Every year, during the last week of September, just before the annual Gonerfest, it happens. Goner Records co-owner Eric Friedl has the same horrible thought: "No one is going to show up."
"We had no idea if anyone was even going to come to the first (Gonerfest)," says Friedl. "And here we are five years and six festivals later and people just keep coming."
Launched in 2004 -- originally as a twice-yearly concert event, and then as an annual multiday festival -- Gonerfest has grown far beyond its founders' modest expectations.
The mostly garage and trash rock event, which kicked off Thursday and continues through the weekend, has grown into a four-day and three-night extravaganza, with nearly 40 acts performing at multiple venues including the Hi-Tone Café, Murphy's and the Goner Records retail store.
For Friedl and his partner, Zac Ives -- who together run the Goner store in Cooper-Young and its offshoot record label -- it means managing the needs of dozens of artists and thousands of fans.
"Every year, after the festival, we say we should sit down and talk about what worked and what didn't so we won't make the same mistakes next year," says Friedl. "And then the next year we end up doing the same things."
"Well, actually, we don't make the same mistake twice," says Ives, correcting his partner. "But we do come up with ways to make many different mistakes."
Still, Ives and Friedl have been doing something right. Gonerfest 6 is poised to be their biggest success. Presales of Gonerfest "golden passes" numbered more than 300 this year, up 50 percent from 2008. And the advance tickets have almost all been bought by out-of-towners -- not just from throughout the U.S. but from across the globe, with fans from Japan, Australia, Europe and Scandinavia all expected to touch down in Memphis for the festival this week (estimated attendance for all of last year's events was about 3,000).
That kind of international awareness has allowed Gonerfest to grow even amid a slumping economy. For Ives and Friedl, general belt-tightening meant that sponsorships they've normally counted on from local business and music organizations to help fund costs were not available this year.
"But we still made it work," says Ives, "mainly because we knew people -- a lot more people, in fact -- were coming."
As Friedl notes, the delicate economics of running the festival means that the bands that appear aren't coming for a big payday but rather to be part of a unique event.
"Everybody that plays wants to be here for the event itself, because the money isn't enough on its own," he says. "They're either looking at it as vacation or a chance to be exposed to people who are going to be into what they're doing. Probably both."
With several hundred music- and culture-hungry visitors in town, the festival has had a growing local impact. The biggest benefit has been for the Goner retail store, which teems with avid record collectors during the whole weekend.
This year, Friedl says, foreign festival attendees are getting a jump on the proceedings and arriving well in advance of the festival. He notes that a handful of Swedes had been in the store the previous day buying records.
"People are coming early so they don't have to compete with everyone else for the records that they wanna buy," says Friedl. "They were buying two to four copies of things like a Reigning Sound record that's probably available in their country, but if it's half the price that you're paying in Sweden, it looks pretty good. They'll buy copies for their friends and take them back home."
Goner isn't the only one to benefit, though. Two years ago, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music offered a coupon entitling Gonerfest attendees to discounted tickets, and it turned out to be the museum's biggest promotion ever.
Meanwhile, smaller local businesses like Payne's Bar-B-Q -- a favorite of the Goner crew -- also enjoy a Gonerfest surge.
"Last year Payne's did so much business they ran out of meat on the Friday of Gonerfest. Now, they know to gear up," says Ives.
"We're not filling the convention center with 5,000 COGIC members, but we're definitely having an impact locally," says Friedl. "And the people who come to Gonerfest are totally gung ho on Memphis music and food and culture and everything else. They're going go out of their way to find the little stuff like Payne's and other places like that."
From the Goner Web site's active message board to the retail store to the label to the festival, Friedl and Ives have forged a larger sense of community.
"The (message) board is a very communal thing. I think the festival is very communal, and we try and make the store a communal thing by stocking records we like and want to share," says Ives. "And the label is also a communal thing in that we're looking out for our bands and putting out things we enjoy and want to turn people on to. So, maybe, because all of those things are somewhat communal they help each other out and help everything we do."
While profit has never been Ives or Friedl's main motivation, in the past five years Goner has managed to flourish while so many other record stores and labels have foundered.
"If you make a little money at a few different things, it's better than making a little money at one thing," says Friedl.
"I dunno. Maybe we should concentrate on one thing and really do it right," he adds, with a chuckle. "But, so far, it's worked out for us."
Golden Passes good for admission to all events cost $50. Individual nighttime shows cost $15 each night in advance, $18 at the door. The Friday afternoon show is $5. The Saturday afternoon show is $10 (These events do not have advance ticket sales.). All Goner Store events are free. Advance tickets are available via the Hi Tone Web site at hitonememphis.com.
Afternoon Rock at the Buccaneer: 1360 Monroe and 1368 Monroe. For more information, call 278-0909.
2:45 p.m.: S****y Beach Boys
3:30 p.m.: Useless Eaters
4:15 p.m.; Thomas Function
5 p.m.: Mantles
Hi Tone Café: 1913 Poplar. Doors open at 8 p.m. Call 278-8663.
9 p.m.: Yusef Jerusalem
9:45 p.m.: Earthmen & Strangers
10:30 p.m.: The Intelligence
11:15 p.m.: Davila 666
Midnight: The Oh Sees
1 a.m.: Compulsive Gamblers
Afternoon Blowout at Murphy's: 1589 Madison. Call 726-4193.
1:30 p.m.: De Hje Hle/Mig & Min Ven
3 p.m.: Tampoffs
4 p.m.: Overnight Lows (with Ed Nasty)
5 p.m.: River City Tanlines
6 p.m.: Hunx & His Punx
2:30 p.m.: Teenage Whore Moans
3:30 p.m.: Gentleman Jesse
4:30 p.m.: Girls Of The Gravitron
5:30 p.m.: A Burning Bus
6:30 p.m.: TIREFIRE
Hi Tone Café: Doors open at 8 p.m.
8 p.m.: DJ Joe Corluka
9 p.m.: Magic Kids
9:45 p.m.: White Wires
10:30 p.m.: Sonic Chicken 4
11:15 p.m.: Box Elders
1 a.m.: Cheater Slicks
Goner Records: 2152 Young. A closing ceremony with Monsieur Jeffrey Evans will be at 2:30 p.m. For more information, call 722-0095.
The Buccaneer: The Gonerfest wind-down party with DJ Whoever's Left Standing will be at 9 p.m.