Lost in the Sun: Surviving Summerfest 2012, Day One (At Long Last…)
I went in without a plan. It was stupid, in retrospect, but that’s how it happened. After meticulously plotting out who I was going to see and when for the past three installments of Free Press Summerfest, this year I decided to throw up my hands and let the Fates decide. While this year’s lineup was a pretty damn good one, there were only a handful of holy-crap-I’ve-got-to-see-that acts in the pile, and none of ‘em, frankly, were anywhere near the headliners. This was a switch from years past, where I was desperate to see Explosions in the Sky, Weezer, Lucero, and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, all on the Main Stage.
“The hell with schedules and all that crap,” I thought. “This year I’m just going to go, and wander around, and see what and who I happen to see. I mean, that’s pretty much what ends up happening anyway, right?”
Well, kind of, but I’ll get back to that. Not to give anything too crucial away, here, but the moral of the story is that I got cocky and thought I could just go with the flow, and in the end, it came around to bite me in the ass.
At any rate, on Saturday, June 2nd, I drove Downtown, parked at my usual parking garage, a few blocks from Sam Houston Park — it’s a little bit of a walk, but trust me, it’s worth it to be able to escape Downtown a little more quickly than the rest of the herd at the end of the night — and stepped out into the utterly sweltering furnace of a Houston summer in full blast. I made my way partway down to where Lamar turns into Allen Parkway and then did a complete double-take. Stretching off into the distance, as far as the eye could see, was a massive line of people, all waiting to get into the festival.
Seriously, the line ran all the way from the historic buildings that’re wedged in between Dallas & Lamar to the festival entrance. It was freaking insane. My jaw very literally dropped, in part because I had no idea if there was a separate Media entrance or if, after I got my pass into the ‘fest, I’d have to trudge all the way back to the end of the line and wait.
Hell, I didn’t even know at that point if the line was for tickets or just to get inside, but rather than sit in line for no reason and miss a half-dozen more bands, I determinedly hiked to where I could see the entrance and breathed a sigh of relief; the line was just to get inside, which sucked for the people stuck in it but was great for me.
On to the Media tent, where the kindly ladies manning the booth gave me the best news I got all day. I played dumb and asked where I needed to go to get inside, figuring they’d shake their heads and send me back over to the Titanic Line of Death and Horror, but lo and behold, one of them pointed to an area of the fence where a security staffer was letting people through.
“You can go in over there,” she told me, smiling, and I could’ve freaking kissed her. I got my wristband, headed to the fence, was waved through, and magically, I was in. Thank God for the super-secret Media entrance, y’all, or I might not be typing this at all, late or not…
Before I go into too many details, I just want to say that I’ve been to this thing every year it’s happened so far, and every year, I’m amazed that it happens at all. The sheer logistical mountain the Summerfest organizers have to climb to pull this thing off is fucking huge; my Dad was a Logistics officer in the Army when I was a kid, and I remember being awed when he talked about how he and his fellow officers had to get so many people and big heavy metal machines and supplies moved from place to place. Watching Summerfest happen, I get that same feeling of awe — it’s on that scale, like watching a freaking battalion decamp from one post to another.
And amazingly, it all works. Okay, it mostly works. It works a hell of a lot better than you’d reasonably expect a gigantic summertime festival with 100+ bands and musicians, hundreds of vendors, and thousands of attendees should work. When I was considerably younger, I went to my fair share of festivals, and I’ve honestly found Summerfest to be one of the most smoothly-run I’ve been to.
What’s cooler, it gets better year after year; rather than stick with something that doesn’t work (like, say, the bottom-of-the-hill stages that used to be down in the valley near the Main Stage), the FPSF’ers pull the whole thing apart, get rid of the junk, and rearrange the rest so it does. My sweat-stained ballcap is off to the whole crew.
Now, I swear I’m not saying all that to butter up the Summerfest crew, but I did run into a bit of an issue on Day 1 of the ‘fest. And yeah, it’s really my own damn fault, but…
Okay, so remember a few paragraphs up, where I talked about how I was just going to wing it? Well, immediately upon entering the festival, it hit me that I A) had no idea who was playing when or at what stage or B) what stages there even were. If there were maps and schedules at the Media-pass tent, I didn’t see ‘em, and being, y’know, a free spirit and all that, I foolishly didn’t print anything like that out before leaving the house.
