Fests of Fury

Alex Lozano trumpets a 420 soiree and the return of the Westheimer Street Festival to its old home

With a second 420 festival planned for the weekend of April 19 and 20, Houston is rapidly earning itself a new nickname. With the old "Baghdad on the Bayou" falling from favor, perhaps we should replace it with "The Big Ol' Bag o' Bud on the Bayou."

In all, 86 bands will play the two events. The festivities kick off Saturday afternoon at the International Ballroom, where Alex DiSaggio's 420 Fest fires up at (natch) 4:20 in the afternoon and runs for a good 12 hours. (For a full account of DiSaggio's debut on the Houston scene, see "Dreaming the Impossible Dream," April 10.)

Eight and a half hours after DiSaggio's soiree winds down, the Houston Music Alliance will spark up the bulkily titled Houston's Washington Avenue 420 Music Fest. Since 4/20 falls on Easter Sunday this year, expect a lot of people to be looking for things like their car keys in addition to the usual painted eggs. (And perhaps those eggs will be singularly psychedelic.)

At any rate, the HMA's Alex Lozano isn't letting a little thing like the anniversary of the resurrection of Jesus Christ get in the way of a big old rock and roll/marijuana festival. As of press time, 54 bands were signed up to play on seven stages along Washington, including Walter's, Fat Cat's (which will also have an outdoor stage), Silky's, the Rhythm Room and Second Ward newbie the Warehouse. Eight bucks gets you a wristband and access to all of the club stages, while the seventh stage -- the, heaven help us, 4:20 Cannabis Odyssey Stage -- is free. The show is 18 and up and runs to midnight. A 1976 Ovation Viper electric guitar will be raffled off at $10 a ticket. (Thirty percent of the proceeds from the raffle and the wristbands goes to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.)

Highlights include De Sangre and Naked Content at the Warehouse; the tongue-twisting lineup of South, Four and Sore at Fat Cat's, which will become a metal bar for the day; Jimmy's Pawn Shop, the El Toros and Romeo Dogs at Silky's; Slop Jar Jr., Feighl and the Fumigators, Oscar O'Bear and Guy Schwartz & the New Jack Hippies at Walter's; Three Fantastic, Gary Dorsey, Felix Madison and Plump at the Rhythm Room; and Bigga Figgaz and Fault at the Cannabis Odyssey stage.

Last year a similar fest was marred by a heavy undercover police presence and a mass arrest of Fitzgerald's patrons. (See "Doobieous Bust," by John Suval, May 4, 2002.) Lozano knows it could happen again. "All my people are going, 'Aren't you worried about all the narcs that are gonna be there?' I just go, 'No, but thanks for reminding me,' " he says. "I think I'm just gonna roll a hundred fake joints and pretend I'm smoking, and maybe that will draw them out. But I think it would be kinda cool for you to remind people to watch who they smoke with.

Abruptly Lozano changes tack. "It's not a marijuana festival," he claims, more than a little, well, doobieously. What about the Cannabis Odyssey stage? The 420 in the title? The pot leaf tattooed on the arm of the rockin' Easter Bunny on the event's poster? Turns out Lozano means that the event isn't meant to celebrate pot as a fun thing, but rather a medicinal aid. "I actually wanted the money to go to a residential AIDS hospice. Since that's conducive to 420, it's a natural connection," Lozano says. "This is about medical marijuana…"

In part. Lozano's stream of consciousness next sweeps him off to another event he's helping to plan: the return of the Westheimer Street Festival to its original home after several years in "exile." Lozano wants to roll some of his profits from the 420 shindig into that endeavor.

In 1999, acting in response to complaints from Montrose residents, the City of Houston forcibly removed the long-embattled festival from its home, claiming that it had outgrown the neighborhood. For the last few years, the Westheimer Street Festival has been held in Eleanor Tinsley Park on Allen Parkway.

"We're doing it again this year, on Westheimer, without the city's permission, on June 28 and 29, during the Gay Pride Parade," Lozano says. "As long as we have the stages on private property and sound permits, there's nothing they can do. They can disrupt us a little bit, but get this" -- here his tone turns conspiratorial -- "remember what happened in the Kmart parking lot a few months ago? And it's also an election year. It's not in their best interest."

Lozano contends that when word gets out (a sizable ad campaign is planned) that the festival is back in its old home and a crowd he estimates at 10,000 to 20,000 rock-starved hellions arrive on Lower Westheimer expecting a bash, the police will have no choice but to cave. "You know that little HPD substation on Westheimer across from Katz's?" he asks. "Let me tell you what's gonna happen: 'Hey, Lieutenant Billy Bob! Look at all those people out there! What do I do?' And he's just gonna go, 'Shut the streets down! Shut the streets down!' They're gonna have to, or somebody's gonna get hurt."

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