August 14th, 2009

Summerfest 2009 (Day Two)

Sometimes knowing what to expect leaves you more unprepared. Having been initiated into the Summerfest guild on Saturday, general logic dictates that Day Two, Sunday will be a breeze. Some of my favorite bands are slated to take the stage today. The most of the rest fall into my symphonic wheelhouse. Is it possible that today is already my favorite and it hasn’t yet begun?

I’m awake too early and much too refreshed. Perhaps, it’s the anticipation of another full day of music. Perhaps, dehydration is a color I wear well. Either way, I make my phone calls to coordinate the preparation for the day ahead. We call for a meeting at noon at my place. A plan of attack must be devised. It immediately starts raining.

The rain is coming hard and heavy. Visions of mud slide into my head. This is either really bad or really good, depending on your disposition toward dirt turned wet. Free Press Houston may not be trying to compare themselves with Woodstock, but this has the potential to get as filthy. I can only imagine what it might be like having a crowd of humans looking like they just left Hershey Pennsylvania but decided to take a dip in the vat of future Kisses before heading out.

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Being that this is Houston the rain stops just as quickly as it began, but it was long enough for people to start texting me pictures of the view from down the Bayou toward downtown. Not a building visible through the gray downpour. The concern now has shifted from the rain to the humidity that will inevitably follow. Unfortunately there’s not protection against that.

We make our move as the rain recedes. The plan: Head out to midtown to eat, buy supplies, park and then walk up Crosby to Eleanor Tinsley Park. It’s a fail-safe approach. We avoid any problems with lines at the concessions stands, no need to wait for a cab after the show and most of all we get a chance to work up an appetite for the music with a little walk.

We sequester a spot in the Post parking garage reserved for shoppers (shhhh, don’t tell anyone), I grab my bag and we set off on our journey. Unfortunately we don’t follow directions very well and walk all the way to Lulling’s BBQ by the time we decide it’s time to turn North. A minor setback, assuredly.

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There is one noticeable difference from yesterday just upon approach. There are no lines. The gate is unencumbered by the masses trying to get in. Everyone has dutifully left their wristbands on overnight and getting in is a breeze. Another difference is that there is a policewoman checking our bags this time around. Yesterday was apparently a free-for-all… The hopes of many a booze smuggler will be dashed this day.

The grounds are not as saturated as I thought they would be. The hill will certainly be slick enough to offer a few people a similar experience to my fall yesterday. Today I’ve worn sneakers with a bit more grip than my worn down Rainbow sandals. The crowd has definitely thinned out compared to yesterday, but Sky Blue 72 doesn’t seem to mind. They’re playing like they’re in front of a packed house at the old Oven.

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I’ve got my camera today so I’m flitting about, running to the front of the stage, back up the hill, off to each corner of the venue just to capture all the moments with my ancient SLR. The floor in front of the stage is the only place on the grounds that really shows the signs of sloppiness. It’s starting to get that recognizable mud smell. A sort of sweet stable smell.

Besides the crowd being slightly smaller, the only other casualty of the early rain seems to be Stage 2’s line-up. It’s been pushed back, forward, mish-mashed in every possible way. I know I need to be around for Buxton and The Riverboat Gamblers later on, so I make a note to check back in. Nobody really seems to know what happens when her in the far corner of Eleanor Tinsley Park. While we still can, we head back up to the hill to stake claim up high, center stage.

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The Eastern Sea comes on the mainstage as we’re laying out blankets and towels on other such “stake claiming” materials. The remind me a bit of The Format, at least vocally. I almost dismiss the comparison since it’s only vaguely similar and pretty much everything else is different. When the Sideshow Tramps reach the stage all comparisons are thrown out the window. This is surely the first impression-maker of the afternoon, if not through one and a half days of music.

They take on the crowd like hometown heros should. Walking out past the stage, approaching the gate that separates band from fan. They don’t quite approach showstopper material in thier (criminally short) twenty-five minute set. They do have me remarking to my friend “these guys are rocking my face off.” I consider this a huge compliment to the band. Who needs a face when you have good music?

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Right around the time the next band – Wild Moccasins – prepare to take the stage, there’s some action down the hill from us. Some people are setting up a plastic tarp from the top of the hill down toward the cool-off tent. What stunt is someone, some Houston Knieval going to try to pull off today? People start to migrate in the direction making it difficult to get a glimpse seated at the middle of the hill so I follow the rest of the lemmings.

