FPSF 2016 Rundown, Pt. 2: Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls + David Ramirez + Leon Bridges + Matthew Logan Vasquez + Another Run + Zola Jesus + Blue Healer + Allen Stone + The National

IMG_0669Hey, all — sorry for the delay on Round Two of the preview-y-type things for this year’s Free Press Summer Festival, but I was knocked down flat the past 24 hours with a nasty (and hopefully quick) bout of the flu. While I’m feeling somewhat better now, I don’t remember much from about 9PM yesterday to 5PM today…

The important thing to keep in mind, though, is that FPSF will be unfolding this coming weekend (Sat., June 4th, & Sun., June 5th, to be specific) over at the flat, hot-as-hell concrete pancake otherwise called the NRG Park Yellow Lot. Let’s all roll the dice, shall we, and see if we explode into flames or get washed away by the floodwaters; right now, it feels like it could go either way.

Before our inevitable demise at the hands of the capricious Music Festival Gods, however, I want to point to some other, non-SCR coverage going on for FPSF. We’re all about encouraging you good people to read, y’know, so go read some of these, too (esp. the top one, ’cause it’s by our own Creg Lovett):

Seems like there’s less coverage now than what there’s been the past couple of years, but that may be my imagination; we’ll keep looking for more.

Before I forget, you can head over to the FPSF site to get the full schedule, and you can also create your own customized schedule using the Interactive Lineup (after signing up via either social media or your email, naturally), which is pretty cool.

Also, definitely check out the official FPSF Mobile App. Not only does it let you set up your own personal festival schedule and show you where you are on the map, but it’s handy for situations where the festival staff needs to inform people about schedule changes, emergencies, etc. (like, say, if the organizers learn that all of NRG Park will be underwater, maybe?).

And with that, away we go:

frankturner1Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls
YES. To start off, we’ve got one of the musicians I’m most looking forward to seeing this weekend, Frank Turner. I’ll freely admit that I can’t completely pin down what it is I love about Turner’s music; it’s just got this utterly defiant, fearless, yet still vulnerable feel to it, the kind that makes me want to throw my head back and roar along, pumping my fist in the air while I do. He’s got the fire and sincerity of a British-born Bruce Springsteen, and he writes and sings these songs about the little people of the world, the ones who try and struggle and scrape but never quite make it to the top; the almost-rans and fourth-place-finishers. It’s easy, frankly, to grab an electric guitar and beat on it and howl your guts out; it’s a whole lot harder, in my book, to do the same with an acoustic guitar, and that’s what’s at the core of Turner’s performance — just one man, a guitar, and his soul, with nothing else in-between. (Jeremy H.)
[Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls plays at 3:50PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Neptune Stage.]

davidramirez2David Ramirez
Next up is a songwriter who’s from a little closer to home but who bears some similarities to Frank Turner, above; David Ramirez is a man who’s hit the bottom, hard, and scrabbled around in the muck down there for a while, trying to regain his footing, before slowly climbing his way back out. He’s been at his lowest — he knows what that’s like, and how damn easy it is to get right back down there, and when he sings about it, you flat-out feel it in your bones.

Listening to his albums, Ramirez takes you with him on his journey from the depths of addiction and loss and despair all the way back up into the light, from the 12-steps-sounding amends-making of Apologies to the rediscovery and clear-headedness of The Rooster to the sad realizations of Fables, where he sees how even though he’s made it back, the problems that laid him low in the first place haven’t gone anywhere. It’s affecting and brutally honest and often beautiful — see “Stick Around,” “The Bad Days,” and the fiery, vulnerable “How Do You Get ‘Em Back,” for three — and it’s amazing to witness. (Jeremy H.)
[David Ramirez plays at 1:20PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Mars Stage.]

leonbridges1Leon Bridges
Thanks to a tip from my good friend, Kwesi Sackey, I was able to find out about DFW’s Leon Bridges when he played The Continental Club a little over a year ago. Since that show, he has been skyrocketing to fame, even landing a musical guest spot on Saturday Night Live, among other steps up the ladder of success.

If you don’t know about him, think 1960s soul crooner. Sam Cooke is an obvious influence, but Bridges brings his own smooth glide and swagger to his songs (“River” is my personal favorite), showing that he’s not just a Sam Cooke copycat. I’m looking forward to seeing him again! (Jason S.)
[Leon Bridges plays at 5:20PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Neptune Stage.]


matthewloganvasquez1Matthew Logan Vasquez
Alright, so today’s writeups seem to be turning into Singer-Songwriter Day, for some reason, with Frank Turner, then David Ramirez, and now Matthew Logan Vasquez. Sonically, there’s not a lot of a resemblance, it’s true, but Vasquez definitely fits into the same songwriter’s songwriter mold as the two previous artists. Until now I’d only really known Vasquez for his work with his band, The Delta Spirit, a band that I’d liked okay but which had never gotten beyond that “liked okay” point — with new solo album Solicitor Returns, though, I’m having to take a second look.

