sound. But Graham Williams, formerly of Transmission Entertainment and now of Margin Walker Presents, is more than just a guy who books bands; he's a fan like the rest of us, who just wants to throw the best parties.

When someone who understands that seeing live music is an experience is given the tools to produce such experiences, he or she does their best to make them incredible. Along those lines, this year's upcoming Sound On Sound Festival looks as if it'll be an experience to remember. It will be located just outside of Austin and will feature sets from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Iggy Pop, Washed Out and Electric Wizard, to name just a few of the 70-plus acts set to perform, plus plenty of festival-style fun and games for attendees, and Williams hopes to provide an experience that anyone who attends will remember for the rest of his or her life. The Houston Press was thrilled to sit down with him recently to discuss his past, the present and what we can expect from Sound On Sound in November.

When discussing Williams's past, you can't help but bring up old Austin, the city everyone now says "has changed." That's where Williams got his start in professional booking, when Emo's was still run by musicians and still over on Red River. "Yeah, I was booking shows in high school, and I took a job working security at Emo's," he recalls. "The security job led to me getting to do the booking professionally, before I had been in bands and released records. I was originally booking as more of a hobby before working there, which turned it into a career."

When you look at someone who has spent such a long time in the music industry, you might expect to hear tons of negatives, but not with Williams. "I see a lot of positives since I began," he says. "Live music has grown a lot. When I started, your band had to play on the floor of a skate park, because there really wasn't all-ages venues like there are now. The industry changed, and records aren't selling, so bands have to tour more. You'd think that would devalue it, but with all of the ways people have to see bands nowadays, the turnout is better. Live music is woven into the culture now, so that's a positive change for sure."

Looking at Williams's history in Austin, you can't help but ask about his past venture, Transmission Events, which staged ten insane lineups of Fun Fun Fun Fest and booked tons of bands across Austin as well. Asked about how hard it was leaving all that behind, Williams remarks, "It was a little hard leaving it behind, but leaving Fun Fun Fun behind was tougher. With Transmission, most people knew that it was the same people and the same team that was starting Margin Walker, but the festival had a national name and we had a recognizable brand. It's taken a while to re-tweak everything, but in the end, people just want to see the bands they wanna see first and foremost."

Guided By Voices at Sound On Sound 2016EXPAND
Guided By Voices at Sound On Sound 2016
Photo: Cheyenne Doerr

But the past is just that. With Margin Walker, Williams didn't waste any time wallowing there. The brand now books shows in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston, as well as Sound On Sound. Was there ever a time when he thought that the multi-city venture wasn't going to work? "Yeah, a bit," Williams says. "You ask yourself questions like do people need another promoter or how fast can we grow. Transmission wasn't into that; they wanted to do more corporate events and focus less on music. But we wanted to do things to grow, and since we re-branded, we now have the freedom to do that."

Williams wants Margin Walker to go further than the Fugazi song of the same name. "I liked the concept of walking on the margins, but we didn't ask them if we could use the name until after we did it," he says. "Legally, we don't have to ask them and we had to come up with a name and a logo so quick that we just went with it. But after we did it, I reached out and they were cool with it. I think as long as we didn't use their art, they were cool with us using it."

Sound On Sound's activities this year include an archery range...EXPAND
Sound On Sound's activities this year include an archery range...
Photo by Cheyenne Doerr

Looking ahead to what he's done with Sound On Sound, essentially building out a city on an old renaissance-fair grounds — Sherwood Forest, outside the town of McDade — and the fact that it's just outside of Austin and not in the middle of the city is pretty remarkable. Last year's inaugural fest was definitely worth the trip; a lot more was happening than just music and comedy. Asked how everything came together so quickly, Williams says, "Admittedly, last year was our first time on that property and we had to figure out how to make it all work production-wise. This year we'll have more lighting, which you don't realize how important that is until you have none in the middle of a forest. We'll also have more signage and better staging."

This year Sound On Sound has definitely taken things to a new level, snagging the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' first live appearance in what feels like forever. "I had been trying to get them since the first Fun Fun Fun Fest, and besides an ACL fill-in slot seven years ago, they haven't played here in forever, minus a SXSW show that wasn't for the public," Williams says. "I can't speak for why they're back performing, and I know they're also performing at a festival in California. I heard rumors of their first album being reissued, but I think they're a band who only tours when they release a new album and that's it.

"Their guitarist is in Head Wound City, who we had at Fun Fun Fun, but I think we got them due to a lot of nudging on our part," he adds.

...and jousting!EXPAND
...and jousting!
Photo by Charles Regan Hackleman

That kind of headliner suits the festival and Williams just fine; he's always had a knack for getting bands that no one else can. This year's ringers, as it were, include acts like Ministry, Electric Wizard, Cannibal Corpse and Converge, to name a few. As for holdouts he'd like to land for the festival, Williams excitedly replies, "getting Electric Wizard was a big deal because we've been trying to get them for a long time. I mean, Jawbreaker is one for sure. This year with them doing Riot Fest, hopefully we can get them for next year. We've looked at LCD Soundsystem as well, but we've made a lot happen over the years and it's exciting when it happens."

As far as what Sound On Sound attendees can expect this year, Williams seems more than happy to talk about what lies in store for those who have never gone, as well as newer features that those who went last year are sure to love. It's clear that Margin Walker is less a booking collective than a team of incredible music fans, with Graham Williams the biggest of them all.

"Alongside more lighting and signage, the stages will be decorated in the renaissance theme of the grounds. We really let our inner D&D nerds come out, so there will be more people in themed costumes and more fantasy-based stuff," he says. "The property is so quirky that we've really embraced it with a new comedy area, and we also added a dance area, like a dance club in the middle of the forest. We added jousting, which we wanted to do last year, but we weren't sure about the horses getting spooked because of the loud sounds.

"But we've been assured that these are movie horses who aren't freaked by loud noises," he adds. "If people have never been, then they'll probably really like the late-night aftershows with DJs and movies in the camping area too."

Follow Margin Walker Presents in multiple Texas cities; their upcoming events in Houston include SALES and Peyton tonight at The Secret Group, Dalek Saturday at Walter's Downtown, and Protomartyr October 22 back at The Secret Group. This year's Sound On Sound Festival happens November 10-12 at Sherwood Forest Faire in McDade; get passes at this link. The all-ages festival also stars Sleep, Pusha T, Dinosaur Jr., Vince Staples, The Shins, Blood Orange and many more. Passes run between $89 for a single-day pass to $189 for all three. A VIP pass for all three days runs $379, and camping add-ons start at $75. All of the information for passes and camping is available at this website.

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