Along the tarp there is a canvas set up at the middle and one at the bottom. People, whom at this point can only be called performance artists, are drenching themselves in paint of primary colors. The first willing participant heads down the paint-n-slide head first toward the bottom and those sitting perilously under the cool-off tent. Hopefully paint has a higher viscosity than water (if you want to get technical about it, it does).

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One after another they go down. Blue, yellow, red …  the plastic is a stream of colors bleeding into each other as gravity does it’s job pulling the liquids down the hill. Some of the artists take a bit more of an exuberant approach getting the running and airborne approach before hitting the plastic. Mr. Purple, as we’ll call him, probably had the most dynamic form. Head up, all or nothing, playing up to the crowd… a near embodiment of the festival itself.

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With the “painting” seemingly over, hangerson start to take their turn down the steep slope. The music is starting to change up so I head back to my seat. Prince Paul is on the stage adorned with headphones standing behind his set-up of mixers and turntables. He starts his set with definitively old-school hip hop blending the years one into the next, a tour de force of hip hop history. The crowd is going wild, singing along, bobbing with each jam as Prince Paul turns one hit into another. The crowd becomes a sea of hands thrown up in the air trying to grab each note as it booms from the stage.

The festival is audibly disappointed as they cut the set. Hopefully Voxtrot will be able to take advantage of the energy that Prince Paul leaves behind. Fingers are crossed that the crowd doesn’t turn on them. I turn to my friend, wondering if now’s about the time that we need to go check out Stage 2 for The Riverboat Gamblers. We make it in time for Buxton. We’re two sets ahead of time, which puts the late acts over on Stage 2 in direct competition with the big names of today.

When UME takes their turn on the mic we head back across the venue to the seat. People, unafraid of the rain returning are starting to pour in now. We walk along the tents of people hocking their wares. The most interesting tent isn’t selling anything at all. A puppet show where it seems a frog or dinosaur is killing a horse on a stick. We don’t sit down to take in the show in the playmate plastic seats, but we do pause long enough to try to figure out what’s going on. It doesn’t take and we move on.

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Back amongst our friends I finally take a chance to chill out. It’s been a long day and one of my favorites is coming on stage: What Made Milwaukee Famous. It’s a perfect opportunity to sit down and sing along. As I let me friends wonder if I’m losing it due to the heat in my trance, singing and bobbing along, WMMF remarks that they really should play in Houston more since they’re from Austin and most live in the area now. I concur.

I escape for a drink before Devin the Dude takes the stage with his entourage. The style war on the slip-n-slide rages on. People going down on stomachs, knees and a few brave souls trying to go down while standing up. Would it be worth it for me to go down? I might be able to teach these amateurs a thing or two. Then again, I’m averse to broken bones and various abrasions. It’s probably for the best because I ignored Summerfest’s assertion to wear a bathing suit.

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I smell Devin the Dude take the stage before I actually see him. The air turns sweet and toxic marking his arrival. He hits on his favorites and every else’s too. Specifically his small part in The Chronic’s “Fuck You,” always a classic piece. Where’s the kid wearing the Wu-Tang shirt? Someobody’s got to represent some of the other classics.

As darkness takes over the night, with only the skate park on the other side of the bayou providing any light other than the stage, we wait for Of Montreal. The final act. The final day. No other time-slot carries bigger expectations. In fact, it still seems like people are streaming through the gates. People push tighter together. The hill begins to stand up in anticipation. It’s obvious we’re many minutes before the band takes the stage but no one seems to care.

We ask the group in front of us if they’re going to stand the whole time which immediately makes us look lame. They turn around and say that they’re not sure. The girl next to us scoffs and says, “it’s just not the same unless you stand,” a phrase I can imagine a little boy telling his kid sister during potty training. It’s a lot better advice this time around.

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The Atlanta band finally takes the stage to a chorus of screaming. The show is on. And, a show it is, indeed. The colors, the back drops, the performers on stage acting out soundlessly as Of Montreal blasts on their synthesizers and guitars. It is truly a spectacle. Of course we are standing, which leads to bobbing and eventually full-on dancing. By the time Of Montreal is playing my favorite, “The Party is Crashing Us,” I’m a mess of arms and legs making sure not to stumble down into the rest of the hill.

The crowd pauses, I think this time waiting for an encore that will never come, when Of Montreal leave the stage in a flourish. They’ve disappeared into the Houston night, but one roadie sticks around long enough to grab the mic and say “Thanks, Mic Guy, you’re the worst in Texas.” Unnecessary, yes, but it doesn’t nothing to put a bad taste in my mouth about the night.

We roll up our stuff and head for the door, tittering about this year and the hope for next year. So, here’s to hoping…

— Paul

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