“Eh, no biggie,” I figured, “I’ll just grab one somewhere else inside the festival.” Nope. I hit up a half-dozen FPSF/Free Press Houston booths throughout the day, only to be told at each one that they had no schedules (the map was on the other side) left, if they’d had ‘em to begin with. When I asked one poor girl at one of the booths, she told me that the guy who’d been in line at the booth in front of me had actually taken her own personal copy of the schedule, without even asking if he could.
In the end, I never got an official festival schedule, neither day (although I did wise up and make my own for Sunday), and I ended up stumbling from stage to stage, trying to catch a handful of bands I’d really been hoping to see and, unfortunately, failing about half the time. sigh. Things improved a little bit towards the evening, when one very astute Summerfest staffer pointed out that even though they had no schedule they could give me, I could take a picture of the one taped to their table; thank you, ma’am, whoever you were…
Again, this is all my own damn fault, but I wanted to submit a plea to the FPSF Powers-That-Be: next year, can there be more schedules available, and not just when you stand in line at one of the gates? Please-please-please? Hell, I’d even be willing to pay a couple of bucks for it, like we always do for the circus or for RenFest.
In the end, while I didn’t get to see everybody I wanted to, sadly, I still got to see and hear some truly amazing bands & musicians. Along the way, I ran into several old friends & met some people in Real LifeTM that I’d only ever met online, which is always very, very cool. In short, I had a fucking blast.
I took plenty of half-assed pictures of the festivities, as well, which can be viewed both on this here writeup and over on Flickr. Or, heck, you can just flip through the pictures for both days of the festival in the handy little slideshow below:
Alright, enough blathering; on to the actual music. Here we go:
THE EASTERN SEA: As with every Summerfest so far, I was later getting to Eleanor Tinsley than I’d hoped to be; with two munchkins roaming around and the prospect of nearly two full days solo looming in front of my wife, getting out of the house early is tough to do.
Unfortunately, this year that meant I missed The Wheel Workers, who I’d really wanted to see, and the last place you look, who I’ve seen several times over the years but love dearly. The worst part, of course, is that by the time I got to the festival, I very literally had no idea who I was even missing or what stage they were playing. Because of that, I missed a good half-dozen bands and musicians I’d really wanted to see, despite my initial pretensions to free-wheeling-ness.
Happily for my non-schedule-having ass, I strolled through the Hidden-in-Plain-Sight Media/Staff Entrance, and lo and behold, there was The Eastern Sea, playing right damn there on Stage 7, just to the right of the entrance. And I’m damn glad for that, because they’re seriously one of a handful of bands I’ve seen multiple times who never, ever, ever have a bad show.
And four Summerfests in, they didn’t disappoint. The band was almost completely different this time around, with only bandleader Matthew Hines and the trumpet player (I think?) being pretty much the only folks I’d seen at previous shows. Even still, they played like they’d never done anything else, blazing through Hines’ sweet-yet-bitter, insanely catchy, and remarkably smart/literate turbo-folk-pop songs with a vengeance.
They mostly stuck to songs off brand-new full-length Plague (which is awesome, by the by), only breaking out a couple of older tunes, but the crowd roared and cheered for every damn one. Hines and company played with big smiles (and beards, mostly), rocking out serenely, if you can imagine it.
STARFUCKER: I only saw Starfucker briefly and from a distance — didn’t really think anything of ‘em one way or another beforehand — but holy crap, that was a huge crowd. I really, truly wasn’t expecting that, seriously; I had no idea Houston had that many Starfucker fans.
And they weren’t bad, definitely — I was impressed to see those two (or was it three? they kept switching instruments) guys getting so damn energetic banging away at their keyboards, especially out there in the early-afternoon heat, with the full fire of that big star we call The Sun focused down on ‘em.
