The 2015 Free Press Summer Festival has come and gone. Check out Danielle’s recap of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
This past weekend concluded the highly talked about – for better or worst – mildly controversial, and damn near impossible Free Press Summer Festival (FPSF). In its seventh year, the festival faced criticism for the increase in ticket prices as well as a lack-luster line up featuring numerous repeat acts. It also drew heat from fans and critics upset by R. Kelly’s scheduled performance and a last-minute location change due to the great Houston floods of Memorial Day weekend. However, in true “Clutch City” fashion, the festival continued with a “the-show-must-go-on” attitude and I am surprised but happy to say that what I anticipated to be a potentially disastrous weekend, turned out to be a great success.
Early Saturday morning I read an article from the Houston Press listing tips on surviving FPSF weekend; the funny article’s best point was that there were no “veterans” this year, essentially calling the festival brand new and warned people against bitching about the inevitable pitfalls that would come with moving an established festival from Eleanor Tinsley Park to NRG Stadium’s park. As a four-year “veteran” of FPSF myself, I was first annoyed I wouldn’t be able to walk to the festival grounds from my Montrose abode and worried that the amount of cement would make the already hot weekend, insufferable. However,
*Warped Tour 2004 FPSF was significantly more organized than last year’s festival. It felt spacious and less crowded for the majority of both days, and I felt comfortable finding my way around in no time. In “Space City” fashion, the stages kept their planet names, food vendors bordered the perimeters of the grounds, and restrooms and drank were in abundance. Clearly the head honchos of Pegstar looked to probably one of the best organized events in the nation, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo – I thought the grounds were evenly spaced and I was never too far from a stage/food or drink/port-a-potty. Additionally, the even, flat grounds meant fewer opportunities to trip and fall. I don’t know what Pegstar has worked out with the city of Houston, but as a fan of this happy accident, I would most definitely be in favor of the festival continuing in the future at NRG Park.
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU festival gods for the lack of rain and though it was hot, it has been so much worst. Also, the new additions of misting fans inside random tents throughout the festival and allowing patrons to bring in lawn chairs may be reason enough for me to ditch the Fancy Pants and snag general admission tickets.
The kids were all right- this year. Maybe it’s because of the stellar layout in comparison to how TURRIBLE last year was, trying to fight thousands under the 45 underpass, but I never saw a single coked out/molly-ed out preteen and that made my old heart sing. In all seriousness, clearly parents were spooked from last year’s horror stories and set some curfews- or maybe these chillens calmed down or maybe just looked old as hell and blended in. [Aside] I strongly feel that teenagers should not be allowed to skip the awkward physically unattractive age in life; far too many of the kids we saw were adorable and trendy and clear-faced, acne-less. No way- pay your dues and hop on the struggle bus like the rest of us did- no stops until sophomore year of college. Exit with caution. [Aside over] The crowds as a whole were MUCH better behaved than years past, I guess because of the “new-ness” of the impromptu locale of it all, but I was NOT missing any of the old shenanigans I’ve witnessed in four attendances.
Shout out to the FPSF team for the extra funny signs posted throughout the festival grounds this year- especially the sign promoting consensual sex only in the park. Self-shade for the R. Kelly pick? Who knows? I chuckled.
NOW- the whole reason for the festival,
flash tattoos! The Concerts!
PORTUGAL. THE MAN
With the hesitancy surrounding FPSF this year, I’m glad my group and I began this year’s festival experience with a tried and true, trusted favorite. Maybe John Gourley thought he was still in Alaska with that trench coat and skull-cap get up? Regardless, Portugal. The Man never disappoints me. I’ll admit I was distracted during the set- trying to get adjusted to the heat, applying sunblock, distributing water bottles, trying to contact and find friends with poor reception- but the band played on to perfection. This was my second time watching them, the first being at FPSF 2013, and I was in a much better position to see the band this past weekend. This is twice now that I can say Portugal. The Man just has staying power- this band just cranks out jams and they sound just as good if not better than their recordings.
GARY CLARK JR.
Excuse my French, but Gary Clark Jr. is one talented muthafucker and I enjoyed the hell out of his set- quite possibly my favorite act of the weekend. I’ve been itching to see him live for a very long time and I am over the moon to say it was everything I wanted. SO. MANY. GUITAR RIFFS. The Austin-native was spectacular for his Houston neighbors. You’re going to be disappointed by my “review” of his set because quite frankly, I’m still in awe- I was mesmerized the whole time watching him on stage and I’m the best kind of speechless about his set. He played all of the best from his studio albums, Blak and Blue, Worry No More and 110. I can’t stop watching the videos I took of him though my videos are both very short; I didn’t want to spoil the long anticipated performance with a sore arm struggling to stay in the air. When people say rock and roll is dead or there’s no soul in music “today,” obviously they don’t know the likes of Gary Clark Jr.
