Free Press Summerfest Day 2: I’m A Survivor!
By Sunday, I felt like I was a pro at getting around on the Free Press Summer Fest grounds. The festival organizers were also getting better at knowing what they needed to change. On the first day, they had this narrow “bottleneck” area that was tough to get through. But Sunday they had done away with whatever was clogging up the path. Despite being slightly tired, it looked like smoother sailing for Sunday.
I arrived early in order to see Harts of Oak. I hadn’t seen them before, but had seen Alex Skalany‘s previous band, The True Value, and looked forward to starting off the day with them. They delivered a great start to the day — quite a few people showed up at noon to see them, which was nice. I expected to hear some Wilco influences, but live they also went into The Replacements territory several times.
I walked down the hill to see Houston’s slide-guitar rockers Grandfather Child. I’ve only seen them a couple of times live and only have a single (free download on their website!), so I haven’t been able to completely dig into their music. But I like the Led Zeppelin-esque blues-rock they are aiming for. And with Ryan Chavez on drums, Geoffrey Muller on guitar, and Robert Ellis on bass, frontman Lucas Gorham has a potent backing band to go with his howl.
When I first saw the bands listed on the FPSF Website, I was much pleased to see the Houston-gone-to-Austin group Papermoons on the list. It has been two years since they’ve played Houston. I last saw them upstairs at Boondocks, when the bar hosted a regular rock night. That may have been more than two years ago. It was great to hear their wistful, poppy songs again. I was happy to realize I remembered some of their songs, too.
I headed back down the hill again to catch some of Robert Ellis‘s set on the Main Stage, but couldn’t help thinking he deserved to be right before Willie Nelson. How cool it would have been to see the future LEGEND of Texas music open for the past LEGEND of Texas music? I guess that tells you the high regard I have for Robert Ellis. But in that heat… Ellis’s music didn’t quite have the same impact. I need a couple of whiskeys and a dark room for Robert. Still, it was great to see him getting some exposure on the Main Stage. Better still, if he had been slated right before Willie.
At this point, I had a course figured out on how to get from Stage 1 to Stage 2. I would walk through the Fancy Pants tents and stay in the shade as much as possible. Even just a short walk through the tents made it easier on the day.
I know Fitz and The Tantrums are supposed to be a retro ’60s band, but they made me think of the ’80s bands that were trying to be ’60s retro. I don’t know if this is actually their intent, but they gave me more of a Style Council vibe than something authentically ’60s. Unfortunately they didn’t have any songs as catchy as “Shout to the Top,” though they did a good job of keeping the crowd entertained. So I stuck around for 15 minutes or so, but then decided it would be fun to go see “my boys” Featherface.
Featherface presented a united “shirts off with cutoffs” front for their show. That presented me with a photo opportunity that I don’t usually have. I’ve already said so many nice things about Featherface and I want to finish this report, so “copy-and-paste” — ha ha. Just go see them next chance you have. They’re releasing a full-length album soon, and judging by the live show, it will get positive reviews from me and the others at SCR.
Square and Compass were a pleasant surprise. I’ve asked their guitarist Todd Spoth for photography advice once or twice and have wanted to check them out for months. I was expecting much more of a “Buzzworthy” radio-ready rock sound from them, judging by their EP on Bandcamp. But live, they were much rawer, showing some At The Drive-In influences that had a lot in common with the Fatal Flying Guilloteens from the night before. They looked like they had been saving up all their energy for the show, despite the fact that I had gotten Facebook updates from Todd saying that he was working for the festival as well as playing in his band and felt like he was having the busiest day of his life.
Next I had to make a cross-country trek all the way over to Stage 3 to see a group I had missed at SXSW and was still upset about missing. They’re called Wallpaper. They’re a dance-pop group from Oakland, CA. And yeah, I’m the last person most people would expect to like this kind of music, but just from listening on Rhapsody, I could tell there was something worth investigating about this group.
Live, they completely delivered. They had two drummers, a male and female rapper, and backing tracks, which left them time to dance and get the crowd going. They were the highest energy and most fun group of the afternoon. Man, I can just feel the indie-cred leaving my body as I type that.
