Free Press, Sun, and Sense: The Erratic Ramblings Of A Wayward Concertgoer

This was the fourth installment of an exhilarating, up-and-coming summertime weekend music festival in the fair city of Houston, thrown by the preeminent local events and entertainment rag of the same name, the Free Press.

In its first year, the Free Press Summer Fest featured Broken Social Scene as one of the headliners. Don’t get me wrong, love the Scene (look into F.A.C.T.O.R., see why Canada is badass), but when compared to this year’s lineup — Willie Nelson, Primus, The Flaming Lips, Snoop Dogg, Pretty Lights — it is patently obvious the organizers have a growing hit on their hands.

And not a fucking minute too soon! Pathetic that this is the fourth largest metropolis in these great USes of A, and we are only now getting a respectable multi-day, multi-stage, multi-artist outdoor music festival. But, as Cheech Marin once remarked during his brief cameo in Ghostbusters 2, “better late than never.”

So freaking hot. So goddamn hot you could fry an egg off of whatever surface you fancied. The devil’s ball-sack hangs in cooler locales than that in which I seem to be presently located. For a descendant of jerks who waddled across a desert 40 years straight, my ability to stomach direct sustained periods of exposure to sunlight is surprisingly low.

ALWAYS STAY HYDRATED! Easily half of those ambulances and scrambling EMS volunteers whizzing around are responding to some yahoo somewhere who, despite whatever drugs, alcohol, or fatty foods being consumed, fainted (or worse) due to nothing other than a complete failure to drink even a few measly ounces of life-giving water. The Camelbak® is a more than fine solution. Many models hold plenty of liquid, readily accessible, and still function dually as a roomy, convenient little backpack. Take that, desert-dwelling mammal with biologically-gifted water preservation abilities; we succeeded in replicating your technology!

Temporary refuge throughout the day from mighty Apollo’s merciless raping was sought at the Houston Atheists“Ask An Atheist” booth, located between Stage 4 and the behemoth PS3 trailer. My friend Curt Loose, organizer of this oasis for its second straight year at the festival, and several other members of the group were more than willing to share their shade.

Curt is a solid dog, a road trip companion on more than one occasion, and purveyor (or at least appreciator) of the unconventional. Great importance can be placed on the need to consort with like-minded, interesting individuals, the entire underlying essence of why we attend large public gatherings in the first place. Networking is only part of the equation; much more significance is placed in the simple, random, casual passing conversation.

The few minutes or collection of minutes during which temporary (though nonetheless meaningful) connections with persons who, until the first exchange of dialogue were total strangers, is of profound, illuminating truth. A sizeable music festival is supercharged fertilizer for such growth.

Which is precisely why Curt and associates decided to enact their booth. Houston Atheists is the world’s largest atheist community, with almost 1,700 members in the greater Houston area. By simply having a presence, a small corner where the inquisitive or charmingly snarky can interact one on one with their fellow humans, especially on a subject so desperately in need of being moved to the forefront of public discussion, concert-goers enthusiastically engaged Curt and the gang all day long on a range of subjects.

Aside from a handful of haters or the inebriated whack-job know-it-alls, by and large it was supporters who trafficked there, fellow non-believers, and a steady stream of young adults legitimately inquisitive, intelligible, and responsive. Most passers-by reveled in seeing such a concept mixed into their good times, good tunes and rampant, godless commercialism.

A quick word about hip-hop. Though my love for her is stronger than Valyrian steel, one obvious complaint would be the pervasive homophobia. There was a time in this country when a rapper couldn’t get a basic booking at a dive bar if he/she was a known “friend of Dorothy.”

Thankfully, in the last decade or so, things have gotten a little better. To the degree that on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Texas, a rising star by the name of Big Freedia can put on a killer set in front of a weighty crowd of jubilated fans, despite the fact that she is actually a “he,” originally named Freddie. Proudly a NOLA native, Big Freedia pioneers a new sound derived from the local club genre there, which she calls “sissy” bounce. It is high-tempo, ass-shaking madness. Surprisingly danceable, the spectacle alone she puts onstage is worth the cost of admission.

