Where do you draw the line between enthusiasm for a performer and being an out-of-control dick? Can you freak out too much for a good musician? These were the questions I kept asking myself at Big Freedia‘s admittedly badass show on Saturday at the Mohawk, where a crowd of 75 percent females went utterly apeshit for the New Orleans bounce musician. So very apeshit, in fact, that one girl had to get kicked out. For attacking someone. That someone was me. It was mostly goofy.
So I’m a huge Big Freedia fan, y’all. Well actually, I’m a pretty normal-sized dude, but the fandom part is all enormous and muscle-y with tats of swords ‘n wizards ‘n shit. When I found Big Freedia, and therefore bounce as a genre, it was one of them perfect and oft-remembered South By moments where you get waylaid without warning by an artist you’ll be hearing for years to come, and you can point it all back to one specific happening. I was on a lone-wolf quest to book it across town on foot, as so often happens during SX, and as I was walking down Onion Street between the Brixton and the Volstead, I heard some wild, ultra-repetitive but hugely energetic noise coming from the empty gas station lot nearby. I took myself over to the gas station and saw one of the best performances of my life: a showcase of bounce straight from NOLA including Big Freedia and at least four other rappers that created some of the most perfect audience energy and responses I’ve ever seen.
Since that day when fate first showed me what a booty can do when it tries, I’ve seen Freedia blow the fuck up like an ass-shake powered bomb. “Azz Everywhere” went from one of those things you show your friends while drinking to being on news websites everywhere, and not just the music ones but the mainstream real ass news. Each bounce show I went to, including Freedia’s New Year’s blowout at the Mohawk almost a year ago, has been more packed and way crazier than the last, and after last Satuday I gotta tell ya’ll: I think shit is getting out of control, and not in a totally good way.
DJ Ulovei apparently kicked off the night, and I say apparently, because I doubt more than a third of the people there even realized someone was DJing. The dude’s set-up was on the upper right deck next to the port-a-pottys, instead of on stage like normal, which would have been fine with most DJs. However, Ulovei played a set so straight-forward and full of over-played tracks that it didn’t seem any different than what you’d hear playing in the background between sets at most venues.
Any DJ who wears earbuds instead of real headphones is already straining my interest before he even drops a track.
I’ll give him credit for getting the girls dancing with a bunch of ’90s jams and Top 40 hip-hop, but as a person who goes to see DJs a lot, I wanted a lot more out of this kid. If you’re the kind of person that goes out to a club to hear shit you already know and want a DJ that’ll play it for you and otherwise stay out of the way, Ulovei might be your thing. I gotta say, though, that any DJ who wears earbuds instead of real headphones is already straining my interest before he even drops a track, and if I’m jamming more to the music the bar plays before and after your set than anything you played, I see that as a problem. On top of that, Ulovei seemed to hold up Freedia’s set for a good 15 minutes while he tried to prep her tracks, and that definitely slowed the vibe of the night down.
When Freedia finally did take the stage with her four skin-tight-red-shorts-clad dancers, the crowd literally had a physical response, surging forward and pressing hard on the front rows. Freedia went right into one of her newer hits, “Na Who Mad,” a great bounce track with a killer hook that both dancers and MC laid out with perfection. People were going crazy, shouting “BOOTY!” and trying to shove their way to the front, an effort which quadrupled when the Queen Diva asked for “volunteers” to come on stage before “Azz Everywhere.”
This resulted in the chaos level upping by about infinity, but the obviously experienced dancers and Freedia managed to keep it fairly well organized, and it was a lot of fun to hear the Diva tell the volunteers to “turn your ass to the audience” before dropping another high-energy track. Freedia is an absolute master at crowd interaction, and she knew just when to bust out the booty, when to drop the right tracks and when to step back and let her dancers show off. The dancers themselves were, as expected, stellar, pulling off ankle-grabs, splits, booty-on-top-of-booty bounces and pretty much anything you ever thought an ass could do and more. And, unlike dancers at some hip-hop shows, they looked like they were having the time of their lives doing it, which just made it all the more fun for us.
