Think Like A Photographer: FPSF 2013, Looking Through the Viewfinder

fpsf1I’m supposed to be on vacation! And here it is July, and I’m finally finding time to write about my Free Press Summer Festival experience.

Right after FPSF I headed out on an incredible California and Oregon trip to surprise my sister for her birthday, as well as see some amazing mid-century modern houses. If you didn’t know, one of my non-musical passions is buildings and modern furniture of the 1950s-60s, especially houses. Houston grew a lot during this era, so there are plenty of treasures here, but Los Angeles dwarfs our collection tenfold.

After returning, I taught a beginning piano camp to elementary students and just haven’t found the time to express my thoughts and opinions on FPSF. Turns out I wasn’t alone, as SCR Editor Jeremy hadn’t, either. Now I’m gonna get started, but before we go any further, head on over to Flickr to check out the full set of pictures I took; here’s the link:

Now that July’s almost over, I don’t feel like I should complain about the heat at FPSF this year. It was actually bearable this year, especially Sunday, but there are “gaps” in my coverage of FPSF — well, unless you want to read a review of the nice dark cool Fancy Pants tent I (and plenty of others) found to rest in.

Big props to Dutch Small for designing those tents. They were by far the best Fancy Pants tents of the five years FPSF has been running so far. As a media pass holder, I was able to go in the tents, and let me say, if you’re a paying customer, definitely pay for a Fancy Pants ticket if you’re planning on staying all day at the fest.

My first photos of the fest involved the line outside. I got there early and sailed right through the media line, but apparently they were having trouble getting the scanners to work for the general admission line. I heard that once they got it going, everyone got in just fine, but it was a shame because Houston bands were already playing inside, and that’s who needs the exposure most.

fpsf4I headed straight over to see Houston’s Deep Cuts. Later I’ll talk about Arctic Monkeys, who played one of the main stages, but Deep Cuts would fit right in opening for Arctic Monkeys. They have this ’60s Brit-pop-meets-Latin vibe; it’s infectious, and they do it well. They’re good-looking young men, to boot.

I gave extra points to the Beach Boys-style Hawaiian shirt that one of the guitarists wore — it was a beachy kind of day. And extra-extra points to the drummer, who made some good “take my picture” faces. (By the way, I’m looking at my Flickr feed as I write, just to help me remember the day. Dang, I had a great shot of Deep Cuts’ drummer that’s not here in the set. I’ll have to add it.) Deep Cuts are relatively new to the scene, but mark my words, with dedication, they will rise in the ranks.

Up next on the Neptune Stage was Rivers. What’s the deal with these stage names, anyway? I get that they’re all planets, but they did not help me remember what stage was which or where. I was confused by that all weekend. Anyway, I love RIVERS. They have so much energy and remind me of what my own band, Alkari, would be like if we were 15 years younger, listened to a lot more White Stripes, and if I could grow my hair. If I could grow my hair it would look just like Chris Tamez‘s. Since I last saw them, RIVERS has added a keyboard player, which adds a ’60s Music Machine vibe to the proceedings, but they’re still pure garage in the best way possible (think Hendrix, Detroit’s The Sights, and Wolfmother). Their stock is rising. See them as soon as you can!

fpsf6There was no time to waste in this early portion of FPSF, as all my favorite Houston bands were early on. Next up was Chase Hamblin. Talk about 1960s; that’s Hamblin. If Mad Men had a scene where Don Draper went into a club and visited with some groovy young kids to find out what they wanted their advertising to be like, Chase Hamblin and The Roustabouts would be playing in the club. It would be easy to write them off as genre copyists if they weren’t so infectious and sincere about it.

So instead of rolling my eyes, I close them and picture myself in that scene with Don and Joan and the kids in Greenwich Village (unlike the real Mad Men, Joan is in all the scenes when I’m directing my imaginary Mad Men scenes). Extra points go to Chase for having a scantily-clad female dancer onstage; this alone tripled the photographic activity while they played. Kudos to Chase Hamblin! He deserves his spot on the FPSF lineup and near the top of the Houston Rock Scene.

Saturday continued as if I had booked this festival myself. Up next: Buxton. If you read Space City Rock, you know Buxton is one band that everyone here at SCR agrees on. (Okay, so by “everyone,” I mean “Jeremy and me.” There are lots of other writers for SCR, but I don’t know if they love Buxton. They should.) Buxton showed us some new songs, along with the songs from their amazing album Nothing Here Seems Strange.

