Anyone whose ears haven’t been graced by the refreshingly indie airwaves of KVRX 91.7 is missing out on one of Austin’s best. The FM music channel is the city’s only entirely student-run radio station, and it is making history at the University of Texas at Austin for hosting the largest college radio station music festival in the country.
Story by Naomi Brady
Photos by Karla Bruciaga
Whether over summer vacation or the holiday season, KVRX boasts a live deejay in the booth at almost all hours, with a stream of its musical manifesto of “None Of The Hits, All Of The Time” running 24/7. Listeners can enjoy the station’s playlists, curated by a staff of 100+ passionate student deejays, through streaming at kvrx.org or on the air at 91.7 FM weekdays from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. and weekends from 10 p.m. to 9 a.m. The station, which celebrates its 31st anniversary this April, has recently announced that it will be hosting its first official music festival during the last weekend of the semester, May 10 and 11.
The festival will feature a grand total of 40 musical artists, and is selling tickets on their website for the groundbreaking low price of $1 per band or $40 per festival pass. The event will take place downtown Austin within the two blocks between the popular LGBTQ bar and concert venue, Cheer Up Charlie’s and outdoor amphitheater Symphony Square. KVRX Fest was the brainchild of Gab Soong, the current KVRX Station Manager, and Elise Barbin, the current Booking Manager for KVRX, who created the festival with the intention of making the Austin music scene more “safe, diverse, inclusive, and joyful” especially for women like themselves.
Gab and Elise sat down with ORANGE Magazine to discuss what went into planning the event, and what inspired them to create what will be the country’s largest college radio music festival to date. The two Louisiana natives, now seniors, originally came to UT intending to pursue careers in the music industry. As their last hoorah before graduation, the festival serves as not only a groundbreaking accomplishment for KVRX and UT student media, but as a love-letter to the radio station that grew up with them.
What led you to first begin planning the festival?
Gab: That digs back to several years ago when I first joined KVRX as a freshman. I was super excited, I went to the first general meeting of the semester, and someone said that they book shows around town, and I thought “oh that’s so cool, do they have a festival?” and they were like “no” and I was like “okay, noted.” I always looked at other college radio stations that have small festivals, and I knew that KVRX was capable of it.
What went into the creation of your festival’s mission statement to promote safety, diversity, inclusivity and joy?
Elise: We have been talking about this a lot, in the wake of the past few years when people have been coming out more about sexual assault and feeling unsafe, a lot of those concerns were really present in Austin, unfortunately. So we were talking about how to change that in the music industry and what are the values that we need to uphold to change it.
Gab: I think some of that stemmed from just the radio station’s manifesto from forever, which is “None of The Hits, All of The Time,” and wanting to support underrepresented artists and genres. Then also a lot of it came from personal experiences of being a young woman in Austin and the experiences of our friends, and how we could improve that.
How do you think KVRX Fest will compare to other Austin music festivals, such as South by Southwest or Austin City Limits?
Gab: This is way more accessible, because ACL is so expensive and our festival is literally $1 per band. We also wanted it to feel more like a community event. We’re expecting some out-of-towner’s, but I think it is going to be a lot of people that care really deeply about the music scene coming together to celebrate.
Who is the target audience of the fest?
Elise: I would say that our biggest demographic of listeners for KVRX is not college students actually, but kind of just young people in Austin (like twenty-something’s). But we planned it for the last day of classes at UT, to kind of bring them into the community and welcome them, invite them to our shows more and get them [UT students] into the KVRX fold more.
Which musical act are you most looking forward to seeing perform?
Gab & Elise: Ooh [laughter] that’s tough.
Elise: There’s a couple people that I haven’t seen before that I’m stoked to see. Of course we’re excited about Frankie Cosmos. I’ve also never seen Drab Majesty and I’m excited to see them.
Gab: They’re going to be really good. I’m just excited to see symphony square being used, because we throw a lot of shows at Cheer-Up’s. It’s one of my favorite venues in Austin, but we’ve never thrown something at Symphony Square. It’s amphitheater style seating, Waller Creek runs through it, and the stage is on the other side of the creek. We’re going to have 10K projectors doing some really cool stuff and there’s string lights. It’s going to be gorgeous.
