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Houston International Fest 2007

The Bayou City's biggest festival continues making strides toward total recovery

So all that, and Papa Mali, the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band, Grupo Fantasma, and George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic too, in one weekend. And wait, there's moreÉ


Some of the four or five dozen of you masochistic, degenerate and chronically bedridden longtime readers of this column will remember that this writer once got into a squabble with the iFest organizers over the quality, or lack thereof, of the local rock bands on the bill there. Amid great billowing clouds of rank vitriol, I summed up the contents of what passed for a local band stage in 2005 with the following challenge to iFest's organizers: “I'll guarantee you that most music fans would be happier to stumble across, say, Tody Castillo on stage than they would if they came across Bad Bubbaz Bluez Dawgz huffing and panting through another cover of ‘Mustang Sally' or some fat tools from Channelview aping Hoobastank.”

Mitchell, who had nothing more than a rooting interest in the festival that year, agreed with all but the overall negative tenor of my article. “I read what you wrote about that, and while it bothered me that you picked away at the one weak point of the festival as opposed to emphasizing the great story about the festival surviving the Reliant experiment and moving back downtown, you were absolutely right ,” he says this year. “And so as soon as we were in a position to do something about this, which we weren't last year, we did it.”

This year, the local band lineup is much better than it has been at any time in the past ten years. Former Houstonians Jesse Dayton, Johnny Bush, Lucinda Williams, Wayne Henderson and the Jazz Crusaders featuring Ronnie Law, and Carolyn Wonderland are playing on the main stages, as are current Houstonian blues and zydeco sensations such as Sherman Robertson, Calvin Owens, Corey Ledet, I.J. Gosey and J. Paul Jr. Honorary Houstonians the New Birth Brass Band — who spent about six months here post-Katrina — will also be performing.

But that's not all. Some of the city's best current rock bands will be playing, too. Late last year, Mitchell asked me to send over a list of bands for his and the other organizers' consideration, which I did, and more than a few of them made the cut — one of whom is none other than Tody Castillo.

Sure, Flamingo Gardens, the landscaping company that is cosponsoring the stage, has stocked its stage with a fair number of the classic rock, guitar shredder and old-school blooze-rock bands they favor, but there are also an almost equal number we heartily endorse, such as Castillo, Clouseaux, Arthur Yoria, The Mighty Orq, Rick Lee, Medicine Show, the John Evans Band and Fondue Monks.

“We took the best bands that [Flamingo Gardens] put on their stage themselves last year and added a combination of local club bands and bands that focus on original music,” says Mitchell. “Of course, we've got blues there because that's such a bedrock of what goes on in Houston, but we've also got Clouseaux and Medicine Show and some much more edgy, alternative or underground-type stuff on there.

“I'm really hoping it's a success,” Mitchell continues. “It's something I've wanted to do for a while, because the one demographic we don't do so well with is the twentysomething, hip, musical audience. And this isn't all the way there, but it is a step in the right direction.”

Indeed.

And, oh yeah, there's an irony here we would feel remiss, or at least ungratified, in not pointing out. The local music stage's official name is the “Chron.com Houston Stage Presented by Flamingo Gardens.” Hmmm. Given my role in picking the talent, this handle makes this stage look like a Coors Lite-sponsored soiree at which only Guinness Stout is dispensed, but if those johnny-come-latelies at the Chron can sleep soundly after slapping their name on something that was in no small part my work, they can go right ahead. Nighty-night, liars.

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