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Relying on Reliant

IFest makes the jump from downtown to South Main

Opening day -- April 17 -- features no foreign music at all, unless you count the bands that hail from Texas but play music in Spanish, which I don't. Come to think of it, there's not much on the first day's bill that really makes you sit up and take notice. The United We Funk All Stars -- which comprises former members of the Gap Band, S.O.S and the Dazz Band, among others -- are virtually the only act you can't see either here or in Austin or both on any given weekend. (This group includes such old reliables as the Gourds, Bob Schneider, and Grupo Batacha, and popular local youngsters the Handsomes and Drifter.) There's also a heavy Mexican and Mexican-American current -- Avizo, La Conquista and Grupo Vida are all on the bill. But overall, this would be the day to go if music is not the primary iFest draw for you. If you're the type who likes the food and drink or the shopping or the kid stuff, but don't like the crowds, this is the best day to go.

April 18 is a guitarist's delight, especially for those of a bluesy bent. When Henry Garza of Los Lonely Boys, Rick and Mark Del Castillo of Austin flamenco-blues-rockers Del Castillo, and the legendary Buddy Guy are all on the bill, it's safe to predict no little shredding (not to mention lecturing, in Guy's case). As for more international, less ax-oriented stuff, Zimbabwean festival staple Thomas Mapfumo and Blacks Unlimited, the innovative New York-based Brazilian-style percussion ensemble Beat the Donkey, local salseros Mango Punch, and outstanding New York-based Afro-Cuban funksters Yerba Buena are all scheduled to perform. Beat the Donkey is led by Brazilian native Cyro Baptista, who has either toured, recorded or performed with everyone from Milton Nascimento to Paul Simon to Wynton Marsalis. (He looks a little like a Frank Zappa of the drums.) Yerba Buena -- with members originally from Venezuela, the Virgin Islands and Cuba -- is one of the most exciting young Latin bands in America.

April 24 is zydeco/alt-country day. Dora and the Zydeco Bad Boyz, Step Rideau, Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas, and Keith Frank & the Soileau Zydeco Band will perform one after another on the World Music Stage. (Calling zydeco "world music" just because of the occasional French lyric bugs me -- especially in Houston. It's as ludicrous as taking your passport to Louisiana.) Alt-country fans will also be spoiled for choice: Davin James, Emmylou Harris, Jesse Dayton and the Flatlanders are all on the bill. Those looking for more exotic fare will have to content themselves with Houston's own Norma Zenteno, the mesmerizing Austin-based Grupo Fantasma and iFest regular Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca. Yes, this day's a little thin in that department, but to be fair, the incredible modern son orchestra Cubanismo was also slated to play. Thanks to Dubya's diplomats in the State Department, the Cubans were denied visas.

April 25 is the most international and eclectic of the four days. There's soca from Barbados in Krosfyah, neo-soul from England by way of Miami in 16-year-old singing sensation Joss Stone, hip-hop from the L.A. barrios in Akwid, reggae from South Africa in Lucky Dube and from Houston in the Neutral Sisters, Afropop from Senegal in Baaba Maal, country from Austin in Reckless Kelly and Cory Morrow, salsa from Texas in Grupo Ka-Che and La Tribu, and conjunto from San Antonio in Los Desperadoz.

All in all, that's not a bad lineup, so if iFest fails at the new site, it won't be because of the music. It couldhappen because of the ticket price -- $12 for adults, which is anybody over ten. Or because of the $7 parking fee. The soullessness of South Main is a threat, as is the possibility that it will somehow be ten degrees hotter here than it was downtown. Or maybe none of that will happen and iFest will thrive in the new digs.

"This is like a city, not an event," says Austin. "We print our own currency, we have our own security, waste disposal, restaurants, stores…There's no way we're gonna get through this and have nobody complain. There's no way that's gonna happen. I just don't know what the complaints are gonna be."

Say what you will about Austin and iFest, but he hasn't watered down his commitment to cutting-edge talent -- it's still an event that books acts that aren't yet huge, at least in America. And as long as that doesn't change, iFest should survive just fine.

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