Much of the career and extensive catalog of 311 has been devoted to promoting positive values and unity. This means facing sea after churning sea of diehard fans with a smile.
The Los Angeles-based band with Omaha roots hasn't been content to merely establish a fan base and spread its message through music over the course of a 21-year career, though. Much in the tradition of bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish, the guys have attracted rabid fans who not only turn out to see them whenever they come to town but also follow en masse to events on a grander scale.
"We're always trying to think of new ways to bring that community together and give them a great time," says MC and vocalist S.A. Martinez, who shares vocal duties with Nick Hexum. "Unique sets and things they're wanting but not necessarily getting their fill of at a typical 311 show."
These efforts have spawned the annual 311 Day, which has been staged in different cities around the country every March 11. It always boasts massive set lists and has drawn attendees from around the country to New Orleans, Las Vegas, and, this past year, a Caribbean cruise that embarked from Fort Lauderdale.
Now, the focus is getting out in nature with the 311 Pow Wow Festival, which was announced earlier this summer and goes down at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in northern Florida this weekend.
"Ever since the advent of 311 Day, we've noticed that our fans have always come and said how much they want us to do other things like it," explains Martinez. "And that was when those seeds were planted. Essentially, it's just other experiences, other ways to see the band. Yet you create a unique community around it too."
With bits of reggae, hardcore, hip-hop, and straight-ahead rock 'n' roll to pull from, 311 has continued to grow, from rawer early work to its self-titled 1995 pop breakthrough to the just-released Universal Pulse. But the band's bread and butter has always been the live setting.
And what a Pow Wow it shall be. Spanning three days and two stages, the festival features the Deftones, Sublime With Rome, Dirty Heads, Reel Big Fish, Ozomatli, G. Love & Special Sauce, and plenty from the fest's founders. 311 will play two sets on Friday and another two on Saturday, including one set featuring the 21-track 1997 release Transistor performed in its entirety for the first time.
In response to some prodding about the surprises in store, Martinez says, "It's all continuously being planned as we go along. Sound check is obviously when we get to approach some of these things that we're going to be doing and seeing how they're going to work."
Organizing the festival represents a whole new direction and new challenges for the group, he adds.
"It's been a huge learning experience for us," he says. "And it hasn't even happened yet. But I think we did a pretty good job, and I think it's a very respectable lineup, and the bands are really going to enjoy themselves."
Whether this event turns into a yearly outing, like the beloved 311 Day, remains to be seen. 311 isn't getting ahead of itself, but it certainly isn't discounting the possibility.
"We're going to see how it goes, but so far, it's off to a good start," Martinez says. "It's definitely something — the concept, the idea — that we'd like to continue, if it goes off."
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Readers might recall that 311's choice of Spirit of the Suwannee for the Pow Wow Festival sparked some controversy on our music blog, County Grind, some weeks back. However, Martinez is convinced fears of a rougher, edgier crowd are unfounded.
"I don't know what those grounds are used to," he says. "Maybe the festival fare is generally a little lighter. I think perceptionwise, people need to open up a little more and realize that people are cooler than they give them credit for. It's not going to be like Woodstock '99."
He adds that they expect the same positive energy and common thread of civil behavior typical of 311 outings.
"Our fan base is very respectful of their environment," he says. "We just got a letter from a fan in Omaha who said our show was the first time they'd heard a person crowd-surfing say 'Excuse me.' Polite crowd surfers. When does that ever happen?"