Side note: I got to chat with The Eastern Sea’s Matt Hines a bit after their set (more on that later), and he was cracking up because his mom was thoroughly mortified by the name of the band on Stage 2 after her son’s band played a little ways down the park…
PALE: It’s been a very, very long time since I last saw Pale play live. I’m talking about more than a decade ago — back then they were kinda-sorta an emo band (and a good one, too), and in the intervening years they’ve morphed into a decidedly more epic-sounding alternarock outfit, moved to L.A., moved back, and kept soldiering on and on and on.
And that’s awesome, I have to say. Back in Ye Olden Days, yours truly was in a band, too, except that when we called it a day, frontman Calvin Stanley & his crew (which, admittedly, is mostly a different bunch of guys, including ex-Secret Sunday/Casino guitarist Robb Moore) was just getting started.
Now, I’d heard bits & pieces of the band since their long-gone emo days, so I knew I still liked the band, but I was a little nervous at seeing ‘em in-person once again. Turns out I didn’t need to be; if anything, Pale’s a far, far better band than they were way back when, albeit in a completely different vein. These days they’re seriously dramatic and arena-sized, bringing to mind The Bends-era Radiohead in the best possible way. I seriously need to (finally) crack open In the Time of Dangerous Men, after that.
THE MANICHEAN: Much like The Eastern Sea, I have yet to see The Manichean do anything less than be fucking incredible live. That probably sounds like exaggeration, I know, but trust me, it’s not. Granted, it takes a certain willingness to follow Cory Sinclair and Justice Tirapelli-Jamail down the murky, strange, acutely self-aware theatre-rock path they’ve been steadily carving out for their band, but if you can make the leap, it’s mind-blowing.
I missed the start of their set, unfortunately, but I’m pretty sure I caught the best part, watching the sweat-drenched band crash and careen along through several fiery, intense tracks (including new song “The Sparrow,” which is awesome and turbulent) while Sinclair swooned and swayed and thrashed across the stage. Then he climbed down off the stage and started roaming through the crowd, for reasons that weren’t quite clear just yet — all I could see from where I was standing was that he was giving people near the stage handfuls of something.
Back on the stage, and as the band built to a crescendo, Cory yelled out, and the crowd threw what he’d given ‘em up into the air: handfuls and handfuls of red and white flower petals, exploding up towards the midday sun as the music burst outward. It was a beautiful, magical thing, truly, made even better by the sudden mosh pit that erupted right in the center of the crowd. For one brief, awesome moment, an audience of smiling, sweating, ecstatic people were cheerfully slam-dancing, on a carpet of rose petals. Wow.
MORRIS DAY AND THE TIME: Believe it or not, one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing was, yes, Morris Day and The Time. I can’t even really explain why, other than to say that I’m a child of the ’80s who got thoroughly sick of Prince, and I can remember watching Purple Rain and wishing that The Time would kick his squeaky-voiced ass off the stage.
Watching these guys after seeing The Manichean, it occurred to me that I’d gone from one kind of showmanship to another, with Day and his crew dressed to the nines in their pimp finery and dancing like kids a third their age. Day himself looked like he hadn’t aged a damn bit, mind you, flapping his arms along to “The Bird” and preening in — no, I’m not kidding — an honest-to-God mirror one of his yes-men guys carried around the stage.
The whole thing was pretty great, just a fun, down-and-dirty funk band going off, and they had the crowd — a large percentage of whom probably weren’t even born yet — loving it, singing and dancing along. Hell, even one of the stone-faced security guards near where I was standing eventually cracked and started getting down, too.
QUINTRON AND MISS PUSSYCAT: Had to flee into the Fancy Pants Tent for a bit of a break midway through The Time’s set — the bass felt like it was going to implode my head for a little while there, and the heat was starting to get to me, too. I wanted to catch Two Door Cinema Club & knew they were somewhere over on the west side of the festival (not sure where or when, naturally, not yet having even a photo of the schedule), so I meandered that direction, catching bits of Phantogram, Poopy Lungstuffing, a couple of mobile DJs, and what I think was actually Los Skarnales along the way.
As I neared the Buckminster Fuller dome at the top of the hill…hey, what’s that? Lo and behold, it’s Quintron and Miss Pussycat. I’d heard ‘em before and been fairly intrigued, and my punk-rock accountant Larry Pirkle follows ‘em around Europe on tour, which is a pretty significant recommendation in itself.