Due to schedule conflicts, it’s been way too long since I’ve seen Buxton. They haven’t lost a step. They play like a well-oiled machine and are one of the bands out on the road all over the US showing people that good indie-rock music does indeed come out of Houston. The only problem at this point was that American Fangs was about to start on another stage, so I only stuck around for about five songs of Buxton.

American Fangs have just released what will probably be my number one Houston album of 2013. The Wheel Workers and The Ex-Optimists (from Bryan, but close enough) are right up there, too. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen American Fangs. Honestly, I have always been disappointed in their live shows — they’re just too hardcore live compared to their recordings, which are heavy but take the foot off the gas pedal just enough to please my ears. I was so happy to find out that they have started to match their live show to what we have on record. Yes! They’re still high-energy, but they tone it down just enough to where it’s not screamo, though there is definitely still some raging against some kind of machinery going on.

fpsf8At this point, the Houston contingent of bands was just about done, at least for me. Time for the touring bands to show their stuff. Up first in this regard was a retro-soul band called Vintage Trouble. A friend of mine who I trust tells me he can’t stand this band. “They almost look made up,” he says, like they’re the Monkees of retro-soul, and I can see how that could be true. It does look like they try too hard, and being from Los Angeles doesn’t help. But they have the chops and musicianship to pull it off, and they get the crowd dancing. If you’d like to see Zeppelin with Otis Redding singing, then you owe it to yourself to check out Vintage Trouble.

Alabama Shakes has quickly become a national phenomenon, and they proved why with their performance at FPSF. But honestly, at this point I was starting to feel the heat. Already I had met up with Jeremy (I think he took my photo), and he asked me, “Are you alright?” I hope I didn’t look like a heat stroke victim. I had been drinking water and wearing a hat, but I was definitely starting to feel the effects, so I don’t remember much about Alabama Shakes except that I got their photos and went straight to a tent to lay down.

fpsf10I’m not sure what I missed in the interim, but I sure did enjoy the quiet time in the tent. My next photos are of Arctic Monkeys. I had always thought of them as a rip-off or an amalgam of other bands like Blur, but seeing them live, I got a new respect for them. I will definitely apply for a press pass to see them again. Not sure if I’d pay for a ticket, but yeah, I probably would. Sounds like Arctic Monkeys new single “Do I Wanna Know” is off of the Blur sound and onto the Queens of the Stone Age sound. Interesting move.

Thanks to their names, somewhat similar sounds, and the fact that both bands have both men and women in them, two bands I got confused in the lead-up to the festival were The Head and The Heart and Of Monsters and Men. Saturday brought us The Head and The Heart. They were a good, mellow, late-afternoon musical snack. My brain was fried at this point, and I kept thinking about Iggy Pop. I didn’t want to miss the chance to photograph Iggy, but I didn’t want to pass out before that came to fruition! So after I took some photos of The Head and The Heart, I took another trip to the tent to rest.

fpsf12When it came time for Iggy Pop, I made it over to the photo pit early, as I knew most of the other photographers at the festival were just like me and would want some Iggy Pop photos to their credit. Indeed, it was crowded, but something that either Free Press — or maybe Iggy’s management — did made it even more crowded. There were some stairs leading up to the stage on stage left, so security wouldn’t let us go past a certain point. I guess they were afraid we’d run up the stage and attack Iggy Pop? That made it twice as crowded.

It also made all my photos look the same — all from the same direction. Boo! The same thing would happen Sunday at Grace Potter. FPSF: fix this for next year! (Please?) Photographers are not going to rush the stage. And as anyone who was there knows, Iggy invited half the crowd up on the stage to dance with him! Ha — the photographers were a security risk?

Anyway, I got some precious photos of the man and legend. When I was there (we only got two songs instead of the usual three) taking photos, the whole time I was thinking, “That’s really him. THAT’S REALLY HIM!” I think that’s been the most fun part of taking photos for Space City Rock: seeing these people you knew about as a child, or at least as a teenager, up close. Iggy is quite a sight up close! Time has taken its toll on him. But on the whole earth, who else is doing what he does at his age? It’s a very short list, and so inspiring to see. Craig Hlavaty of the Houston Chronicle called him the Jack Lalanne of Rock, and I love that comparison.

I had told myself after Iggy Pop I was going to head home. It took its toll on me. But after a back-and-forth text with Jeremy, where he said he was in it to the end, I felt encouraged. “I can do this!” I don’t know The Postal Service very well. I didn’t even know they had a member of Death Cab for Cutie in their band. For some reason, I had them mixed up with Broken Social Scene; my brain works in weird ways. I can’t really add a review to The Postal Service’s show. They were okay. They had a very sexy redhead playing keyboards. I took some photos of her. Hopefully Jeremy can add more to this conversation. [Ed. Note: Um, dude? The “sexy redhead” was Jenny Lewis. ;) ]

fpsf13After this, I really was wiped out and thinking to myself, “How am I supposed to do this all over again tomorrow?”