Fashionable yet spunky, Big Freedia (the “dick eater,” as she instructed the crowd at one point to chant) comes complete with ghetto booty and flexible backup dancers, whom themselves give the audience their money’s worth a mere ten minutes into the show. This proud, talented transgendered American is making waves, and I suspect she will break big time nationally any day now.

Dare this be proposed, but it almost feels like there is a correlation between the emergence of hip-hop’s considerable contribution to outdoor music festivals over the last 15 years or so and the gradual acceptance of alternative lifestyles amongst its audience. Of course, the general public overall seems to be getting more tolerant and informed, compared to the relics of yesteryears.

Pungent wafts of intoxicating chronic smoke pervasively roll into and out of every corner where there are a dozen or more gathered in close proximity. Again, serving a dual purpose here. Rank body odor, dirt melding into stinky sweat, a condition known as “swamp ass,” all masked perfectly behind the sweet smells of herb. Long bouts of standing armpit-deep, encircled by drenched personages, would not be possible without it.

A casual acquaintance joined me for this festival. It had been a while, but the good Captain Sherman fortuitously graced me with his presence. The Cap’n and myself go way back. Sometimes it’s a long hiking excursion into secluded forests, but today, its our second-favorite activity: music, mayhem, and mixing it up with new compatriots.

Holy shit, there’s David Liebe Hart! Not imagining this. He is a quirky, always hilarious actor from the acclaimed Adultswim® program Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job. From the time-honored breed of real working actors, Mr. Liebe Hart was in attendance headlining a side stage but still found it necessary to work the crowd, posing for photos with adoring fans and selling his merch quite vigorously.

We are now three 17 oz. bottles deep. Cramping will ensue if too much is chugged in too short a span, so ease off it, Brown! The need to sit down is overwhelming. A quick fill of the Camelbak™, and it was time to wander down to the Main Stage for some Snoop. No doubt additional jaunts into the cloudy reefer goodness were dead ahead.

Thought we were getting the Tupac hologram? Oh, well; the inescapable Texas sun would have rendered the thing ineffective — guess it only works at the night gigs. Still, a rousing performance. Kurupt was there, a nice addition indeed.

Back at HQ, Curt and the boys were fielding more spectacular questions from curious roisterers. This would persist well into the second day. Several of those who stopped by the “Ask An Atheist” booth in turn actually had a statement. They marveled in how odd it seemed these types of groups and organizations don’t have a larger presence at music festivals and other settings. Spoke with a gentleman from Pittsburg who lamented in having never seen such a sight in his own area, at other such gatherings.

It was not just atheists, but other socially-conscious booths, as well. Houston’s “B-cycle” initiative, which just began this month, rocked a booth with info down on the thoroughfare. Having recently traveled to the surprisingly now clean and safe city of D.C. and patronized its awesome bike-share system, this was a welcomed delight. Kudos to our adorable gay mayor Annise Parker; may this city benefit tremendously like the dozen other forward-thinking metropolitan zones around this country who have also enacted similar programs.

Admittedly, the second day’s lineup only included two must-see’s, good ole’ Willie and (in stark contrast) Pretty Lights. Noticeably more soaked through with sweat at an earlier time than yesterday. Thankfully, some tall dudes to my rear inadvertently provided shade during Willie’s performance. Bless them.

The sheer magnitude of the show taking place before me became overwhelming at one point. This longhaired, slightly pudgy old man has been topping the charts for over half a fucking century! Mostly an older crowd, understandably, but still some young bucks like myself. The history, the shit that man has seen in his brief (geologically speaking) but storied career. He is a link to a period in American music the old-timers praise and long for, then swear is missing from today’s artists, by their accounts. As if in the pantheon of human existence, only one lucky group of shmucks got to witness firsthand the only talented, qualified, cogent musicians to ever make music, and literally every other generation, before or since, is shit out of luck and constantly mired in garbage.

Here’s to hoping this author does not suffer equally ignorant amnesia in the twilight years. The truest, most gifted entertainers who actively maintain a fan-base for decades in turn transcend their given generation and instead remain relevant for old and young alike. A good prediction: that Snoop Dogg will do the same thing 20 years from now.