And I’ve gotta say, live they were/are one hell of a spectacle. They’re strange, yet utterly mesmerizing, the way a snake is to a rabbit, stomping and jiving through some gritty, dirty-ass, grooving swamp-blues. When they launched into the classic “Swamp Boogie Badass,” they got even the quasi-skeptical audience singing and clapping along, and then they kept it going, transforming a brief, quirky little tune into an epic raveup. Frankly, it was fucking awesome.
Best part? Towards the end of their set, when an admiring fan yelled something about the duo (er, trio, counting their crazy-ass backup dancer) being a great band, Quintron flashed an impressive glare and declared: “Sometimes we totally suck, and sometimes we’re better than anyone. And that’s not a band, that’s a force of nature.” Amen.
TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB: I knew Irish quartet Two Door Cinema Club were going to be good, but I had no idea just how good they’d be. While I saw quite a few other great bands and performances on Day One of the festival, these guys managed to propel themselves to damn near the top of the pile with their driving/bouncing, electronics-tinged pop.
I was impressed as hell, particularly with the Club’s skyward-pointing, U2-like guitar heroics; the babyfaced band members look like kids, that’s for damn sure, but the way they play is freaking phenomenal. And again, I wasn’t alone in that assessment — they played to the biggest crowd I’d seen yet at the whole festival, despite never (to my knowledge, at least) getting played on the radio in our fair city. I’m going to have to find a copy of their 2010 debut, Tourist History, before too long (or, heck, wait for September’s new one, Beacon).
One question, though: what the fuck was up with the two weirdos off to the side of the stage who stood with their right pinkies in the air the whole damn set? Does that mean something if you’re Irish? Were they actual fans, or was that the equivalent of a middle finger? No idea.
ERYKAH BADU & THE CANNABINOIDS: Had to run over to the entrance to meet friend Jowell and made it back down to Stage 2 just in time to catch — or so we thought — Erykah Badu. I say “or so we thought” because while we were on time, Ms. Badu and her band weren’t set up ’til 40 minutes or so after they were supposed to start.
That wouldn’t necessarily have been that bad, really, except that long-departed post-hardcore brawlers the Fatal Flying Guilloteens were supposed to be playing up at the top of the hill after Badu’s set. So I’d hoped to see Erykah Badu, then run up the hill to catch the Guilloteens. Theoretically, at least, my little plan should’ve worked.
So we waited to Ms. Badu to come onstage, and finally, after a very lengthy wait in the hot, hot late-afternoon sun, she did. And it was, well, kind of eh. I’m not sure what I was expecting, really, but I’d seen a few of Badu’s recorded live performances in previous years and was always impressed by the energy she displayed during those shows. At Summerfest, though… I don’t know; maybe I’m biased because I was hot and she was late, but it just felt flat to me.
In the end, after all the waiting, we stuck around for only a song or two before saying “screw it” and heading up the hill. And unfortunately, as I got to the top, I spotted the empty stage where the Guilloteens had apparently just finished playing; they were milling around chatting with folks down on the street, looking sweaty and, well, pretty much done. Fuck.
BAD VEINS: After trying in vain to get high enough above the crowd to catch a glimpse of Snoop Dogg and then grabbing some thoroughly uninspiring dinner from The Calypso Grill‘s booth, we were feeling pretty down, frankly. We were pretty much just killing time ’til The Flaming Lips, figuring we’d missed most everybody else.
Meandering back towards the east gate, then, we ran into Cincinnati duo Bad Veins, right at the start of their set. And then poof, the evening suddenly got a whole lot better. I’d heard of the band before but never actually listened to ‘em, but holy crap, I was hooked after barely 30 seconds in.
Guitarist/singer Benjamin Davis and drummer Sebastien Schultz were damn good, playing these sharp-edged, smart songs that were quirky as hell, to boot, with Davis occasionally singing/howling through a funky “phone-amp” thing. They played this awesomely desperate-sounding, melodic, bitter rock that danced over into Say Anything territory at some points and made me think weirdly of Glasvegas at others, and the end product was fucking amazing.