Sunday started a little later than Saturday for me. We have a Sunday tradition at my house where we eat breakfast together as a couple. Usually I cook vegan waffles, but we had bagels and vegan cream cheese this morning. So I was not going to catch the 11AM bands (especially sorry for missing The Suffers!) no matter what I did. Getting out to the car, I could feel Sunday was going to be a little cooler than Saturday. That was a good sign, and it held true all day. Everyone felt it and was relieved by it.

I started out at a side stage with a Houston band called Showers. Appropriately, I think it rained a little while they were playing! Showers have an American-influenced Britpop sound on their self-titled EP (available at, but live Showers had more indie-rock/emo to their sound. I would check them out again, for sure, and liked them on Facebook.

fpsf16On my way over to see UME, I passed a decidedly hardcore band called Forced Fem. They made for interesting photography, so I took a few shots. Then UME’s stage was running late, so I went over to see some of the Kashmere Stage Band‘s set. If you don’t know about them, you should definitely learn.

This band was an inner-city high school jazz band in the ’70s, and then about five years ago, they decided to reunite and play together again. They still have it! In doing this, they also teach and do charitable outreach, inspiring a whole new upcoming generation of inner-city musicians. They’re just fantastic, and I nearly started tearing up watching them.

Finally headed back over to catch UME. I think I missed about half their set, but it was worth it to see a little more of the Kashmere Stage Band. Lauren and UME are always fun to photograph and great to rock out with. I took a few shots in an effort to get all three of them, with some success.

Photographing UME reminds me how much I’ve learned and how much I still need to learn about photography. Lauren moves around so much I need to remember to turn up the shutter speed when she’s playing, or it will be out of focus. My friend Jay Dryden told me later on in the day he did that and got some good shots. When you’re out in the daytime, it’s also a very different experience than in a club at night. On Saturday I was able to get some blue in the sky, but on Sunday with the clouds, it was impossible. The sky is white — oh well, at least the sun wasn’t burning a hole through my brain.

fpsf17Up next was a hard rock/metal band called Baroness. I took a lot of photos of them because I know Jeremy is a fan and will likely talk about them in his review. Jeremy and I would cross paths quite a few times over the two days, but we didn’t make a concerted effort to see the same acts. I enjoyed Baroness a lot more than I expected to and stayed around longer than I thought I would.

“That’s about as metal as I get,” I thought to myself while watching them. “Any more metal would be beyond my metal limitations,” I joked. They were “good metal.”

I next caught a little bit of one of Houston’s best known “emo” bands, Otenki. This is my cousin Ethan’s style of music. In other words, music for people half my age. I don’t really get it, but they did it well and made for some good photos.

I next made it over to see Dawes. I was excited about seeing Dawes more because my photographer friend Trish Badger is crazy for Dawes. My main thought in going over there was that I’d get a shot of Trish taking their photo, but, well, now I like them, too. There’s a lot of Jackson Browne in the Dawes sound, probably an unforgivable amount. I’m thinking Jackson Browne just about the whole time I’m listening to them.

fpsf19Reading this, you can probably tell that most of my favorites, musically speaking, played Saturday. That’s definitely true. And because of this, on Sunday I started to think more like a photographer. I started to go to the stage I thought would be the most interesting from a photography point of view. It was an interesting transition.

Next up I saw the legendary Mavis Staples, of “I’ll Take You There” fame. I heard the song yesterday at Trader Joe’s; it’s that famous. And I think they took us there for the last 15 minutes of their set! After taking some photos of the band, I milled about the crowd and got some shots of people dancing. Saying that, this is not my forte at all. I feel like a creepy old man taking photos of the crowd. But like I said, I’d started to think as a photographer instead of as a music fan.

With that in mind, I stayed a little longer than I would have at Kopecky Family Band; singer/keyboard/bassist Kelsey Kopecky is amazingly photogenic. The rest of the band also looks like they came from Central Casting. Bearded guy? Check. Hot lady? Check! Elvis Costello guy with glasses? Check! Skinny kid with fedora hat and tattoo of a bass clef on his arm? Check, check, check! They won me over with their music, too, but it’s too fun to make fun of bands like this to pass up doing it.

Speaking of making fun… I could go on all day about Cat Power. But I respect her fans (many are friends of mine), so I will forego that. I was not impressed with her act so I’ll stop. Enjoy the photos, though. The band was fun to photograph.