And what I’m seeing is good, really damn good. Vasquez’s music is Americana of a sort, but it’s the kind that draws from decades of psychedelic rock just as much as it does from historic Nashville. There’re elements of The Byrds here, or CSNY, and then there’s a full-on stomper like “Everything I Do Is Out,” which sounds like noisy, messy, early Who — holy fuck, it does — and it’s great. Call it “roots music,” except that the roots we’re talking about are Vasquez‘s roots, the music he grew up loving and being influenced by; and hey, I’m good with that. (Jeremy H.)
[Matthew Logan Vasquez plays at 1:20PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Neptune Stage.]

anotherrun2Another Run
For a band with so much experience on the Houston music scene, Adrian, Zak, Bob, Andy, and AJ — collectively known as Another Run — come off as straight-out-of-school, high-energy upstarts on a mission to make sure that you never forget their name. Certainly, I’ve seen them play a dozen times over the years, and beyond the joyful hopping around that they do, their sound has matured and synergized into a formidable live act full of memorable songs! Catch up with them at FPSF and hear a band fresh from finishing their US tour and excited to share new recordings, which are on the way… (Jason S.)
[Another Run plays at 12PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Mercury Stage.]

zolajesus1Zola Jesus
And now for a bit of a shift, and a nice one, at that. Zola Jesus makes music that’s dark and electronicized but still somehow organic and real-sounding, which is no mean feat in this age of EDM we’re currently in. The music is murky and elegaic at points, with a feel that makes me think of early Enya or Enigma (aka “That ’90s New Age Band with the Gregorian Monks Chanting”), and occasionally also of Imogen Heap or Sia; like the latter, it’s decidedly pop, but pop with a sideways, almost industrial bent to it. There’re breakbeats and deep-down synths and samples and bits of noise, and it all works together beautifully.

It helps, of course, that Zola Jesus has a hell of a powerful voice — apparently she studied opera as a kid, which makes sense. It’s strong but distant, like it comes from some untouchable, remote, dread-inspiring queen of a realm of ice and snow; at least, that’s what was running through my head while listening to her 2014 album, the appropriately-titled Taiga. It may seem a little odd to think about listening to music that’s cold and dark in the middle of the afternoon on a broiling hot, wet, swampy Houston summer afternoon, but trust me: it’ll work just fine. (Jeremy H.)
[Zola Jesus plays at 4:10PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Mercury Stage.]

Austin’s Blue Healer, a talented trio who have been working hard putting singles out in the past year, are at heart an Americana singer-songwriting team. They wrap their soulful songs up in synth pads and metronomic drums, but you can feel the the song structure of masters like Petty and McCartney blend in with modern-day influences, which probably include Local Natives and Grizzly Bear. If that sounds like your kind of band, then make sure you drop by to see them! (Jason S.)
[Blue Healer plays at 11:30AM on Sun., June 5th, at the Neptune Stage.]

allenstone1Allen Stone
Allen Stone takes his soulful, ’70s bell-bottom-britches Stevie Wonder sound to its ultimate conclusion, though today’s influence can be heard deep in the grooves. Stone’s strength is his voice, and his new album, Radius (production by Malay and Benny Cassette), continues to focus on marrying Allen’s amazing voice to the poppy dance grooves that his band has been perfecting over the course of his career. I can attest from experience that they are a force live as well, so if you’re in the mood for some blue-eyed soul at FPSF, be on the lookout. (Jason S.)
[Allen Stone plays at 3:50PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Venus Stage.]

The National
I hate to admit it, but The National are one of those bands where I’ve always meant to give ’em a better listen, mostly based on recommendations from friends and fellow music-lovers, but…well, I just never got around to it, y’know? About all I really knew about the band before now was that their fans are all seriously rabit — it seems like if you like The National, you really like The National.

thenational1And now? Yeah, I kinda get it. The music is so freaking perfectly assembled and performed that you can’t help but appreciate it, even just for the craftsmanship of it all, but beyond that, it’s gorgeous and sincere and warm and yearning, everything mid-tempo indie-rock like this should be. It may not grab you immediately, it’s true, but you devote a little time and attention to it (and yeah, I know the latter is a hard sell, these days), it’s worth it. For my part, The National get bonus points because they make me think of another of my absolute-favorite bands, Ketch Harbour Wolves (especially Matt Berninger‘s vocals) — both bands have this serious, thoughtful, poetic ethos to them that can come off as pretentious and juvenile in the wrong hands, but in the right hands…oh, man. There you go, right there. (Jeremy H.)
[The National plays at 8:30PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Saturn Stage.]

Dammit. I’d planned on posting some more of these, but unfortunately, I’m starting to feel crappy once again. sigh. More to come tomorrow, one way or the other, I promise…

(Photos: Leon Bridges photo by Erin Rambo.)

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