THE FLAMING LIPS: Finally, it was on to the night’s headliners, The Flaming Lips, making their second Summerfest appearance. And here’s where I have to make a bit of a confession. See, I saw the Lips the last time they played, back in 2010, but I didn’t stick around for the whole thing. I was beat, honestly, and still soaked from the torrential downpour earlier in the day, and for some reason, while it was neat to watch, it just didn’t do that much for me, y’know? I was ready to go home.
In the couple of years since, though, I’ve regretted bailing out early, wishing I’d stayed and tried harder to get past the gimmicky stuff like Wayne Coyne riding his giant Zorb/hamster ball out over the crowd. So when I saw the lineup for this year’s FPSF, I was actually somewhat psyched to get a second chance to see the Lips play.
To make things even better, the band said they’d be playing not strictly their own stuff, but would instead be doing Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. I’ve only been able to see Floyd live once, myself — I’m not that old — and while they did play a couple of songs from DSOTM, the set was cut short by the torrential downpour, so y’know. I figured this would have to be the next best thing, right?
So we staked out a spot near the Porta-Potties at the top of the hill — there was literally no way we were getting any closer, by that point, people having steadily filled the area in front of Stage 2 for the past few hours — and we waited, as various techs and audio guys plugged things in, hooked stuff up, and mic-checked. By the time Coyne ambled excitedly onto the stage, we were ready.
And y’know, this time, I got it. I really, truly did. I’m not sure what was different, but where before I was just kind of shrugging and looking at my watch, this time I was standing there against the fence with my mouth wide open like an idiot as the band started off with some of their own songs, just basking in the warm, welcoming, primary-color psych-pop haze. The lights flashed and sparkled, balls bounced out into the crowd (Coyne promised at one point that he and Snoop Dogg had put $10 bills into each of ‘em, although I’ve got no idea if he was being serious; it kind of sounded like he was, honestly), the crowd roared and cheered, and the music rolled over us all like a tidal wave.
I didn’t catch every song the band played, unfortunately, but the ones I did, particularly “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1″ and “Do You Realize??,” were utterly stunning, like a wave of pure, unadulterated joy washing out over the sea of smiling, sweaty, happy faces. At that second, the giant banner hanging above the stage that declared, in all caps, “IT DOES NOT MATTER WHO YOU ARE,” made perfect sense.
Cynical bastard that I tend to be, I’ve actually only experienced a few honestly transcendent moments in my concert-going life — the Ramones‘ last tour, the first time I saw The Church of Philadelphia, watching Jonah Matranga play on the porch of Fitz after it closed for the night, attending my first Metallica show, seeing The Hold Steady destroy the stage at Walter’s, Too Much Joy playing to me & my friends at The Abyss — but listening to “Do You Realize??” and suddenly hearing the entire damn audience sing along in perfect unison was one of those moments. No lie.
The weird part is that when the Lips finished playing their songs — they only did a handful, I believe mostly from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots — and started in on Dark Side of the Moon, well, I was a little bummed. I wanted more, frankly, and the Pink Floyd songs, while classic songs done well by a crew of clearly devoted, near-fanatical Floyd fans, just didn’t do that much for more. I can’t even really explain why; I’d been so looking forward to it, but then when it happened, I wanted to go back to the set being a full Flaming Lips set. At one point I remember thinking, “y’know, I could just go home and put this on the stereo…”
So after about half the DSOTM set, I decided I was done for Day One of Summerfest. I bid farewell to Jowell (who, it turned out, didn’t stay very long after I did) and began the hike back over to the parking garage. On home, with sleep following not long after.
- I know, I know — this is late, late, late in coming. Events work-related and closer to home conspired to rip all of my free time into tiny, tiny bits and then scatter them on my front lawn, giggling with glee, and the end result is that this little half-writeup (Day Two is still to come, don’t worry) is so late it’s pathetic. sigh. Even with the intervening time since Summerfest, though, I wanted to get down on paper (er, digital paper) how this year’s festival went, what it felt like, how the bands were, the whole deal; it just doesn’t feel fair to all the folks involved, otherwise. So, to anybody grumbling about how I’m posting this two months after the fact, all I can say is that I’m sorry; this is how it goes sometimes, especially when you have to juggle Day Job and Side Job and Family and Medical Stuff.
