A Sweet Hot Hell: Surviving Summerfest 2011, Day One

The Rules of Summerfest (keep reading)
After only the first couple of hours of being at this year’s Free Press Summerfest, I was feeling really freaking old. There was a time when I could pull off an all-day festival in the blistering heat of summer and walk away (mostly) unscathed, but it hurt like hell even then, and that was more than 15 years ago, now. By mid-afternoon Saturday, having walked all over the festival grounds to try to see as many bands as humanly possible, I thought I was going to die.

Thankfully, it didn’t happen — I survived, kept on hiking from stage to stage to stage, and only finally gave out after being able to catch Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings (well, and Weird Party, on the way up & out), who were the headliners I most wanted to see that day/evening. But it was definitely a Murtaugh weekend for me, one where I found myself muttering, “I’m gettin’ too old for this shit,” over and over again as I marched around in the sun.

Ironically, I realized partway through Sunday (yep, came back, even after surviving Saturday) that I needed the constant movement; like a very, very sunburned, land-bound shark, when I stopped moving, that’s when the heat & general exhaustion started to get to me, to wear me down. I had to keep moving, never stopping for more than a few minutes at a time, not even to see a band.

Which is partly by way of explaining, too, why I probably didn’t catch a full set of any band I saw this weekend. For one thing, yeah, I was trying to take in as many bands as I could, some of ’em scheduled at the same time, so I had to bounce from place to place pretty quickly. And for another, it was when I stopped and just stood in front of Band X as they played (particularly at the Budweiser Stage, but I’ll get to that) that I really started to feel like I couldn’t do any more. For me, at least, if I stopped for very long, I was done.

People bungee-bouncing
In a very real way, it was the heat itself that took center stage at Summerfest this time around — like last year’s torrential downpour, I’d be willing to bet that the brutal, soul-melting heat is what everybody who went to this ‘fest will remember in years to come: “You think Summerfest 2014 was hot? No way, maaaaan — you shoulda been here in 2011; that was fucking insane.”

Like with the rain, the heat got comments from several of the bands/musicians I happened to catch. One member of Sunday Main Stage-ers Yeasayer, in particular, was pretty blunt, after first praising the festival and Houston in general: “I cannot say that I will ever play again during the day in June in Texas. ‘Cause this is some fucked-up shit.” (Or something close to that; I can barely read my own notes, at this point.) At the end of the day, I think a lot of the out-of-town folks (especially those from warmer climes, like Yeasayer’s Brooklyn) thought the masses of Houstonians out there sweating and frying and dancing and sunstroking out were borderline insane.

And when I say “masses,” yeah, I mean masses. Saturday’s crowd wasn’t as big as I’d figured it’d be, at first, but towards the evening, it exploded, and Sunday seemed to be even more packed, if anything, than the day before. On Sunday it just kept running through my head on infinite repeat: “This is a fuckload of people. Oh. My. God.”

Big, big, big kudos to Omar and the rest of the Free Press Houston crew for making this thing happen, and Brigitte of Your Name [Here] for hooking SCR up once again — in spite of the heat, in spite of my old-man-ness, damn, I had a good, good time. Summerfest makes me happy to live here and be able to join in for three years running, and both the immense effort expended to put it on and the response to it from Houstonians of all walks of like makes me proud to live here.

Towards the end of The Eastern Sea‘s set, Bellaire HS alum Tomas Olano marveled aloud at what was going on all around us, echoing what I said above about how proud he was to call Houston home, telling everyone in earshot that people elsewhere are definitely paying attention, too: “All the people in Austin are talking about it.”

Niki Sevven & bass
Not like that matters, mind you — Summerfest would be awesome even if nobody outside of the Beltway ever even knew about it, if it was our own special, tightly-guarded H-town secret. But still, it’s nice to see our brethren to the northwest looking this direction for a change. Stand proud, Houston, and thank you, Free Press gang.

At any rate, here’s Day One of my own little coverage of this thing, with Day Two to come later on; fellow SCR contributor Daniel Yuan is working on throwing his own thoughts on the ‘fest up here, too, so keep an eye out for those.

