Free Press Summer Fest 2015 on a scale of 1 to 100? Maybe 60, 75 at its best. I’m just going to come out and say it — my expectations for Houston’s 7th Annual Free Press Summer Fest were set insanely high. It was my first time to attend, and I was really looking forward to connecting with my city, fellow festival goers, and the entire vibe that Free Press Summer Fest reps so naturally on paper. Was I overly optimistic? Probably. Will I attend next year & hope that it moves back to Eleanor Tinsley so I can post up on something that isn’t a fiery hot parking lot? Definitely.
I’m going to be brutally honest about my experience; it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I will say that, thanks to the recent flooding and the forever bi-polar weather of Texas, I would have enjoyed myself a little more if this year’s festival wasn’t moved from the normally dry grounds at Eleanor Tinsley Park to the scorching pit of asphalt death that is Yellow Lot 1 outside of NRG Stadium. And before anyone says, “It’s Houston! It’s summer! You know it’s f*cking hot outside! Suck it up!”, I want to throw it out there that I’m personally thankful for FPSF acting so quickly on relocating rather than rescheduling the entire thing. I will gladly take parking lot fest over zero fest any day.
I had requested off work for the entire weekend from my 9-5 job months prior, but alas, work had other plans for me. I was dead set on waking up bright eyed and bushy tailed to make it to the media check in by 11am to grab my press pass and spend the rest of Saturday getting lost between the solar system themed stages. I ended up at NRG around 6:30pm after I had quickly changed into any gal’s quintessential last minute outfit; a little LBD, black boots, and wet hair thrown into a top knot. Surprisingly, parking was actually fantastic, and it was my lucky day because I had left in such a hurry that I didn’t even stop for cash. Thank you, Red Lot, for accepting credit cards!!
I walked a steady pace, bypassing slower patrons left and right, snagged my pass, and entered the gates in record time. I was so pissed that I missed almost the ENTIRE first day, along with my one of my all-time favorites, Band of Horses, but I was not going to let that cramp my style. I was at Free Press! I had shows to see! People to meet! Beers to drink!
Flying solo style, I made my way inside and was bombarded with a muggy, trash riddled view of random food trucks, beer tents, and a giant bus with a bar built on top of it smack dab in the middle of the parking lot. I immediately became aware of how hot it was outside, and wanted to rewind time so I could throw on something else that wasn’t entirely black. Drenched, and really regretting my wardrobe choices, I decided to *try* to cool off with a beer of the tall boy variety, and went on the hunt for a patch of grass to commandeer so I could jot some notes down on my surroundings.
I don’t really know what I was expecting, but if you happened to read Collin’s, a fellow AudioPhix staff writer, not-exaggerated at all piece on our experience together at last year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest, you would know that I’m basically a lazy piece of shit when it comes to attending music festivals. I actually prefer being back, away from the crowds, so I can sit and admire whoever is on stage while relaxing in my own personal space. This time, instead of grass, I found a curb that looked semi-comfy since it was hidden by the most pathetic attempt at shade I’ve ever seen. And that semi-comfy curb burnt the hell out of the back of my legs. I jumped up feeling like a toddler regaining footing, and since I could no longer sit, I decided to walk it out after finding the giant “You Are Here” festival map. Who else would need a map in a parking lot? This girl.
The stages were set up in a way that made it seem almost like three separate shin-digs. I spent the majority of my time of day one between the Neptune, Saturn, & Venus stages, which were all on the left side of the lot. The first act I caught wasn’t even on my list, but being in the area for so long I couldn’t help but overhear unofficial royalty of the 1980s synth-pop duo, Tears For Fears, taking their entire audience on a trip that felt and sounded like that one karaoke flashback you swore you would never speak about in public. I was about half way into my rendition of “Shout” before I realized what was happening. EVERYONE around me was singing along. People were walking up and joining in. The audience gave off a strong tunnel vision vibe, so much so that I laughed at myself out loud for singing along like a maniac with the rest of the crowd, and turned to leave before they started another song.
I made my way over to the Venus stage so I could catch a bit of Austin, TX indie-rocker, Ben Kweller, and had it not been for Ben Kweller’s hair, I would have walked right by none the wiser. The Venus stage was awkwardly tiny and tucked back into a pocket between the Saturn & Mars stages. Not the best sound in the world, but Ben’s stage presence squashed all judgments for the time being. Kweller was definitely giving the crowd his A-game; even after already playing a set in the Fancy Pants tent earlier that day. BK made me forget about my burnt legs, and reminded me why I was there in the first place. Ben’s musical style is eternally resistant to being pigeonholed into any one genre. Artists like Kweller blur the lines between so many different classifications, and he does it with his quirky voice, unconcerned & polished guitar tones, and his impressive choice for a rhythm section. I have to say Ben’s drummer, Mark Stepro, was nearly tied for favorite event on Saturday. The dude is bananas on drums, and I’ve always been a sucker for one hell of a crispy snare snap.
It was almost 7:45 before I realized that time was catching up with me and my warm beer, so I went down the main concrete aisle to score another beverage before undergoing the St. Vincent experience. Free Pressers (is that a thing??) had already started to cram themselves on top each other at the Saturn stage, so I made my own line at the beer stand, and was determined to find my spot to watch Annie Clark blow my mind for the very first time. Coming straight out of the gate, popular fan favorite “Marrow” blasted through the line arrays. St. Vincent’s demanding, robotic, borderline extraterrestrial persona had my eyes and ears on lock for the rest of her set. Clark is probably one of, if not, THE best live performers I have EVER seen. Her guitar skills are wildly unapologetic, loud, and spot-ON next to her perfect drill sergeant-esque performance. She showcased plenty more favorites off of her Grammy award-winning self-titled album, and I almost didn’t recognize her when she was in between songs just chatting with the audience.
The Dallas native, at one point, mentioned how much she loved being back in Houston, reminisced about Texas thunderstorms, and how when you were a kid you would grab “your DJ Screw mixtape, a VHS copy of Richard Linklater’s ‘Dazed and Confused,’ and a signed headshot of 18 year-old Beyoncé” over everything else. (Pause for crowd reaction) I wish she could have played longer than her scheduled hour; St. Vincent gets all the gold stars for that strangely intoxicating performance.
My senses were all plummeting at an alarming rate when I started to debate whether or not to stay for R. Kelly after what I just witnessed. Honestly, I didn’t want to fight the surprisingly young crowd just to get a glimpse of him, so I decided to call it a night and let St. Vincent take the place of my day one finale.