However, Freedia asked for volunteers quite a few times during the show, and though this is kind of her thing, the Austin crowd’s reaction to it wasn’t entirely positive. In the mayhem that followed the one-billion-plus people trying ravenously to get to the stage, my photographer and I struggled to keep our feet, and I realized something: Many of these people were not there to see Big Freedia.
A major part of the crowd Freedia played to that night were not there to watch a skilled and beloved artist, but instead to be seen themselves.
I’m sure some would disagree with me, but I think that a major part of the crowd Freedia played to that night were not there to watch a skilled and beloved artist, but instead to be seen themselves. I think that, at least in Austin, a Big Freedia show has become a certain kind of “night out” for some people, a group that seemed to be made predominantly of women dressed up in their idea of wild bounce party clothes. The vibe these people were putting off seemed more along the lines of going out to sexy dance at a club, a kind of “WOO Girl,” “I’m just gonna dance and not care about anything and fuck anyone who gets in my way” kind of feeling, as opposed to going out to watch an artist do their thing. This also might have been totally fine, except that each and every one of these girls and some guys seemed to believe that their night was not going to be acceptable if they didn’t get on stage as much as possible and show off for everyone. And they were willing to do just about anything, knock over just about anyone and be as much of a nuisance as needed to get to that goal. This behavior made it difficult to enjoy the show and impossible to dance, and considering the looks on the faces of some of the less rude people around me, I was far from alone in wanting it to stop.
I knew shit was going to hit some sort of boiling-over point, there was that much riotous energy in the crowd, but I didn’t know until it was happening that I was going to play a starring role in that moment. I won’t go too much into detail, but suffice it to say that a rather heavyset girl who had been shoving me and the people around me as hard as she could all night had a bit of a freakout on me. The girl had almost completely knocked me down and then latched onto me as I tried to stand up, at which point she just started swinging me around wildly into other people. All I could really think was, “Oh fuck, I hope it doesn’t look like I’m grabbing her,” but luckily Freedia saw all this, stopped the show and got the girl kicked out.
Shows aren’t about you. Shows are about the artist, and the crowd as a whole. If what you’re doing is causing other people to lose enjoyment, you’re doing it wrong.
As the blank-eyed, mightily struggling girl was literally dragged out the back door, Freedia made a comment about how there wasn’t going to be any “confusion and anarchy” at her show, and gave the girl a perfectly timed “EXCUSE!” before she started up again. From there on out, the crowd seemed to have lost some of the psycho edge, and Freedia played a flawless last half of her set. She hit all her major tracks, including “Rock Around the Clock,” and she wrapped shit up with a killer song that mixed bounce and NOLA second line jazz, during which she straddled a volunteer who was booty bouncing so well and wildly that she had the professionals shaking their heads in appreciation. Probably my favorite moment of the night came near the very end when Freedia busted out a rare (in my experience) a capella flow, skillfully stringing together phrases like “Bitch I didn’t know you could hate like that/When I rock the mic I get paid like that.” When Freedia headed offstage after the short but sweet set, she got the audience to do a call and response of “Dick eata! Latenight creepa!” and was gone.
Anyone who can get an audience to enthusiastically scream shit like that is a badass in my book, and Freedia’s show did not disappoint one bit in terms of energy, production, style or anything else that was under her control. However, concerning the crowd and the way some folk were acting, I’ll say this: Shows aren’t about you. Shows are about the artist, and the crowd as a whole. If what you’re doing is causing other people to lose enjoyment in a show, you’re doing it wrong. Bottom line: People should be able to dance at a goddamn dance show. Despite some in the crowd, though, it was one hell of a show, and when Freedia told the audience to “make that ass clap like a round of applause,” she had well earned it.
Always good to have you, Queen Diva. Come back soon.