I tried to tweet about the thing some while it was going on, btw, over at @spacecityrock, but I mostly ended up feeling like somebody’s grandpa trying to use LOLspeak and sound cool. I have no fucking idea what the @ and # tags do, or how to insert ’em into tweets. Yes, I’m that lame. But hey, if you missed my decidedly non-epic tweets, fret not, because I’m going to seriously mine them for the writeups to follow…

I took some pics this weekend, as well, some of which will definitely end up over there on the right; if you want to check out the whole pile, though, head on over here. And what the hell, here’s a little slideshow thingy, if you’re too lazy to click over to Flickr:

Now, for the actual bands — here goes…

Art Institute
ART INSTITUTE: I was moving fast on my way in to the festival, afraid I’d already gotten there too late to catch any of {Art Institute}‘s set, but lo and behold, I made it just in time. Didn’t see the whole thing, but I got a few songs, at least, so that was cool — from what I heard, I think they were mostly playing more recent stuff off of Second Audio Demon, which seems a little less all-out punk and more pre-punk, at least to me. These guys are obviously seriously obsessed (in a good, good way) with Rough Trade-style post-punk/art-rock bands, folks like Pere Ubu or Mission of Burma, and I’m happy to hear it.

They’re not pandering to anybody, instead either following some cryptic game plan only they themselves know or — more likely — just doing what they love, for the fun of it. And for as quirky and occasionally arty as they are, they definitely don’t take themselves too seriously; I loved the nod to the Talking Heads partway through the set…

Got to meet guitarist/singer Paul Chavez & bassist Tyler Jans (and their lovely significant others, too), and they’re darn nice guys, to boot. I admitted to Paul that I had yet to check out their new cassette-only release (the name of which I’m blanking on right now), mostly because, well, my tape deck’s not actually hooked up to anything at the moment, and lo and behold, he confessed that he didn’t, either. Still, I love the idea — I swear, I’m gonna crack it open at some point soon.

YPPAH: Only saw/heard Yppah in passing, I’m afraid, as I wandered down the road to see just how far the festival went this year… I caught a song-and-a-half or so from up on the hill, just as they were finishing, and it was nicely nod-out spacey; they’re pretty damn neat, I have to say. These guys are seriously, seriously underappreciated, it seems to me (and yeah, I’m as guilty of it as anybody), for a band that’s so well-known outside of Houston. Plus, I love that it’s an actual band, when it sounds like it could be just a studio thing only. I’m going to have to see ’em play again, one of these days.

Jody Seabody & The Whirls
JODY SEABODY AND THE WHIRLS: Okay, so this is going to sound bad, but I didn’t mean to see Jody Seabody and The Whirls. I wandered down the hill towards what turned out to be the Super Happy Fun Land Stage because I was, um, a little lost; I thought it was the 29-95 Stage, which was where The Manichean were supposed to be playing, but I’d totally misread the map and headed to the wrong stage. Whoops! It ended up a happy accident, though, because I have been wanting to see these guys for quite a while now, having really liked what I’ve heard online.

Live, they were surprisingly funky and classic rock-tinged, not quite what I was expecting — I’d thought they were heavier, somehow, more metal/punk and less boogie. But hell, they were still pretty entertaining, in a who-gives-a-shit-let’s-rock kind of way. Right before I had to head back up the hill, one of the guys in the band jokingly declared that it wasn’t the climate that made H-town hot, but the people: “The reason Houston is the hottest city because we’re here!” I’m down with that.

While they played, btw, the Super Happy Fun Land Stage certainly lived up to its sponsor’s reputation… First, ukulele-playing kooky lady Poopy Lungstuffing filmed her dolly dancing around on the grass in front of the band, and then a guy wearing a freaky-big fake head bounced through the crowd; then, in what was by far the day’s creepiest moment, Big Head Guy sauntered over and started making a move on the SHFL Stage’s Cabbage Patch Kid mascot. Eww.

The Manichean
THE MANICHEAN: When I finally did figure out how to get over to the 29-95 Stage, The Manichean had just started, and it occurred to me, a song or two in, that this was probably the first time I’d ever seen the band not in the dark, whether in a darkened club or on, say, the roof of a parking lot at night. I was a little nervous that maybe The Manichean’s ultra-dramatic collective stage persona wouldn’t translate, somehow, in the bright light of day.

I needn’t have worried, as it turned out. Cory Sinclair‘s wildly theatrical antics still worked great in the sunshine — the guy literally hurled himself off the stage and then proceeded to roam through the crowd before climbing on top of things to gesture up at the sky. You should’ve seen everybody whip their cameras & cellphones out when he collapsed on the ground…

Anyway, I freaking love the new songs, and the stuff I’m already familiar with gets better with each listen. Sure, these guys can kind of edge a little towards the Drama Club realm, but their sheer sincerity wins me over every time; they really, truly believe in the music, and that makes it absolutely work.