- Like with last year, oh holy fuck it was hot. Maybe not quite as brain-meltingly scorching as Summerfest 2011, it’s true, but damn, after a while it really started to hurt. There was a point where I felt like I was staggering around in a blast furnace, seriously. I’d honestly expected a little bit of rain, maybe — there were definitely clouds — but if any fell, I sure as hell didn’t feel it. Happily, I think I actually fared better this time than I had in years past (partly due to just getting back from the Grand Canyon a few weeks before), but I was definitely feeling it, even still.
- I have to give a big, big, big thumbs-up to the improved/expanded Fancy Pants setup this year; instead of one measly tent for all the lucky(?) Fancy Pants wristband holders (and Media-type people like me) to stand/sit around in, this year there were four, two in each of the “big” stage areas. Niiiiiice, y’all. Seriously, even though I rarely stayed in there for very long, I appreciated being able to pop into some A/C without having to hike all the damn way from Stage 3 back over to Stage 1, as I’ve had to do in years past. Sure, the tents were still packed with people, but the A/C was amped up from previous years, too, and I liked the “viewing areas” at least a couple of the tents had. I ended up sitting inside and watching part of Two Door Cinema Club‘s set on the second stage through a sheet of clear plastic while I basked in the cool air.
- Bands I Didn’t Get to See/Missed — As noted above, I didn’t get to see every band I’d wanted to see. Hell, I didn’t get to see half the bands I’d wanted to see, and it was own freaking fault (well, mostly). I was bummed to miss the last place you look‘s & The Wheel Workers‘ early-in-the-day set, and the same with relative newcomers Bang Bangz, metalheads Venomous Maximus, spiritual popster Tyagaraja, and crazy noisemakers Future Blondes. Plus, there were the out-of-towners; I’d kinda-sorta wanted to see Diplo, Best Coast, Sundress, Maps & Atlases, East Cameron Folkcore, & ex-Houstonians Caddywhompus.
- The ones that really hurt, though, were the pair of reunions I missed out on. Like I said earlier on, I’d really wanted to see the Fatal Flying Guilloteens reunion, and I’d hoped to catch the Riff Tiffs reunion, too, and sadly, I got to see neither. sigh. From what I hear the Guilloteens, in particular, were absolutely fucking amazing, and it kills me that I wasn’t there to witness the band’s post-last hurrah.
- Bands I Kinda-Sorta Saw (Briefly) — Then there were the bands I just barely saw, like Phantogram, who I caught a teeny-tiny bit of from the top of the hill, or Valient Thorr, who were rocking out while I was hiking speedily past on my way to find food. I listened for a brief minute and chuckled at the innocent loopiness of Poopy Lungstuffing at one point midway through the day at the SHFL Stage (naturally), and heard a little bit of what I figured out much later had to’ve been Espantapajaros not long after I got to the festival grounds.
There were also the Free Radicals, who didn’t have an actual stage but who roamed the fest, playing impromptu (and pretty great) sets at random spots along Allen Parkway. Oh, and I think I saw Los Skarnales, but it might’ve actually been Bombon — I was never really clear which band it was, but I walked past the 29-95 Stage three or four times between 3PM and 5PM, and it always seemed to be the same band. The hell? Did the two bands merge, just for that one day? And as I was heading out, I caught a teeny glimpse of Afrojack, who was playing the same time as the Flaming Lips to a surprisingly massive crowd of dancing, jumping, fist-pumping people. Whoa. As with Two Door Cinema Club, I had no idea that many people in H-town knew who Afrojack even was…
- As a bit of a tie-in to the above, I’m going to reiterate a complaint I aired last year: can we please, please, please get signs for each of the bands playing? I’m not talking full-color banners or anything, mind you — hell even an 8-1/2 x 11 piece of paper with the name of the band currently playing onstage would be a huge help to folks who A) don’t happen to have a schedule in hand or B) don’t recognize anybody in what they think is Band A but which might actually be Band C. I’m seriously not sure who I saw, Los Skarnales or Bombon, and I had to pore through photos on Espantapajaros‘ Facebook page to figure out that’s who they were.
