Float Fest really is a festival like no other. Its inaugural year was 2014 and most people, myself included, did not know quite what to make of the event. It was hot — like, really hot — outside, it was dusty, and it just seemed too new. Jump two years later, and I made the trip back to Martindale in 2016 where the festival really began to take shape. A younger audience had arrived in greater numbers and the acts began to get bigger. 2017 saw the festival sell out of tickets for the first time — with acts from Weezer, MGMT, Cage the Elephant, Mac Miller, and a whole lot of others gracing the fest’s stages. The excitement for 2018 was already brewing; when it was announced that Australia’s Tame Impala would be headlining the 2018 edition — one of a select few festivals in the States the band will be playing — organizer Marcus Federman proved himself once again.
But while there is no arguing that this is a great concept, the festival has faced backlash from the local community over the years regarding the abundance of people — and the inevitable trail of trash left behind — on the river. The festival recently released its comprehensive river care program and efforts, which included the following:
•Cooler Checks at the tubing shuttle pick up tent. No glass or styrofoam is allowed on the river.
•Float Fest Staff will be at the river entrance to assist tubers into the river with their coolers, bags, and additional items.
•Float Fest staff at the river exit taking tubers mesh bags and disposing in trash receptacles and providing assistance with tubers as they exit the river.
•Two River Clean up stations will be set up along the float with 40 staff members to take trash from tubers as they float by. There will also be lifeguards at these stations.
•A “Human Net” just beyond the river exit consisting of 4 people will collect any remaining floating debris that might make it past the exit point.
•Top Water Clean ups via Kayaks and Canoes will assist on Saturday morning and evening, Sunday morning and evening, and Monday morning and evening. Before, during and after the event.
•Kayak and Canoe Team will make regular trips all day Saturday and Sunday during the festival times into the evening on the river cleaning up trash and helping tubers as needed.
•Divers will do a river bottom clean up on Tuesday following the festival. They will focus on any remaining debris and anything that sunk to the river floor that might have been left behind.
Prior to the event this weekend, FPH spoke with the man himself once again to dissect what exactly Float Fest is and why people should care.
Free Press Houston: Can you talk a little bit about what Float Fest is and how you formed the idea to create it?
Marcus Federman: Float Fest is a music festival set on the San Marcos River. It is on a ranch in Martindale, TX. We are the only festival in the world that combines tubing and music and camping in the same place. You come to the festival, float the river — or don’t float, it’s not mandatory — and then there’s a large festival at the ranch. So you come to the ranch to park or camp and take the shuttle, where we’ll drop you in the water. You float back to the ranch and then you get out at the festival. We have two stages with no overlap, where we have music happening from the afternoon into the evening.
I first came up with the idea in 2012, that’s when I started to pursue it. I put my team together by the summer of 2013. We had [the first event] originally slated for August 2013, but we switched venues and pushed it back to August 2014; that was the inaugural date, August 31st, 2014. We had Grouplove, Portugal the Man, STRFKR, Bun B and Wild Child. There were about 12 bands, and it was a one-day event. Now we’re in our fifth year, and I guess you’ve seen the lineup. That’s pretty much it, in a nutshell.
As for me, I’m from Houston originally, but I’ve lived in Austin since 2002. I was originally a touring musician for a long time; I also do real estate. Now I do this.
FPH: The festival is now in its fifth year, and I think it’s fair to say that it has substantially grown year after year. Can you talk about the significance of the 2017 installment, the first year it sold out?
MF: Correct. 2017 was very important; it was the first year we really spent more money on “larger” acts, and our attendance more than doubled from the previous year. Heck, it might’ve even tripled. It was — 2015 was a breakout year for us, it was the first time we did 2-days and we saw a large increase in attendance. I think the word got out in 2016 and that’s what solidified the sell-out for us, on top of the lineup, in 2017. We expect the same type of growth this year. If our sales trend are exactly the same, I expect an even larger increase from last year. I think the unique aspects of the festival is what draws people in. Tubing is a Texas tradition, and so is live music, so when you put the two together, you get a superpower, so to speak.
When someone sees the lineup, and then they see the name of the festival, it’s almost a no-brainer, you know?
FPH: 2018 seems to be even more impressive, especially with booking Tame Impala. How long have you been trying to get them and who else is on your wishlist in the future?
MF: They were on the top of my list. It was one of those rare occasions where you get exactly what you want. I’ve had offers for them in the past, but it just happened that this year they liked the festival and what they’ve heard about it. It just lined up, time-wise; it’s one of three North American shows this year for them: us, Pitchfork Music Festival, and Desert Daze in California. That was a really huge deal for us, on top of them being one of my favorite bands.
FPH: The festival, I remember, has had problems with noise complaints in the past. How have you worked with the Martindale community to assure that the festival will still be a great time while respecting the nearby residents?
MF: We’ve moved the stages a certain way to accommodate the neighbors. But, in our experience, when our security folks go investigate the complaints, they don’t hear any loud noises.
FPH: I asked around the office what I should ask you and the general consciousness was about a long-time friend of yours, our boss. Can you talk about being in a band with Omar Afra? Any good stories you want to share?
MF: That’s hilarious. Stories about Omar? Man, I don’t know what he would be okay with me telling you. At the time, when we were in that band, we thought we were the best in the world. We were very high on ourselves, we had a lot fun. We did a lot of stupid shit, too. That’s not who I am anymore. But yeah, we had a festival on the beach, Crystal Beach, called Crystal Beach Music Fest in 1999. It was the biggest disaster ever. You should ask him about that.
Float Festival will take place this weekend at Cool River Ranch in Martindale, TX. Select tickets are still available; all other information can be found on Float Fest’s website here.