Tax the Wolf
TAX THE WOLF: Dang it… I was speeding down the road towards the Warehouse Live Stage so I could catch Something Fierce, and I stumbled right past Tax the Wolf on the Night Owl Stage. They sounded great, more low-key and mellow than I’ve heard ’em before now, with an almost salsa-like sound creeping in around the edges. Unfortunately, I could already hear the roar coming from further on down the road, where the SFers were launching into “Future Punks,” so I had to bail, but I swear, you guys, next time I’ll do my best to hear more than just one song…

Something Fierce
SOMETHING FIERCE: Holy crap, do I love this band. Every single damn time I’ve seen ’em, they’ve been great, just blazing through blast after blast of subversively melodic, late-’70s-tinged pop-punk without a missing a freaking step. There’s no pretense about it, no attempt to ride some kind of retro-punk aesthetic trend — Something Fierce just honest-to-God love that music, that late-’70s/early-’80s Brit-punk/power-pop sound. They’re playing what they love, period.

And each album and 7″ seems to push things further along; early on, they made me think of folks like The Adverts and Stiff Little Fingers, but with new album Don’t Be So Cruel, the band’s wearing their Clash influence right there on their collective chest. I swear, the first time I ran through the album, it smacked me in the face — it felt like Joe Strummer & co. had come back to make the album they should have made after London Calling, before going completely over the top with Sandinista! If only…

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the band live, actually, and the closer I got to Summerfest, the more I realized how damn much I missed seeing ’em. Sadly, I missed hearing “Teenage Ruins” (assuming they did play it), but they made me happy by throwing in somebody-for-everybody punk love song “Aliens”; that made my day, right there.

Those Darlins
THOSE DARLINS: Down the hill at the badly-situated Budweiser Stage, Nashville’s Those Darlins took me by complete surprise. I knew zero about the band beyond their name, so I didn’t have a clue what to expect, but they ended up being a nice, necessary change-up from the stuff I’d already heard. No punk or art-rock here, but rather rough-edged, kinda dangerous-sounding, female-fronted roots-rock, and extremely well-done for all that — think Drive-By Truckers playing ’50s girl-group covers, if Patterson Hood and his cohorts were (almost) all women, and you’ll be close. Ragged and a little dirty, they felt like the wrong-side-of-the-tracks version of the Dixie Chicks, and yeah, I mean that as a good thing.

Little Lo
LITTLE LO: I’d fully intended to try to see Little Lo, but stupidly forgot they were even playing ’til I wandered back by the Night Owl Stage. Good thing, too, because I was nearly bowled over by the ex-Houstonian, now-Austinite outfit. They make some awesomely layered, near-orchestral indie-pop, reminiscent of fellow festival players (and Austin-dwellers) The Eastern Sea, albeit with a bit more of a Conor Oberst/Wolf Parade thing going on in the vocals. I seriously need to hear more by this band. Happily for me, they’re planning on releasing their new EP towards the end of this month; keep an eye out.

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears
BLACK JOE LEWIS & THE HONEYBEARS: Okay, okay. I tried to hang out in front of the Main Stage so I could finally see Black Joe Lewis play — I’ve heard amazing, amazing things about the guy, and I was dearly looking forward to checking him out. But it was Too. Fucking. Hot. Argh. What I heard was great, yeah, but possibly better in a more close-up, intimate (non-infernal) setting, and yours truly ended up attempting to hide away briefly in the Fancy Pants Tent, instead. Still, I liked it quite a bit; Lewis sounded very Sam & Dave-like, to me, merging James Brown-style soul with more raw, bluesy rock.

Roky Moon & BOLT!
ROKY MOON & BOLT!: Back on up the hill (once I caught my breath a bit, that is) to see Roky Moon & BOLT! explode onto Allen Parkway. They seem to get tighter and more finely-tuned each and every time I see ’em, and on Saturday, watching/listening to ’em was like watching/listening to this huge, monolithic, well-oiled machine that’s built to do nothing but blow your freaking mind. They kicked into their set almost nonchalantly, immediately sucked in passers-by seemingly (wow, that’s a lot of “ly”s) without breaking a sweat.