I’m not poking strictly at the FPSF organizers, by the by — having your name up somewhere visible from the crowd should be a fairly basic thing for a band who’s playing to a massive audience of potential new fans — just remember, band people, not everybody who sees you is necessarily going to be around ’til you finish a song and say, “Hey, we’re The Scrimplers, from Texarkana!” Provide the info up-front. C’mon, y’all, we can do this.
- What was the deal with the acrobats? A whole gaggle of tattooed, hippie-ish, very flexible-looking people were camped out over near the “main” Fancy Pants Tent, doing yoga or contorting themselves in weird ways throughout the day. I think the area may’ve been open to all comers, but I’m far, far too chickenshit for that, so I steered clear. Still, though, it was neat to see, and it definitely added a(nother) surreal element to the festival.
- Part of the fun of Summerfest for me, at least, is always getting to see friends I haven’t seen in a while (or, hell, ever). I don’t get out all that much, unfortunately, so it’s kind of rare for me to be able to meet & catch up with people, even people in this strange little scene of ours. I loved getting to hang out with Houston Calling‘s David Cobb, in particular, and also with photographer Marc Brubaker, who was there to cover the ‘fest for the Houston Press. Ran into local scenester/artist/animal lover Jacob Calle, too, right before the Lips played; that guy’s so non-stop excited and energetic, I can’t help but crack a grin every time I see him.
It was especially cool to be able to briefly see & say “hi” to Creg & Rebeka Lovett, especially since they just (as in, a few days ago) had their first munchkin and will most likely be homebodies for a while, at least. I just wish they would’ve been able to stay for more of The Flaming Lips’ set…
- Speaking of meeting people, I got to talk a bit with Matthew Hines of The Eastern Sea after they finished their set; believe it or not, I’ve talked to and photographed the guy at all four Summerfests now, and it’s practically become a tradition, at this point. It’s something I look forward to, honest, because he’s such a genuinely nice, humble guy, and he always makes time to chat even when he looks like he’s been dropped into a deep-fryer for forty minutes.
I asked him about the Sea’s recent lineup changes, nervous that the revolving-door nature of the band might spell bad things to come, but he assured me that the only way The Eastern Sea will end is if he’s dead, which was both reassuring and kind of disturbing (hah!). He also talked a bit about new album Plague (which we’ve since reviewed), noting that he hoped the full-length would force people to finally taking his band seriously. In my book, if people don’t take Hines & co. seriously at this point, they’re freaking idiots.
- After chatting a bit with Matt, a couple of people who’d been hanging out nearby came over and asked if I was, well, me. I said I was, and it turned out they were Sheila Kenny of Right On! PR and Brett Cannon of Paper Thin Media, both of whom I’ve emailed back & forth with for literally years now but never actually met in person. They were the nicest freaking people, and it was awesome to finally be able to put faces to the names. Weird as it seems, there are people I’ve worked with forever but haven’t ever met In Real Life — running this Website, that’s just kind of the way things work, y’know? So Brett, Sheila: thanks! It was great to be able to meet y’all.
- I ended up paying a bit more attention to the random bits of artwork scattered around the festival this year, although I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe there were more of ‘em, or I was slightly less heat-addled and more able to appreciate ‘em? Whichever, I liked a lot of what I saw this year, especially the wooden(?) dinosaur sculptures up near the eastern entrance to the festival, which included a Parasaurolophus by none other than aforementioned pal Jacob Calle. Congrats, dude!
- In years past, I’ve been pretty psyched about the food booths at Summerfest, and there definitely were some neat booths — sad to not see the Moon Tower Inn folks back, though — but I struck out on the dinner front, unfortunately. This time I tried my luck at the Calypso Grill booth and was sorely disappointed. The signs promised curry goat, jerk turkey, Jamaican beef patties, and something intriguingly called “bake n shake,” but what was actually on offer was not much beyond dry, mostly tasteless chicken tenders. On the good side, I had a very, very nice bit of ice cream from the Once Upon A Cone — which several people then eyed enviously as they tried not to melt in the soul-destroying heat.