Off to the lemonade stand, followed by a break in the tent… Then I lined up at the top of the hill to catch some Willie Nelson. Apparently it was because I was up the hill from the stage — other people I spoke to said it sounded fine further down — but from where I was, the sound wasn’t great. There was no bass — all I could hear was Willie and his guitar (and his playing seemed off, too). I thought something was wrong, but Willie just kept on going. So I waited, but it never seemed to get much better. After about four songs, I figured I’d try my luck with other bands on top of the hill.
Sure enough, I turned around and found the Latin soul band Orgone from Los Angeles. I only caught the last third of their set, but it took me to nights hanging out with Kwesi from Electric Attitude to hear authentic retro-soul with bands like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Lee Fields, or Houston’s Journey Agents. If you like those bands, don’t forget to find Orgone and learn when they’re coming back to Houston.
I found myself very hungry at this point. Earlier in the day I had taken note of a place with vegan tamales, so I went and got a couple. Tamales aren’t exactly easy to eat right out of the husk, but they were delicious, so let me plug their business. It’s in Austin, but you can order their tamales online. They’re called The Gardener’s Feast; oh, and they have non-vegan selections too.
I then finally made my way over to Stage 7 for the first time all weekend, to see The Sour Notes. Wow, this band has changed since I last saw them! I believe they’ve grown for the better. At the center of it was what I had remembered from the times I’ve seen them before: Jared Boulanger‘s tuneful, smooth baritone vocal sound. They are more fleshed-out now, almost orchestral in their sound. It was impressive.
I had run over to Stage 7 from where I was so I could be on time to catch Ume on Stage 6, and they were up next. Lead singer and guitarist Lauren Larson is well-known for being a great photograph waiting to happen, and she, along with the rest of Ume, did not disappoint. I wasn’t the only one with a camera, either…
Musically, the band is a dichotomy, with jagged guitar riffs and drums paired with the coolness of Lauren’s soft-serve-smooth vocals. They have come a long way from their days in Houston and are a testament to hard work and years on tour.
After Ume, I caught a little of What Made Milwaukee Famous. I had seen WMMF at The Continental in January, and it still ranks as one of the top shows of the year. I also saw them at SXSW, also in a club setting. At FPSF, the songs were still as catchy, but without a drop of alcohol in me, they didn’t tug at my heartstrings quite the same way. It’s interesting how the heat and brightness of the day and amount of drinking I’ve done can affect my mood toward a band. It definitely does. It’s nothing against WMMF — I love the band, but I think I was getting tired at this point.
Fast-forward about a half hour, and on the same stage, I caught Electric Touch. They play fun, catchy, Britpoppy tunes that could sit up on the shelf next to Oasis (but more danceable) and could quite possibly be the prettiest bunch of men you’ll ever see at the same time on a stage. As they played, I tried to not hold that against them, because I’ve met them all before, and they’re actually nice guys, in spite of the fact that they could have just come off the set of 90210. Two of them even went to Bellaire High School.
I caught a few Primus songs, but though I was exhausted I was sticking around to see why thousands of people and the festival organizers would make a DJ the headliner. It’s not even a band, after all.
But when Pretty Lights came out and did his thing, I understood very quickly. After a long day of rocking out, this bass trance-y music just took me away. I wasn’t high on any foreign substances, but the bass in the music made me feel like I was. And all the people around me dancing made me feel like I was part of something bigger than myself — just like a good band does. It seemed like it didn’t really matter who was up there.
Actually, come to think of it, before Pretty Lights came on, they were playing the Beastie Boys over the speakers, obviously in tribute to Adam Yauch. It was one of the best moments of the festival. I think they could have just kept playing “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” for another hour, and the crowd would have had the same togetherness feeling. We survived this thing!
It was a great night to be a Houstonian. I wasn’t the only one beaming with pride for my city, for Pegstar Productions (Jagi Katial, Jason Petzold, and the rest), and for Omar Afra, the man with the plan. It felt like we were all part of something big, and I can’t wait until the next one comes around. END
(Photos: Alex Skalany, Harts of Oak; Geoffrey Muller, Grandfather Child; Wallpaper.; Willie Nelson; Lauren Larson, Ume; Pretty Lights. Gallery Photos [l to r from top left]: Electric Touch; Jake Harris, Featherface; Jason Smith & Joe “The Free Hugs Guy” Ortiz; Geoffrey Muller; Alex Skalany; Pretty Lights; Thomas Heard, Square and Compass; Lauren Larson; Lauren Larson; Wallpaper. All photos by Jason Smith except photo of Willie Nelson, by Brittany Holland.)