At the start, they were competing with craptacular, Hysteria-vintage Def Leppard blasting from the Sony Playstation truck (which I never went inside, mind you, because I was afraid they’d make me sign away my firstborn or eat live snakes or something). The Playstation music got quieter after a minute or two, but that in itself made me kind of sad — I would’ve dearly loved to see a full-on soundclash between the BOLT! thunder and the lameness that is “Pour Some Sugar On Me” (sorry, any Leppard fans out there, but the last good album the band made was Pyromania, period; I will brook no argument on this). I know who I’d bet on…

Sara Van Buskirk
FINNEGAN: Confession time, folks. While I did catch quite a bit of BOLT!’s set, I was pretty damn torn, because I desperately, desperately wanted to finally get to hear Finnegan, too… So, I attempted to split my time between the two; apologies to both bands, but eh, that’s how it has to happen, sometimes.

That said, I am glad I did it, because Finnegan’s set turned out to be one of the best I managed to hear & see in the whole festival. They were flat-out spellbinding, pulling together every single one of the things I love best about folky, countryish indie-pop: the gentle, jangly guitars; the subtle, gorgeous vocals; the peaceful/melancholy rural feel, the whole thing. Best of all were singer/guitarist duo Taylor Lee (also of The Literary Greats) and Sara Van Buskirk (who also plays with the Greats sometimes & who is phenomenal on her own, to boot), whose voices mesh beautifully, better than any male/female vocals I’ve heard since The Western Civilization or the Once soundtrack.

To make things even better, I also finally got my hands on both Van Buskirk’s 2010(?) release, The Place Where You Are, and this year’s Finnegan full-length, What Happened To Jacqueline?, so now I can blast both “The Place Where You Are” and “B-Team Squad Leader” in my car ad infinitum. Sweet!

Perseph One
PERSEPH ONE: Yep, another at the top of my list… As I mentioned back in the rundown things I was doing, I’ve been wanting to see Perseph One live since at least Summerfest ’09, and this year I got my chance at last (“yay” for mid-afternoon sets…). I wasn’t disappointed, either, not one damn bit. For starters, I was impressed as hell with her backing band (and the fact that she has one) — the combination of ribcage-rattling bass, live, possibly seriously-processed(?) guitars, and sometimes-live drums (her drummer seemed to do double duty as backup dancer on the track where she wasn’t actively playing) worked perfectly, making me think of fellow rules-out-the-window rapper P.O.S. more than anything else. Perseph One herself was confrontational as hell but still down-to-earth, spitting smart, angry lyrics so fast at times I could barely keep up. Her performance was another one of the best I saw all day, no question.

BIG BOI: Back down the hill, but not really to the Main Stage; I fled once again, instead, back to the Fancy Pants Tent, to try to get out of the sun. And while I was sitting there on the grass inside the tent, attempting to scribble down a few more notes and chill out a little, one-half of OutKast, Big Boi, happened to be playing only a hundred feet or so away on the Main Stage. I’m not really an OutKast/Big Boi fan, truth be told — I don’t dislike them, but they’ve just never done all that much for me musically; I can take ’em or leave ’em — but it didn’t sound bad from my little spot. It worked decently as background music while I frantically tried to bring my core temp down in the half-hearted A/C. And I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure he did do “Ms. Jackson” (or a reworking of it, anyway), the one OutKast song I really like, so hey, I can’t complain.

Oh, and Bonus Creativity/Bravery Points go to the couple who were lying on the grass half-in and half-out of the FP Tent, their lower torsos & legs in the relative cool while their upper torsos & heads watched the Main Stage. Smart thinking, true, but also, y’all are way, way more trusting than me…

PEELANDER-Z: I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Japan/NYC rockers Peelander-Z; I know the music a little bit, I know they claim to be from “Planet Peelander,” I know they put out a kids’ album last year, and I’d heard their live shows were pretty amazing, so I wanted to try to see the spectacle for myself.

This was my first trek down to the Budweiser Stage — I’d managed to avoid it otherwise, watching from the hill to avoid what looked to be a boiling cauldron of heat without a tree in sight, and that turned out to be a wise decision. Out of all of the stages at the festival, the Budweiser setup was easily the hottest, least-breezy, least-sheltered of the bunch. If it hadn’t been for the grass, standing down there would’ve felt like standing on the surface of a planet just a little too close to that big ball of fire in the sky; no breeze, no shade, just heat and sun and more heat.