- Best of all, though, this year the festival had a booth for Wild Bill’s Olde Fashioned Soda Pop Co., which was this kitschy, Wild West-looking wooden storefront-type thing with a bunch of “kegs” that served various types of sodas, from vanilla cream to root beer to sasparilla(!). I tried their “Rocky Mountain Root Beer” flavor, and as a pseudo-connoisseur of root beers, I have to say, it was pretty damn good. I liked it quite a bit more than I have several other root beers I’ve tried lately (like Saint Arnold’s, for one; sorry, y’all…).
The neatest bit, though, is that for $15 (I think?), you could get a beautiful, FPSF-branded, barrel-style metal mug, and then you could bring that back throughout the weekend and get refills that were either free or really cheap, like $1 a pop — sorry, my memory for numbers is wretched even at the best of times. Now, I’d never actually gotten a real souvenir of any of the three previous Summerfests I’d been to, so I justified it as being a better purchase than a t-shirt I’d likely get stained and end up only be able to wear for mowing the lawn. A mug I can use any damn time I want, right?
- I have no clue whose idea it was to put the entirety of Stage 3 into a partially mesh-covered geodesic dome, but they’re a freaking genius. Watching Quintron & Miss Pussycat in there made it feel like I’d accidentally fallen into Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and that’s never a bad thing.
- While roaming around the festival grounds, I ran across a couple of mobile DJ booths that were really, truly mobile, each with its own little crowd of blissed-out dancers getting down in the crippling heat. One was mounted on the back of a ramshackle-looking (but still very workable) pedicab, while the other was significantly more high-end, operating out of the rear section of a severely customized PT Cruiser emblazoned with Red Bull logos, but both were pretty neat to see, in my book — I like the idea of little roving stages popping up in-between the main ones.
- Among the cool new festival features this year were the suprisingly non-jury-rigged showers, a tangle of brightly-colored pipes spanning one side of Allen Parkway itself and spraying anybody underneath with a sheet of (presumably cold) water. I skipped it, myself, mostly because I was roaming solo at that point and nervous that somebody would walk off with my backpack and its contents while I cooled off, but it looked very nice, and people played in it like kids running through a backyard sprinkler (which, yeah, wasn’t all that far back in the past for some of ‘em).
- On the down side, the central merch/poster table, wedged in as it was between the southern wall of the festival and the massive Jeep “compound,” was such a royal pain in the ass I literally turned back a few times when I’d attempted to squeeze past and head on down to a different stage. It was freaking gridlock at a few points, I swear.
- While I’m at it, about the Jeep driving course thing: WTF? Seriously? Did anybody even try to drive one of the damn things? Maybe I’m weird, but if I’m at a music festival, I want to actually see & hear the music, not spend time waiting in line for the chance to drive a goddamn Jeep around a fake “wilderness” landscape. Ooooooh, rocks and logs…
- I don’t want to end this being a negative asshat, though, so I’d like to offer a heartfelt thumbs-up to the Summerfest organizers for nixing the old Super Happy Fun Land Stage location down at the bottom of the hill in previous years. While I did like hanging out down there on the grass, it was hot — the breeze never seemed to reach down there — a pain to get to and felt really out-of-the-way, with the effect that bands who got put there got ignored. I was very happy to see the stage get shifted up to higher ground, trademark SHFL-style looniness fully intact.
(Photos in review [top to bottom]: The Manichean; line to get into Summerfest; Parasaurolophus sculpture by Jacob Calle; crowd waiting for The Flaming Lips; The Eastern Sea; Starfucker; Pale; The Manichean; Morris Day and The Time doing The Bird; Quintron and Miss Pussycat; Two Door Cinema Club; Erykah Badu & The Cannabinoids; Bad Veins; The Flaming Lips; The Flaming Lips; Fancy Pants tent; Afrojack; Valient Thorr; acrobats; David Cobb; Matthew Hines; Joy(?), Sheila Kenny, & Brett Cannon; Wild Bill’s Olde Fashioned Soda Pop Co.; mobile DJ booth; festival-goers cooling off. All photos by J. Hart.)