By this time I was past my personal limit and couldn’t see a thing. I remember briefly dancing but DAS IT.
WELCOME TO HOUSTON
I had mixed feelings about the Welcome to Houston set since last year, though I enjoyed last the performance, I was standing in a horrendous spot with TONS of walking traffic and drunks pushing to get by. That and the sheer excitement of Welcome to Houston just wasn’t there for me since the historic collaboration just happened last year; even with the addition of The [amazing] Suffers, I didn’t actively schedule the set as part of my day. However, in passing, my friends and I were struck by a brassy rendition of “Tops Drop” by Fat Pat- probably my single all time favorite Houston anthem. We saw some of Paul Wall’s appearance on the stage, with other local legends Slim Thug, Devin the Dude, Bun B and more working as temporary hype men while he sang “Sitting Sidewayz.” Despite the lovely abundance of “Clutch City” Rockets merch as well as other Houston-based paraphernalia, so many of the youngins looked lost not knowing some of the older Houston classics. We felt old and danced away. The little bit I did see of the set was great. The Suffers really did bring a fresh, new twist on iconic songs; I regret not being able to see more of it. I’m definitely in favor of the Welcome to Houston lineup as a continuance to the Free Press schedule.
BAND OF HORSES
Band of Horses can do no wrong in my book. This was my second time seeing the band live, the first being their tour with Kings of Leon to the Frank Erwin Center in Austin a few years ago. Something about Band of Horses is just effortless- I just think they’re so cool, even being in 90+ degree heat. Their much-needed sound broke up the rush of the day- by this time all of my friends had met and were together, we had food, drink and drank and the day’s temperature was slowly tempering. Because I’ve seen them before, all I wanted to hear were my admittedly cliché favorites, “The Funeral,” “General Specific” and “No One’s Going to Love You More Than I Do.” Heard them all, all each more perfect than the last. If you ever get a chance to see Band of Horses live, do it. Without fail, I’ve never seen a band inspire so many hipsters to close their eyes and harmonize together like what happens during, “No One’s Going to Love You More Than I Do.” I too grabbed my best friend, held her close and closed our eyes to sing. A sweet moment shared by all before returning to the sticky reality that is Free Press.
CHANCE THE RAPPER
Chance the Rapper’s set was strange- it seemed as if he had some mic/ technical problems and he unintentionally threw off the crowd by inviting us to join him in singing his lyrics, by pointing his mic to the crowd during lines that no one collectively knew well enough to recite. I was excited to see him to hear how his unique voice would pan out live, that and I don’t personally know anyone who’s ever seen him live, let alone at a festival. I appreciated the selection of songs playing a good chunk of the critically acclaimed Acid Rap album including “Everybody’s Something,” “Favorite Song” and “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” and features like his part on Action Bronson’s “Baby Blue”. I thoroughly enjoyed the chill, somewhat jazzy vibes his band created during his set – something like what The Suffers did in joining the Welcome to Houston gang. However, his mic problems and incomprehensible rapping were a major let down. I’ll say this though, I think Chance the Rapper will be fine in time- I could see and feel that he was trying to be charismatic but just missed the mark; he seemed genuinely humbled at the end of his act when thanking and saying goodbye to the crowd and something about his awe in those moments made me smile. I heard exactly what I wanted to hear. Not the best performance, but I’m glad I saw him.
*I’m not here to discuss his legal woes* The feminist in me put my thoughts about R. Kelly as a human being aside and shamelessly transported back to 1997-2004 and lived. Robert Kelly put on one helluva show, opening and closing with a gospel choir and singing the chorus/bridges/most well known verses of his most popular radio hits, guest features and classic RnB baby makers including but not limited to “Ignition (Remix),” “U Remind Me of my Jeep,” “I’m a Flirt” “When a Woman’s Fed Up,” “Half on a Baby,” “Happy People,” “I Wish,” “Hell Yeah,” “Fiesta (Remix)” “Step in the Name of Love,” “Thoinga, Thoing,””My Story,” “Go Getter,” “Bump and Grind” “and “Hotel.” Half-way through his set, in true R Kelly fashion, he mildly went into full creep mode sing-speaking to a woman in the audience, pulling her up to the stage and meeting her half-way only to have her wipe his face… how I wish I could insert every shocked-faced emojicon. After the audience reluctantly cheered this routine on and collectively laughed the kind of laugh that only happens when one (or thousands) are uncomfortable, the show continued and the jams kept flowing and the vibes eventually settled. Of course, he ended with the gospel chorus harmonizing to “I Believe I Can Fly.” His set was just a damn good time and transported me back to elementary and middle school with songs I haven’t heard in years. It truly was a great end to the first day of festivities and the Pied Piper’s sound was excellent.
ANDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD a crowded car ride, urgent pee break, and a trek across Old Spanish Trail and Kirby brings us to…
Titties. That’s exactly how my second day at FPSF started and I wasn’t mad. The intriguing Swedish singer flashed the audience and set the tone for the type of day I was about to have. Admittedly, I haven’t diligently listened to her debut studio album Queen of the Clouds but I knew enough to dance along and grab on to her contagious energy. I loved her voice. I thought she sounded just as pained and despondent in person singing “High (All the Time)” as her recorded track and yet still happy and jumping around the stage. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from her show but from what I’d read about the artist and interviews of her, she seems zany in the best ways possible and more than capable of giving the people what they wanted. Her fans in the crowd were mostly the preteens and Memorial High students adorned in their ” key festival wear” hawked by the likes of Urban Outfitters and XXI and they were all crooning, hanging onto her every word emoting allllllllllll the feels; and good for them. There’s nothing like seeing your favorite so and so at that age and I must say they all have better taste than me when I was 15 *see shady Warped Tour Joke mentioned earlier.* Tove Lo was beautiful and unbothered by it all and won a fan in me. My only regret is leaving her set early trying to split my time between Tunji Ige and her- Ige should’ve been on at 3:20 and at 4:00PM he wasn’t on stage and I couldn’t allow a domino effect to my must-see schedule. I’ll see her in her entirety later.
BEN HARPER & THE INNOCENT CRIMINALS
I own maybe two of his songs, I maybe watched three and a half songs by Ben Harper, and have no idea what those songs were but I couldn’t review my weekend at FPSF and not mention Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals because they were just that fucking good. Period, point blank. *Runs to music library to download Ben Harper’s entire discography, immediately*
Confession- I never knew the person behind some of my favorite remixes and the song I currently cannot stop listening to, “Holding On” was so young! Or cute! Australian DJ, Harley Edward Streten, is a wunderkind better known as Flume. I got to his set after missing a play or two but just in time for “Holding On” so my day was made. Flume sparked our dancing feet. With that being said, Flume set wasn’t very memorable. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad at all; it was a really good time in fact, but especially in comparison to all the other sets I watched over the two days and the amount of dancing I did, this was nothing to ride home about. Put it this way, I was not opposed or dying to stay when friends proposed to grab a beer while the lines were down before our next set. I don’t want to attribute the lack-luster set to age but there was definitely a certain energy missing from Flume himself as well as the crowd. Strange. Not what I was expecting in the slightest. I would like to see Flume at a different venue before ruling him out as an iPod-listening only artist.
I didn’t have any intention of seeing Flogging Molly but man am I glad that I did. I’m a big punk fan and got some Irish in my blood so myself and some fellow Irish/Scotts kept a safe distance from the thrashers and rocked and swayed arm and arm together. I love watching a band whose lyrics I don’t know verbatim I can just enjoy it all and let the music happen to me. I must say Flogging Molly was the best crowd I witnessed all weekend. Just because I was avoiding the thrashers in the mosh doesn’t mean they weren’t friendly! This was where all of the weird and the quirks of FPSF (or any music festival for that matter) live – the punk shows. The colored and spiked hair, the shirtless-ness of it all, lots of airborne [wasted] beer, just glorious. So many punk dads decorated in sunglasses and headphone wearing babies – this is the future of America people, and these kick ass kids will be in charge; I’m excited. Lead Dave King was thrilled to play for the hot, buzzed crowd. The heat didn’t seem to effect their mid-day performance as the band covered an array of songs from their discography including albums Drunken Lullabies, Float and beyond. I don’t think my friends and I put our arms down the entire set. Flogging Molly had us all so hyped up afterwards. SO MUCH FUN!
