By the time we got to Woodshock we were half a dozen strong…
Before it became “The Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin, Texas was home to an alternative music festival known as Woodshock. A quip on the “Aquarian Exposition” of a similar name, the punk rock beer-bust was first held in Waterloo Park in 1981. Fourteen local Texan bands played for over six hours, which was interrupted by a massive sprinkler raid indicating the park’s curfew. The event’s inaugural poster was designed by a pre-Jesus Lizard David Yow, who desecrated the classic Woodstock dove by flipping it upside-down with XX’s in its eyes and a toe tag. Peace and Love, my ass.
In 1983, the event moved to Hurlbut Ranch in Dripping Springs, located in the hills just outside of Austin. The site had once hosted events like the 1972 Dripping Springs Reunion, initially dubbed the “Super Bowl of Country Music” until low attendance proved it to be a massive commercial failure. Willie Nelson, who played the Reunion, was inspired by the event and hosted his first annual 4th of July Picnic in Dripping Springs the following year. Unlike its site predecessors, Woodshock would bring with it a different element from the Texas music scene: the punks, freaks, and weirdos that, as the popular local bumper sticker says “Keep Austin Weird.”
The uneven dirt roads that led to the Hurlbut Ranch made Woodshock a festival that was nearly impossible to get to. Some could say its inaccessibility was a blessing in disguise, as isolation and expanse, in addition to access to legendary watering holes, encouraged a certain free-form insanity that in ways mimicked the spirit of Woodstock itself. This must be what it felt like to take the brown acid.
Woodshock 1985 included performances by local (and otherwise) musicians Daniel Johnston, Texas Instruments, Dharma Bums, the U-Men, Glass Eye, Cargo Cult (fronted by Biscuit of Big Boys), The Reivers, Poison 13, and the festival’s unofficial mascot, The Hickoids. Several of the groups were part of Austin’s growing post-postmodernist, or “New Sincerity” movement, considered to be reactionary to the ironic outlook of punk rock and new wave. David Yow’s Scratch Acid appeared on the original Woodshock lineup, but didn’t perform until the following year for reasons unknown. What really set 1985 apart from previous and future years, however, is the short film that was created by a local filmmaker named Richard Linklater.
Running at just seven minutes long, Woodshock is a 16mm satirical homage to the hippie movement at Woodstock and the experimental psychedelic films of the era. Linklater, who would go on to direct such celebrated Hollywood films as Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, and Boyhood, was a film student at Austin Community College at the time of filming. The short was the first ever to be completed by Linklater, along with co-creator and future collaborator, Lee Daniel. The two would later recreate the landscape of Woodshock in the “Moontower” party scene of 1993’s Dazed and Confused.
Similar to Heavy Metal Parking Lot, which was released in the same year, Woodshock is a documentary short about the music fan and not the music itself. Rather than focusing on the bands of the festival, Linklater focused on the revelers, the fucked-up weirdos fried on acid and drunk off Lone Stars. Despite its punk rock notoriety, Woodshock ‘85 was about the moment and the thrill of it all.
The only musician featured on-camera was outsider artist and proud McDonald’s employee, Daniel Johnston. Here the unknown 24-year old musician can be seen during an awkward exchange where he promotes his tape, the infamous Hi, How Are You. It was around this time that Johnston began to receive some national acclaim, although it would still be years away until Kurt Cobain wore a Daniel Johnston t-shirt. Ironically, this would not be the last time Johnston would solicit his demo tapes in a Richard Linklater film. The director’s first feature length, 1988’s 16mm experimental masterpiece, It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, also boasts a brief Daniel Johnston cameo.
Woodshock ‘85 will always be remembered through Linklater’s early filmmaking, as well as sonically on a double-LP live compilation that was recorded by local producer Mike Alvarez. The festival continued into the early Nineties, but it wasn’t long until the bohemian gathering faded completely from the Austin music scene. In 2001, a two-day Woodshock reunion was held at Emo’s.
Watch Richard Linklater and Lee Daniel’s first short film ‘Woodshock’ in all its chaotic glory below:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Watch Richard Linklater’s little-known first feature, made three years before ‘Slacker’
‘Memorial Day 2000’: Disgusting ‘found footage’ classic of drunken hillbilly white trash insanity
Watch Matthew McConaughey’s ‘Dazed and Confused’ audition
‘The Incantations of Daniel Johnston’: From McDonald’s to MTV to mental institutions