June 6th, 2011
Free Press Summer Fest 2011: A Weekend Rewind
If you survived the heat, congratulations. You were treated to a fantastic, third rendition of Free Press Summer Fest. The festival has continued to grow and as such it has evolved. Comparing year one to year three, hardly anything is the same save the stage and the hill and the paint-n-slide. The names have grown bigger and the crowds have followed suit. The number of food vendors has multiplied many times over and become more diverse. All in all, in 2011 our little slice of live, summer music feels much more like a “festival” than it has ever before.
We stuck pretty closely to the guides for Saturday and Sunday that we published last week, but ventured out enough to be treated to a variety of other bands both local and semi-local. But the more renowned bands really stole the show. No offense to those playing on the smaller stages scattered about the grounds, but the two biggest venues (specifically the Main Stage) were worth camping out in front of to see a favorite.
This year, it was more difficult to traipse around the ground sampling show after show. In the sun, gathering the strength and determination to walk from the 29-95 Stage to the Gritsy/Reprogram Stage was a rare affair. In fact, I didn’t even make it out to the far ends of the grounds until Day Two for fear of a heat stroke. Consider my wrist slapped.
For year three, the theme seemed to be more of a “look at me, I’m Houston” vibe. Weezer… Weezer closed out the weekend. That’s a statement. If you sat through Octopus Project followed by Explosions in the Sky followed by Broken Social Scene on the first year’s day one, you would have never guessed that one of our generation’s most popular bands would have taken the stage as Summer Fest’s headlining act. Ween, on the other hand, is a band that we would have seen at Summer Fest volume one and two.
It all whets our appetite for next year. Free Press Summer Fest has crept on the map thanks to the organizers at Free Press Houston and Pegstar and, to be fair, the support of Houston. By not settling for more indie favorites – like Of Montreal – and striking right for the jugular with big name bands this year was a pleasant surprise. The booking of Weezer signals the evolution of the festival. The sigh of “there goes the neighborhood” that all of us music snobs love to pass when something we love sells out faded away as soon as we saw the capacity of Eleanor Tinsley Park could handle throngs more people than it has seen in the past.
Like I mentioned last year, Summer Fest still has a big ol’ “Houston” chip on its shoulder. In time, that will fade. Because it still seems new to me and everyone else the fest can continue to revel in its accomplishments with a bit of underdog flair. Each year, with each progression, the chip will fade away. Once it becomes a well-oiled machine, if Summer Fest continues to have the “look what I can do, look what I can do” mentality, maybe that’s when I’ll worry about it.
As for the festival, here are some of my highlights:
Bun B and Big Boi, who were scheduled back-to-back, started a lot earlier than I would have expected, but that’s because Big Boi had a date at the aftershow at Fitzgerald’s. With a smattering of Outkast hits throughout some of his solo work, Big Boi whipped up the crowd and got all us white kids crunk (for lack of a better word).
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings made a sweltering Saturday worth the price of admission. A true showman steeped in a different age, Jones and her band’s set was as much about the soul music as the “performance” itself. Between Sharon Jones, Black Joe Lewis and Junior Brown I copped a heavy-handed helping of throwback soul, funk and honky tonk. I couldn’t have asked for more.
Going into the festival I was more excited about Saturday, but Sunday’s line-up absolutely surprised me and blew me away.
My trips out to the fringes were made worth it by Eastern Sea at the 29-95 Stage and Fresh Millions at the Rudyard’s stage on Sunday as well as a quick trip to see The Ton Tons finish up at the Night Owls stage on Saturday. All are local bands (Austin/Houston, Austin and Houston respectively) and deserve your ear.
Yeasayer, Chromeo and Cut Copy were fantastic. I haven’t really been exposed to the latter two, but they bowled me over. Yeasayer brought as much to their live show as I hoped they would. Sunday, for as hot as it was, only got hotter when these bands cruised through the afternoon leading up to Weezer.
I ended up sneaking away to catch Neon Indian, whom I very much enjoyed, but in retrospect, I wish I would have stuck around to see B L A C K I E at the Main Stage. I had to switch up my stages, though.
There’s no way I can say enough about Weezer. Cuomo and crew were outstanding. It was a true show.
We will have two photo essays coming up on the next two days. Look forward to them. We’ll get a little more in-depth with our analysis when they’re published.
[Photos #1 and #4 by Alex.]