So it’s been raining in Houston for something like 400 days it seems like. My first Free Press Fest begins with some cool but random interviews with Doug from Built to Spill, and local Houston act King Finn. This year, just days before the fest the organizers were forced to move the location from what I’ve been told is a wonderful area to a less than beautiful place, the Yellow parking lot of the massive NRG Stadium compound. It’s not particularly nice there, and the lack of things to do besides see bands is minimal at best. I get that the festival isn’t trying to become the next Coachella or Bonnaroo, but something to occupy your time outside of bands might be good.
The first band I saw on Saturday was Sir The Baptist. Hailing from the Chicago area, Sir melds traditional hip hop with a flavor of the religious background he grew up involved in. At first it took me by surprise, but by the end I was enjoying it thoroughly. Looking forward to hearing more from these guys.
Now the first day of the fest was easily my least busy day, so there were plenty of downtime between acts and interviews. Throughout the day I saw sets by Built to Spill (who were rocking despite the poor sound they were provided with), as well as Thee Oh Sees, who were amazing and the best set so far of the day. Apparently their gear got lost in the way back from Spain so all the instruments were loaners. You honestly couldn't tell though, and had they not mentioned it no one would have been the wiser. Next up was Zola Jesus, who I've been wanting to see for years at this point. Thankfully she delivered even though her music is best suited for a late night club full of smoke.
Finally though the time had come to see Sweden own Refused. I've been a huge fan of the band since their seminal “The Shape of Punk to Come” changed my life nearly 20 years ago,so yeah I was stoked. It was simply amazing. It's not often you get to see a band you never thought you'd see, and as goosebumps and excitement covered my body, the crowd joined me in rocking out to a stellar set of classics that got the rain soaked audience going in a big way. The rest of the day included sets by Matt and Kim (who were super fun and basically.commanded the stage) and the very different Black Angels, who ended my day with and mysterious mix of dark, thick psyche rock. All in all, it was and good day.
Sunday though, was when it got a little chaotic. For the first half of the day the heat was getting pretty bad, and with clearish skies comes a way bigger crowd than day one. Which honestly was fine. First up was Lolawolf, who were ok but nothing life changing. They were another one of the best suited for a tent at night type band, but oh well it was entertaining at least. My big act of the day was the National, but we'll get to that soon enough. As crowds continued partying hard though,one thing became obvious: Tons of kids getting really fucked up was common place. Now kids will be kids but I seriously saw at least three kids of questionable age carried out looking like a van ran them over.
Beyond out that though, Sunday saw performances by Wild Belle, who mixed a bluegrass flavor with similar styling from a band like Of Monsters and Men, and Leon Bridges, who in my opinion stole the show in day two. Really enjoyed it all actually, so hopefully we'll be hearing more of them. Leon bridges especially. Go see him if you get a chance. Fundamentally sound rhythm and soul that a southerner can't resist. Then the rain got bad, or you could say it just started raining again. Here's the thing: I totally get shutting down in case of Thunder, but by the point the evacuated us, not only had the worse of the Rain moved on, but there were blue skies heading our way,l which made it perplexing in the fact that it took nearly an hour for everything to get back up and going. Especially since this particular patch of rain lasted no longer than the other patches of rain we had gotten all weekend.
Just imagine thousands of people standing around ignoring the calls of evacuation when the rain is clearly over for the time being and that's what you got Sunday at free press. By that point only a few acts were left, but it felt as though the energy level had dramatically shifted. Big Grams tried to elevate the crowd and mostly succeeded but you could just tell people were getting over it. But to mention Big Grams somehow manages to be lesser than the two parts that make up their band (Big Boi and Phantogram). The mashing among the songs felt forced, and overall I walked away wishing I had seen individual sets from both. The last band of the day I saw, the National, did actually improve the experience for me, if.only because i love the band. They rocketed through a shortened set (because of the earlier delay). I really enjoyed the set, even though the crowd was probably much smaller than expected. Either way they proved yet again to be a band worthwhile of your attention.
Overall though it seems like the festival could learn a few things about bookings. It's af weird mix when top bands include Deadmau5, Modest Mouse, Lil Wayne and the National. The crowds don't mesh as well as they should at a big fest, but clearly.tons of people go every year so why change it. Either way though, pretty fun fest with a few major obstacles that no one could really do anything about. What are you going to do, weather is weather.