Even still, the crowd for Peelander-Z’s set was the most hyped-up audience I’d seen so far, working themselves into a frenzy and chanting “Pee-Land-Er!” over and over again before the band ever came onto the stage. Once the band came out and launched into the show, that frenzy on the ground immediately turned into a crazed, desperate mosh pit, the first I witnessed at the festival. And yeah, it was pretty entertaining once Peelander Yellow (who looked, incidentally, like the wizened old drunk from some old kung-fu flick), Peelander Red, Peelander Green, Peelander Black, and (I guess?), um, Peelander Pink got onstage and started doing their thing. I can’t say the music was more than “eh” to me, but they’ve definitely got the performance down, coming off like some Bizarro-World gang of real-live Power Rangers who want to be KISS. Oh, and I seriously want any and all of their monochrome guitars; niiiiice. (Although apparently the pink one was a fake…)

BUXTON: Ah, Buxton; you guys never, ever let me down, and for that, I love y’all. I’d feared the band had broken up, actually, before the news broke that they’d signed to New West Records and would be putting out a new full-length, Nothing Here Seems Strange, sometime this year; I’d heard some gloomy things about the group’s future from various folks & had feared the worst.

From what I saw on Saturday (and I’ll admit I was only able to catch the tail end of their set, after hiking alllllll the way back from the far end of the festival), though, they are very much alive and well, and that makes me ridiculously happy. A non-bespectacled Sergio Trevino led the band through the rough-yet-warm roots-pop they do so well (damn near perfectly, actually), with guitarist Jason Willis making my day with that lead-in riff to the awesome, awesome “Feathers.” The world needs to hear this band — they really, truly do.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS: And then, the set I’d been most looking forward to, waiting in eager anticipation all day… I’d only seen Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings once before, on a freezing-ass-cold night at Walter’s, but live they utterly and completely blew me away, turning me from a fan into an all-out fanatic in the course of one night. I was obviously pretty psyched to see ’em on the Summerfest lineup when it was announced a few months back, and had been singing their praises to anyone who’d listen.

I was nearing exhaustion when the Dap-Kings rolled onstage, all dressed in their trademark suits (and not, disappointingly, in the matching turtlenecks & blazers they wore for the cover of I Learned the Hard Way), and began to briefly warm up the crowd for Sharon Jones herself. When I saw them last, the warm-up part of the show went on for quite a while, and while I loved it, personally, I think bandleader Binky Griptite and his cohorts recognized that a lot of us out there in front of the Main Stage looked like we were about to collapse in a giant, sweaty, sunburned heap. So, they kept the intro mercifully short before welcoming Ms. Jones to the stage and kicking things off.

Man, that woman can sing. I swear, I could listen to her read a physics textbook and be totally in awe; she’s got that kind of bluesy, sultry voice that’s far, far too rare these days — and when you do hear it, it almost feels like a put-on, like an affectation somebody’s using to try to fit in that particular box. With Jones, however, it’s the real, honest-to-God deal. When she sings about losing her man and being shattered and fighting to hold on, you believe it, because her whole history lives in that voice of hers. She’s lady who’s been knocked down time and again but never stops getting back up on her feet — her performance of “The Game Gets Old” alone tells you that much.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Jones and the Dap-Kings played a handful of songs from Hard Way — I heard “Game,” the title track, and the heartbreaking admonishment of “She Ain’t A Child No More” — interrupting to do an awesome medley of dances that, yeah, your parents (and mine) probably knew and attempted to do at one point or another. Seeing Jones shake it up there in the roasting heat (and the Dap-Kings, undoubtedly cooking in their suit jackets) was pretty mesmerizing.

At one point, some young kid in a ballcap and wifebeater managed to get up on the stage and was suddenly booty-dancing with Jones as she crooned and moaned, but rather than kick him back down into the crowd, Jones actually danced with the kid for the rest of the song before tenderly asking, “What’s your name, honey?” (Emilio, if I heard correctly), and then asking the audience to give the guy a hand. I dunno if it was set up beforehand or not, but whichever it was, it was awesome.

Throughout the set, folks in the photo-corridor along the front of the stage were shooting ice water out over & into the crowd, in an effort to cool people down a little. Which was fine for the most part, but I’d met up with a friend who was the tallest person in our entire area (and who’d brought a very expensive, brand-new camera with him to the festival), and he kept getting blasted full in the face by some overzealous water-shooter. In the end, we retreated and tried to find a shady spot, and I attempted to recuperate a little bit before heading for home. I was pretty well done, in any meaning of the word.