Did you guys encounter any difficulties when choosing a venue?
Gab: Yes so much! Our original venue was going to be Spider House, we had worked with them a lot, and then we found out about all of the controversy between one of the owners and abuse allegations there. At the end of the day, we just figured if one of our core festival values is safety, we wanted to make sure the venues are safe. So we ended up parting ways a week before our original announce date, which was supposed to be in December, and by that point we had all of our acts confirmed and had come a long way. So finding another venue that ticked all of those boxes was like solving a Rubik’s cube. But we’re really happy with how it worked out.
When did you guys first start planning the festival?
Gab: Last May.
Elise: Gab began planning it in May of last year, and then I was out of town until August, so that was when all the booking happened, between August and December.
ORANGE: Wow, so it’s been a whole year in the making.
Gab & Elise: Yes, yes.
Do you think the festival will continue to be an annual event at the station?
Elise: That’s what we’re hoping, yeah. I think this was maybe the goal of SXSW in its early years, to really have an accessible way to see local bands, but I think that SXSW has kind of progressed beyond that now, and we hope to remain on a smaller scale. Like, how can we showcase these Austin bands that we really love, but also bring in some outside people who have the same values as us and play the same music that we like, but broaden people's’ horizons a bit?
Gab: Plus, the first year of anything is the hardest, and we’ve run into a ton of problems, but we now know how to navigate that. We’re both seniors, we’re going to be graduating and Fest is going to be the last thing that we do. But we’re passing down a beautiful color-coded binder to whoever’s going to take it on next and I think they’ll have a much easier time next year.
What’s the one show that festival attendees should be sure they don’t miss?
Elise: Hmmm. This is really hard.
Gab: I feel like I should go with a smaller band, because the headliners speak for themselves. They’re already a really popular band, but I think that the TC Superstar performance is going to be one of the most fun of the night. They’re going to be closing out the festival Saturday night, after Frankie Cosmos performs on the outdoor stage of Cheer-Up, and I think it’s just going to be a huge celebration. They’re just so fun to watch, they have dancers, all of their songs are choreographed, and they have elaborate costumes and makeup. It’s definitely a performance, you know, and it’s just going to be very fun. They play all the time in Austin and I always describe them as a guaranteed good time, like it’s impossible to not have fun at one of their shows.
Elise: I’m going to say Sexy Dex And The Fresh. They’re from New Orleans, they kind of have this pop-y, kind of ‘Prince’ vibe, and I think people in Austin will really like them.
Awesome! Also, since you guys are also originally from around New Orleans, why did you decide to come to UT?
Elise: A little because my sister went here, but also I wanted to come to a big city where I could focus on music. I actually went somewhere else for my first year and ended up transferring to Austin.
Gab: Yeah, I went to a really small high school so I just wanted to go to a really big, public university. And I’m really here for the music scene.
ORANGE: So you guys both came to UT with music in mind for your futures?
Gab & Elise: Definitely, yes.
Okay, last question. What were each of your first DJ shows and how do they compare to your shows now?
Elise: Well, my first show was called “That’s What She Said” [laugh] and it was just a freeform show where I played music that I liked basically, and now I have a much more tailored idea of what I do each week. It’s called “Blog Radio” and it’s kind of like a music history show.I pick a different theme or genre or record label each week and talk about them, and play music, for two hours.
Gab: My first show ever was called “SRSLY!.” It was a freeform show too, and I didn’t know that much about music. I’ve been pretty much doing the same show since then, it’s called “Romance Et Cetera” and it is love songs of a different theme or genre each week.
Elise’s DJ alter-ego name is Sloane Peterson, and her show “Blog Radio” can be streamed every Monday night from 10:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. while Gab’s show “Romance Et Cetera” can be streamed every Tuesday night from 10:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., and both are accessible at 91.7 FM or kvrx.org.