Free Press Summer Fest 2016: Thoughts and Photos

FPSF2016day2-21First off, I’m very saddened to learn of FPSF attendee Megan Tilton‘s death. It makes reviews like this seem very trivial. I am praying for her family and hope they get to the bottom of the story of how she passed on.

Here’s my Good, Bad, and Ugly:

The Good — Old and New Favorite Bands:
My favorite band I already knew going in was Austin’s White Denim. They played their asses off for an hour and made my Saturday. I had probably walked five miles at that point and was happy to watch their set and let the pressure of the day (taking photos can be a little stressful) melt away while I watched some great musicians do their thing.

Another act that made me happy was Ft. Worth’s Leon Bridges. Bridges and company have a positive, old-soul ’60s feel to them, and it was a great antidote to some of the other big stage acts that I will probably never understand. Bridges absolutely owns the stage. He dances more than I had seen him before and had more fun with the audience.

FPSF2016day1card1-53Lastly, I want to give shout outs to San Fermin, who played and sang beautifully to the rain-soaked afternoon crowd, and Big Grams, whose “rap and soprano” dance-pop were the pleasant surprise of the festival for me.

Other than these acts, I must admit that I would take three songs’ worth of photos and then move on to the next band, so it’s hard to comment one way or the other on most of them. They were definitely fun to photograph, though — especially Refused, Thee Oh Sees, Gogol Bordello, and Matt & Kim!

More Good — Food and Fun with Friends:
It was great seeing friends at the event, especially my “Webmaster” and dear friend Jeremy. I also enjoyed spending my time with Eric, Trish, Jay, and a host of other very talented photographers in the sometimes-crowded pit!

FPSF2016day1card1-4I randomly saw quite a few people, including two former elementary music students who are now in college. The food I ate was delicious, and Texas Tamale Company selling their tamales at the same price as you get them at Kroger or their own store was huge, in my eyes. I chowed down on the black bean tamales. Sunday, I had some delicious falafel. I would’ve liked to have seen picnic tables or even benches near the food area, though; festivals should have bells and whistles like that.

Even More Good — People I met who worked the fest:
The lady at the Media Tent was very nice and smiled and said “hi” every time I saw her. Small things like that make a big difference. Another cool thing was that the festival had sign language interpreters. I watched them a few times and was amazed by their collective energy!

FPSF2016day2-14The Bad — The original thrill is gone:
Well, my friends, if you’re like me, you’ve been going to FPSF every year since the first one. You’ve been chilling in the Fancy Pants tent since before they put a floor on it. You’ve seen dozens of your friends up on those stages and you’ve made a lot of memories with your friends…and many of you have met a girl or a boy there.

You might even know the people who started the fest personally. You watched in amazement as it grew to be an endearing Houston institution in just a few years. You rooted for it to succeed, not knowing what that success would mean.

And what did it mean? It meant that the fest was too big for a self-described group of “knuckleheads” to continue to run it. It meant a less personal and more generic festival vibe would take over; subtly and slowly at first, but surely it did take over, with fewer stages, fewer Houston bands, and higher ticket prices. And now this year, the metamorphosis is complete…or maybe it’s still finding its way. I know they could easily get the “only in Houston” vibe back if they found the right people.

FPSF2016day1card1-47The Ugly — What a muddy mess:
I don’t know if they will be going back to Eleanor Tinsley Park ever again or not, but if they stay at NRG, they’re going to need to figure out the fields. The fields turned into a stinky, gross mess with the rain. I don’t know why the mud smelled that bad, but wow! I won’t forget that smell. I hope it wasn’t Dillo Dirt, like what happened at ACL years ago.

The End — Looking forward to next year:
I had a wonderful time at FPSF, and though I had some minor complaints, for the most part I thought the festival had a good variety of genres and a positive vibe. I didn’t have many “must-see” acts going in, but I definitely had some new favorites going out.

I am already looking forward to next year, and if the organizers happen to read this, I want you to know I love FPSF and want you to keep the quirkiness of FPSF, the design elements, and especially the Houston bands (and not just at 11AM). I hope the things that made the original FPSF a success can be retained. I’ll be there next year to find out. END


(Photos in review [top to bottom]: Big Boi of Big Grams; White Denim; Kelvin Swaby of The Heavy; Leon Bridges; Matt & Kim. All photos by Jason Smith.)

Live review by . Live review posted Friday, June 10th, 2016. Filed under Features, Live Reviews.

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