Weird Party
WEIRD PARTY: But hey, one for the road, right? On our way back up the hill, we stumbled right into the Rudyard’s Stage (which I hadn’t been back to since Art Institute played early in the afternoon), just in time to witness the resurrected, re-enlived Weird Party break it to pieces. Okay, so they didn’t literally do that, but they played with the same loose-yet-sharp-edged abandon I love from these guys, with both singer Shawn Adolph and the music itself menacing the crowd and daring ’em to watch.

For his part, Adolph looked absolutely fried, with the thousand-yard-stare in full effect as he screamed and howled along with the rest of the band (which apparently includes Shelby Hohl, these days). At one point, I’d swear the guy was looking directly at me with this look of malevolent hatred, like he was trying to laser-burn a hole through to the back of my skull. I shrugged it off, figuring it was just my imagination, but then on the way out my friend mentioned that he’d thought the same thing, that he was staring directly at one of the two of us, for some reason. Hopefully that doesn’t mean there’ll be a horse’s head crammed in the P.O. Box or something, right? Nah…

Once they finished, that was it for me for the night — I would’ve loved to have stayed to check out Beirut (my friend did, and he said they were incredible), The Sour Notes, and Young Mammals (who I haven’t seen live in a long time, now), in particular, but I just plain couldn’t. I had to get home; hell, by that point I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it back the next day.

So I staggered back up Allen Parkway, running eastward away from that angry, evil star and towards my vehicle, and from there on home. More to come…

Crowd at Main Stage

  • It was hot. Really, really, really, really hot. Will to live-destroyingly hot. “Dear God, I can feel my brain melting and dripping out my ears” hot. Helltown definitely lived up to its name this weekend, weather-wise. After last year, I never thought I’d say it, but I seriously missed the torrential downpour. At around 2PM, I overheard one shirtless festival-goer talking with his friends declare, “I’m already over this.” Memo to Omar & co.: look, I know summer is the peak touring season & all that, so getting good bands to come to town any other time of year is problematic, but…well, damn. Couldn’t the whole thing be shifted back to May and retitled “Springfest”? Please? I’m gettin’ too old for this shit, y’all.

  • Bands I Didn’t Get to See/Missed — Yeah, there were a bunch of people I didn’t get to see any of, sadly, this past Saturday; I can only be in one place at a time, y’know? I’ve got my fingers crossed that maybe Daniel saw some of the folks that I didn’t, at least… The Sour Notes (who I was seriously looking forward to, especially after listening to Last Looks repeatedly in recent days; I just couldn’t make it that long, sadly), The Wild Moccasins, Co-Pilot, Fucked Up (I’m told these guys were amazing live), Fat Tony (gah! I didn’t even remember ’til I looked back at the schedule just now…fuck); LIMB, Giant Battle Monster, Infinite Apaches, Young Girls, Woozyhelmet, Venomous Maximus (although I did hear them really briefly on my way past, headed on down the hill to see Sharon Jones), Black Dahlia Murder, Indian Jewelry, Lower Dens, Spain Colored Orange, sIngs, Chase Hamblin, Los Skarnales (I swung by the Main Stage at one point while they were playing, but it was a hot, sweaty mess down there, and for my continuing health, I vowed to steer clear; sorry, you guys…), Tyagaraja, Female Demand, The Tontons, Young Mammals, and Rusted Shut (who I heard were utterly awesome). And those were just the bands that I’d hoped I could see. There was a lot going on, y’all, and short of cloning, it just wasn’t gonna happen.

  • This year I had zero problems getting my wristband & getting in the festival, which was very, very cool. I got sent my e-ticket a couple of days prior, brought it to the fest, had ’em scan it, and boom, in I went. My friend Jowell complained about some annoying confusion at the gate when he got there in the early evening, but I sailed right through. No line, no wait, none of it, and I barely saw a line at the box office whenever I happened to meander up that way (although I can’t swear there wasn’t one at some point during the weekend). I didn’t even mind the quick bag check the second day to make sure I wasn’t smuggling in water or something. High-five, Free Press people.

    Inside the Fancy Pants Tent

  • And now, for The Down Side: last year, I barely went into the Fancy Pants Tent, despite having a wristband that would let me in, partly because I was just too busy and partly because it was down near the bayou where all the water/mud was going. This year I did head into the Tent a few times to attempt to recuperate a bit from the heat, but the A/C units blowing cold air in there were apparently overwhelmed by the sheer level of soul-searing heat outside — they never seemed to do much beyond bringing “broiling hot” down to “uncomfortably warm,” at least for me.

