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It started as a rescue mission. Back in 2006, local hipster dive Austin’s Coffee was on the verge of clicking off the espresso machines for good. To celebrate its existence and properly say goodbye to a consistent champion of local music, Post Records owner Chris Cucci and some friends hosted a barbecue concert with a handful of bands. To everyone’s surprise, they had a hit on their hands.

In the end, Austin’s was bought out by friends of the business, and they decided to make the cookout a yearly event.

Two years later, the third annual I-4 Fest is much larger in scope, but retains the sense of DIY independence that defines our little underground.

“Profit’s not a big concern with `the festival`,” says Cucci. “Everyone involved spends time and money putting it together and if we come close to a break-even, great. If not, who cares, because we had the crunkest 4th of July party in town.”

To back it up, Cucci says this year’s hoedown will feature bands on two actual (covered) stages rather than the tents, with roughly 30 of Orlando’s best performing all day for only $5 admission. New to the festival this year will be compilation CDs, available for $4. The bands themselves helped build the stages, and members of Kingsbury and Mumpsy take care of the live sound during the event. Austin’s co-owner Stephen Moore even handles the lighting.

“It’s a true community effort … and everyone has equally important roles,” says Cucci. “Maybe it’s all the beer, but `I-4 Fest` never seems like work. `It’s` just a chance to party with friends.”

What follows is merely a snapshot of the many intriguing, challenging and just plain bizarre characters that light up the festival this year.

More stories about I-4 Fest 2008:

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