When doesn’t Major Lazer put on a good show?! The booty thumping, the bass, the beats, phenomenal dancers, the energy of the crowd, the dashing Diplo. I couldn’t miss my favorite DJ crush and I thought they crushed it – Major Lazer just knows how to entertain a crowd and give them what they want. All the favorites, all the classics, and of course new jams from “Peace is the Mission,” their latest album which is full of adrenaline pumping beats and noise. Flume put us in a dancing mood and Major Lazer kept it going. I really wanted to hear “You’re No Good,” but I knew that was a stretch, but I wasn’t mad because they played all my other favorites including current chart topper “Lean On,” of course “Bubble Butt,” as well as “Get Free;” Naturally, Diplo’s “Express Yourself” was part of the set as well as a slew of remixes and a handful of throwbacks. Far too much bad twerking from the crowd and timeless videos of it all. All smiles and camaraderie at the Major Lazer show; I always befriend the most strangers here. When I grow up I want to be one of their dancers – or at least possess their skills. Already highly looking forward to the 2016 follow-up to Peace is the Mission, Music is the Weapon and whatever festival they’ll join to play it all.
I only own a few songs and remixes by Glass Animals but they were magical! Maybe it was the sun setting around their performance creating an ambient mood or maybe it’s because after a long day in the sun, I finally had food and a cold beer, but Glass Animals was awesome. The word I just can’t shake from my head when thinking of their performance is silky – the Oxford based indie band was the epitome of smooth, just as silk as the swanky “silk pajamas” tickets, especially while singing my personal favorite, the hit that made me take notice of them, “Gooey.” The Brits attracted a well-sized, though moving crowd, due to the stage’s close proximity to the port-a-potties and food stands, but I wasn’t the only one stopped-turned-captivated by the sound; many people around me stumbled upon their set in passing. A great band- I look forward to learning more about them and their sound; I hope to sway to those silky vibes at a future concert setting.
We had every intention of seeing Weezer, but again- we just couldn’t shake that dancing bug. The thing about sets like Flume, Major Lazer, Skrillex, any other DJ in a festival/tour setting, I don’t care what you think and here’s why: I don’t care if some of their mixing isn’t done live and it’s essentially queued up because at the end of the day [literally] I just want to have fun and it’s my birthday month dammit! Obviously there’s a crucial and significant difference between the talent that is Gary Clark Jr. versus Skrillex live but however I think it’s important to distinguished the two types of GOOD that can and will occur at a music festival: there is the GOOD that is pure, raw artistry, hearing all you favorite songs or songs you’ve never heard before played well and performed with a caliber you’ll never possess. Then there is the GOOD that is an exhilarating set, that is fun and lively and made you want to pump your fist and laugh and sing and dance and keep your hands in the air- no matter the actual quality/familiarity of the songs. That said, Skrillex was GOOD, he every fucking thing I wanted at the end of a sweaty, two-day festival full of friends and music- carefree and a really GOOD time. He even brought out ILoveMakonnen to fly his flag and crawl on his equipment towards the end of his set (though I was hoping to see Diplo to hear some of Jack U or Chance the Rapper to A) redeem himself and B) for them to play their collab and my guilty pleasure, “Coast is Clear”). It really did feel like Warped Tour given that the last time I saw Skrillex on stage, he was still Sonny Moore in the band From First to Last, but Skrillex was alive and well playing the EDM mega-hits from Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites to more recent collaborations with his new-found rapper friends like A$AP Rocky’s “Wild for the Night.” There was nothing special or unique about this set- confetti, smoke, lights, preteens pushing to an impossible “front of the stage,” people too far gone on their drug and/or alcohols of choice and plenty of bad, crowded dancing and thrashing but I regret nothing. Skrillex was electric.
My biggest regrets were missing Odesza and St. Vincent- Annie my KWEEN, I love you.
I would like to see A$AP Rocky, Lianne la Havas, Haim, Paolo Nutini, Hudson Mohawke next year. Maybe a wild card like Mika, a rock throwback like The Verve, a different random White dude in John Mayer? A shot in the dark to get Rilo Kiley? Can we land Clams Casino? Or Fetty Wap? Gossip?! Since NYC’s Governor’s Ball looks to be our festival weekend competition now, the festival creators will have to be creative to keep the balance of the cool and now, classic but hip, random but calculated, eclectic range of artists and bands performing. There’s currently such a broad appeal to the lineups and we don’t want to lose that or make it a niche audience.
One time for Pegstar, its owner Jagi Katial, and FPSF co-founder Omar Afra. I think we can all agree that we were reluctant this would come together; I was expecting refunds for our wristbands. Not only did they pull off throwing a miracle festival, but it was very successful in many ways that past Free Press Summer Festivals have not been. For that, I salute you all.
Until next year, y’all!
All media courtesy of artist mentioned in captions