  • Naturally, I get all the way to the festival, hike over from downtown, and then notice the hole at the bottom corner of the backpack. And I have nothing to seal it up with. Damn.

  • Holy shit, was this thing massive — it took me nearly 10 minutes to hike (and I was moving pretty fast, early in the day) from the Rudyard’s Stage at the eastern end of the festival all the way to the Gritsy/Reprogram Music Stage on the other end. Wow.

  • Wow; there were a lot of kids there this year. No, seriously — I saw elementary school kids covering their ears and watching while Weird Party sonically destroyed the air in front of ’em, I saw toddlers getting blasted with water over by the Main Stage, and I saw babies rolling around in strollers, no doubt slow-roasting in the ridiculous heat. And hey, I’m cool with bringing kids to festivals & such (and as these things go, Summerfest is relatively tame/safe), but Overprotective Dad Me wanted to grab half the people with the little-little kids turning fire-engine red in the sun and shake them by the shoulders while asking them loudly what the fuck they thought they were doing. Sunstroke is bad news for adults, people — I’ve seen otherwise tough, healthy 20-year-olds have to get rushed to the hospital after too much sun & heat. Think it’s any better for wee ones whose brains are still developing? All I can say is that I hope the parents who brought their kids took good care of ’em.

    Anne Bradshaw, Aaron Echegaray, Marcus(?), & Jeoaf Johnson

  • Free water? Gooooooood. Standing in long lines in the hot sun to get it? Ah, crap…where’s that $3 lemonade stand, again?

  • Memo to Self #1: sunscreen only really works if you actually put it on. Yes, this means that I, too, am a big ol’ idiot myself, and an idiot whose neck now looks like it’s been run over by a car burning rubber, to boot.

  • One of the best parts of the festival, always, is running into folks & getting to catch up at least a little bit. Ran into Roky Moon & BOLT!‘s Jeoaf Johnson & girlfriend Anne, as well as BOLT! guitarist Aaron Echegaray & a friend (whose name was Marcus, I think?), all of how are good, good people. (Have I mentioned yet how psyched I am to hear American Honey?)

    Daniel Yuan

  • And hey, I had several Joe Mathlete sightings, too, which are always cool, and almost literally walked right into fellow SCR festival-coverer Daniel Yuan, whom I’d never met in person before Saturday. Good to finally meet you in real life, man.

  • Then there were some of the band of Usual Journalistic-Type Suspects, namely Marc Brubaker & Craig Hlavaty, both (these days, anyway) of the Houston Press; good to see y’all, as always. Didn’t run into David Cobb of Houston Calling or Adam Newton of Dryvetyme Onlyne this year, which is a little weird — I’m sure they were both floating around somewhere.

    Eric Dick

  • Oh, and while hanging out near the Warehouse Live Stage after Finnegan’s set, I ran into Eric Dick, onetime bassist/singer for quasi-legendary rockers Inbred Whiteboy, who were floating around the same time my own long-dead band was — back in the day, we played a ton of shows together, and those guys were utterly wild & fun to hang out with. I was never entirely sure what Eric was going to do next…

    Which is why it makes me chuckle to see the direction he’s gone, these days; after the band, he headed off to law school, worked for the DA’s office for a while, and then went out on his own as a lawyer. My dad, of all people, ran across his ad in the Houston Press a while back: “‘You don’t need a lawyer — you need a Dick’? What the heck is this?” Eric swears the Texas Bar Association okayed the ad, which I find pretty hysterical in itself.

    Anyway, a decade beyond the death of IWB, he’s apparently now legal counsel for the Free Press Houston crew, and he was at the festival manning a tent to promote his own run for Houston City Council (the “At-Large #2” position). Insane band antics aside, he’s always been a good guy; I’m not generally one to endorse specific candidates for City elections & whatnot, but he’s definitely worth a vote… And yes, that’s his new slogan on the t-shirt, there: “Win With Dick.” Ah, yes.

    Craig Hlavaty

  • Was there some kind of anti-soda agreement in place this time out, or something? I roamed the entire festival, looking in vain for some kind of caffeinated/sugared beverage that wasn’t tea, and the only place I ever saw “Sodas” listed was in the Fancy Pants Tent. The line for drinks was nuts, so I didn’t even bother; hit the lemonade stand again, instead. I finally found a booth that sold some awesome root beer (she said it was Dad’s, but the logo looked different, more like “Pad’s”), and that made my late-afternoon on Saturday. I told the lady manning the booth that they had the only sodas I could find in the whole damn festival, and she looked stunned: “You’re kidding!” If there was a secret Coke/Pepsi/Dr. Pepper/whatever stand somewhere, I never found it.