So now, in the middle of the day with no musical favorites to catch, I decided I would catch whoever would photograph well, and that was a great decision. Matt and Kim were so fun to photograph! I also got some great crowd shots from the photo pit. This begins a little adventure inside of our FPSF adventure that I like to think of as The Crazy Adventure of Mr. Smith at the Matt and Kim Show.

It’s hard to take bad photographs of Matt and Kim; they’re models and entertainers first and musicians second. I don’t know if they’d be offended by that, but music as I understand music really does take a back seat when they’re performing. But who cares? They’re so cute! And their fans love them — the crowd was absolutely going bonkers.

fpsf22After getting enough shots of them, I tried to make my way out of the photo pit. But there was no way out of the area; the photo pit led right into a mass of humanity. FPSF needs to fix this for next year — the photo pit should lead backstage, or at least to the Fancy Pants area.

That said, it was like I was dropped off in the middle of “hottie heaven.” Everyone was freaking gorgeous. I actually felt guilty (I’m married) just for being in the vicinity of so many college girls. And all of them were also saying, “Take our picture! Take our picture!” As if they’d be able to find my photos online later. It was a surreal experience.

Half Moon Run was up next, but I was still reeling from the craziness of Matt and Kim. They were better and different, though, than I expected them to be, from hearing their pre-album single on Rhapsody and then finding more material on Youtube. They were more energetic. I will keep my ears open to what they do next.

On down the hill to see Of Monsters and Men next. This band is riding a wave of popularity from their appearance on Saturday Night Live and “hey”-filled single, “Little Talks”. Everyone’s got a Mumford Band now. This one reminds me of Houston’s Second Lovers. Honestly, I’m about ready for this sound/trend to be over, but it’s ok. It’s good poppy music.

fpsf27Speaking of a sound I don’t go for… I headed over to get some photos of Macklemore. Again with the young crazy fans!

The fans had bent the photo pit barrier during Matt and Kim (thankfully after the photographers were gone), so I thought we weren’t going to be able to photograph on that stage for the rest of the night. Somehow they cobbled it together, though, and reinforced it with steel poles. I can’t say I was convinced. I was actually a little scared.

Macklemore seemed more like a comedian than a hip-hop artist. He rapped well, don’t get me wrong, but it seemed like his act was more about the banter he did between songs. I enjoyed his schtick, and the fans were crazy for him. Being able to find someone with a Macklemore-style fur coat on at FPSF was also a hilarious moment.

Next, I went to see The Men. They flat-out rocked! I think of them as a darker Buzzcocks. Live, they had a great kinetic energy. Thanks to their punk ethos and feel, I converted a couple of their photos to black and white.

fpsf29Grace Potter was the hottie of the fest. Wow, is she born to lead a band! I had been previewing the festival with a Rhapsody playlist, and one of my favorite songs on the playlist was “The Lion, The Beast, The Beat”. I had also watched some YouTube videos, but even that didn’t prepare me for the beauty of Grace Potter. The band was entertaining, but Grace was the only direction my camera would point for 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Gogol Bordello was absolute mayhem. People were flying around the stage, only taking a second or two to stand still to pose for the cameras. The crowd was crazy for them, and we were back in the makeshift photo pit area, so that was nerve-racking. I didn’t know their music, but I knew it when I heard it. They were entertaining, but not something I’d put on my stereo to listen to.

I had it in me for one more Houston act, duneTX. This band has been around for years, and it was great to see them get to play FPSF. Maybe that means my band is next?

duneTX play a Hendrix-meets-grunge-influenced music with catchy melodies and intense, Billy Corgan-type solos. I only had a couple of songs to catch them, though. I had to get over to see…

The Octopus Project — I was beyond out of gas and running on fumes at this point. I don’t remember anything, but I knew I wanted to see them just to get a shot or two of Yvonne Lambert.

I was well prepared to call it a night at this point, but again, a voice inside told me to push on. What would my photo-essay be without some shots of Social Distortion and Bassnectar? So I absolutely remember nothing about Social Distortion except that I thought they dressed like the Mafia.

And up the hill I went, for some long shots at the crowd, then onward toward the car. I hope you enjoyed this vague recollection of the events, as well as the photos! END

(Photos in review [top to bottom]: Deep Cuts; Buxton; Vintage Trouble; Arctic Monkeys; The Head and The Heart; Iggy and The Stooges; The Postal Service; UME; Baroness; Kopecky Family Band; Matt and Kim; Macklemore & Ryan Lewis; Grace Potter and The Nocturnals. All photos by Jason Smith.)

Live review by . Live review posted Wednesday, July 24th, 2013. Filed under Features, Live Reviews.

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