It would be shocking and pointedly out of character to learn that Mitt Romney has in fact attended a large outdoor music festival at some juncture in his life. Mind you, speaking not about the upper-crusters and their lavish digs, the privileged few who shell out mad duckets to dine on wine and cheese in air-condition mega tents, replete with all the modern amenities us General Admission folk know nothing of. Romney probably falls into that category.

But the actual concert experience. Getting out there and shamelessly enjoying a good time, maybe partaking in some commoner swill with someone you just met. Knowing what it feels like to have a two-story rack of speakers shake you to the core of your organs, and liking it. Bet you money ‘Bama’s been to one. If his wild, youthful recollections in Dreams From My Father are legit, then it stands to reason he found himself somewhere in a field with fellow persons enjoying some tunes.

Need you not simply use only this metric, for even Helen Keller could see that Romney is a stuffed shirt and ‘Bama has flavor and soul for days. Not singularly the most important factor to consider in an election, yet a very telling, foreboding sign of a politician’s actual humanity. Could you imagine Mitt Romney, lost in a sea of strangers, squeezed in tight like the adventurous fans, inching closer to the stage with any bated opportunity? Romney, the walking, talking, real-life caricature of fictional 1960s television program Gilligan’s Island castaway Thurston Howell, III, genuinely and jubilantly cavorting with the proletariat?

Better one should place a wager on the sun rising in the West tomorrow morning. Other stuffed shirts sit around and look at Mitt Romney and declare, “Damn, that’s one stuffy-ass shirt!” For the sanitized and hypnotized, the grand tradition of stepping outside one’s comfort zone slightly to witness the spectacle of the all-day outdoor music festival, is a complete non-starter.

It was the least I could do for Curt, Sergio, Randy, and the crew at Houston Atheists to help them pack up towards the end of the night. They had fun, saying it was more successful than last year, and that they will step it up still and come back with more action for the next one. Departing their company, it was back to the Main Stage for the cherry presentation atop a delectable, weekend-long stimuli sundae, a hotly-anticipated performance from popular electronic virtuoso Pretty Lights.

It was time to resume the position. All systems check. Head was right, mind and body were anticipatory. Two towering chicas to my immediate right appeared deep in it, definitely feeling the groove, as most were. There is enough material to write a 20-page Psychology term paper on just the large-crowd subconscious mentality phenomenon alone. It’s palpable, but not visible.

Makes sense scientifically, in that the sentient beings we be naturally facilitate shared sensory interaction. Tens of thousands of people, hundreds sometimes, all focused intently towards the same output for sustained bouts. Chemically, there is something that can almost be measured and studied. Spiritually, it is a cosmic delicacy that all of us, everyone clustered in close quarters under our star-brightened sky, enjoying the pinnacle of our human civilization and its precious fruits, can take comfort knowing that perhaps, on some distant planet orbiting a distant star in some distant galaxy somewhere, another race of beings, humanoid or no, are doing the exact same thing on their world with their music.

Sure, the particulars may be different, but the gist remains. This regular communal coming together of like-minded brethren cannot exclusively belong to the highest order of specie on only planet Earth; that force is too magnanimous and crucial.

There is another, equally positive, yet still-to-be mentioned benefit to not just Free Press Summer Fest, but also the entire concept of the high-volume music festival in general. Not being privy to the official numbers, because it’s still too early, a rough estimate of the total financial activity taking place during a weekend music festival such as FPSF is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Add to this the further economic stimulation of surrounding businesses, cab and car service companies, hotels, parking lots, and on and on and on. When it is all said and done, a weekend event like FPSF can bring in an astounding, almost inconceivable half to three quarters of a billion dollars! We are still tits deep in a national recession.

The city of Houston, I’m sure, is not unlike other municipalities with regards to budget shortfalls. So how about we get one of these or something like it going once a month, all over the country in every major town? There’s certainly no shortage of popular bands, stunning venues, and willing labor forces to accommodate. We’re talking billions of dollars annually, from the simple act of allowing an essential human creative desire to be recurrently satiated, with the additional bonus of stimulating a depressed economy, filling essential monetary gaps, aiding a wide swath of local expenditures.

Maybe this is just extreme love exuding strongly, or perhaps this afficionado is on to something. Just a closing thought, if you will. END

Live review by . Live review posted Tuesday, June 12th, 2012. Filed under Features, Live Reviews.

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