  • Speaking of drinks, there’s this neat thing that happens when you’ve spent several hours being brutalized by the heat: any cold beverage you drink becomes “The Best [Type of Drink] I’ve Ever Had!” And by the time I found the root beer stand (which also sold frozen cheesecake pops & chocolate-dipped fruit, if I recall) and frantically downed the whole mug in under two minutes, that root beer became The Greatest, Most Amazing Root Beer Ever Created. A similar thing happened with the cherry-limeade I got from the booth run by the Austin-based Juicebox folks (who were extremely nice, btw), which magically turned into The Best Fucking Cherry-Limeade I’ve Ever Tasted, in part due to the fact that I was about five minutes away from passing out.

  • On the negative side, I also got a sno-cone from the Snowie booth that was less than great, although I blame that less on the folks running the booth and more on the fact that I apparently suck at making sno-cones. In case you (like me) don’t/didn’t know: you have to put a lot of syrup in there, people, or else it all drips all the way to the bottom, and you’re left chewing half a cup of flavorless ice. sigh.

    Story Time booth

  • Did I miss the memo where I was required to get a tattoo? Because seriously, it sure seemed like everybody attending the festival — young, old, whatever — had at least one tattoo and was displaying it proudly for the world to see. I miss the days when you could immediately tell when somebody was a badass because, hey, they had somebody stick needles with ink in ’em all over their arm/shoulder/face/etc., and holy fuck, that’s crazy. Nowadays, all tattoos really are are fashion accessories, and that makes me somewhat sad.

  • For some reason, I noticed a lot more cops this year than the last two. And hey, I’m okay with that — I don’t hate all cops, just ones that are power-tripping jerks (yeah, there’s a story in there for another time). The cops I saw at the festival were uniformly friendly and laidback, taking a very hands-off approach to the whole thing that was awesome to see. They only stepped in, it seemed like, when they were really needed. Thanks, HPD!

  • I now know the best parking area on the downtown side of the festival: cheap, secure, and only a quick walk down Allen Parkway. And no, I’m not telling you where it is.

  • One of the best parts of the festival this year was just wandering around all the quirky booths & stalls set up (mostly) along the Parkway. I kept taking pics of some of the sillier/more entertaining ones, like the “Ask An Atheist” booth, the sari place with the big “Try A Sari” sign, or my favorite, the “Story Time” booth, where you could apparently sit down, enjoy the fan-generated breeze, and tell/listen to a story. I’m told there were also yoga workshops going on somewhere (led by Tyagaraja?), but I never saw ’em…

    Fountain & ducks in Houston Park

  • Said this before, but I feel like I need to say it again: until the inaugural Summerfest back in 2009, I’d never thought much about the little strip of parks pointing westward from downtown, even though I used to live within walking distance of the Buffalo Bayou Park section. After wandering past (and a little bit through) ’em the last three ‘fests, though, I’ve totally fallen in love; they’re just like these neat little oases wedged right in/under a big tangle of concrete and noise, and they’re pretty cool. I heart Sam Houston Park, in particular — it’s the one you pass on your way down Allen Parkway to Eleanor Tinsley Park, with the cool historic buildings, fountain, and ducks. And almost never any people. Ah.


Live review by . Live review posted Wednesday, June 8th, 2011. Filed under Features, Live Reviews.

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7 Responses to “A Sweet Hot Hell: Surviving Summerfest 2011, Day One”

  1. Dre on June 8th, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Wow. Epic review. Seemed like such an insane time. But you’re telling me you don’t have a tattoo???

  2. Jeremy Hart on June 8th, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Nope, not a one; it’s a little weird in this day & age, I know. I almost got one, once upon a time, but my fear of needles overrode everything else…

  3. DAC on June 9th, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Seems like we were at a lot of the same sets.

    I was one of the sweating masses huddles under whatever tree I could find. Sorry to have missed you.

    Great write-up!

  4. Jeremy Hart on June 9th, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Ahhh — you were in the Smart People Area, while I was standing out with my fellow sunstroked morons. ;) Dang; wish I’d seen you, man!

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