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Summer Bummers: Four Outdoor Texas Festivals That Went South

It’s not always fun in the sun in Texas.

Texas Me

Things rarely run 100 percent smoothly at large outdoor concerts.

Free Press Summer Fest dodged a pretty serious bullet this year. When festival officials announced that the grounds around Eleanor Tinsley Park needed to be evacuated around 2 p.m. on May 31, some of us who were there had visions of pandemonium at the exits and the kind of heavy rains that would have had leftover props from Russell Crowe's Noah floating down Buffalo Bayou. But the weather spared us a direct hit and while the evacuation spawned a ton of predictable social-media carping, all in all ­everything worked out okay once everyone (finally) got back into the park.

Indeed, FPSF went on to have a pretty successful weekend, drawing hordes of people and eventually selling out for the second year in a row. No doubt the folks in the golf carts and production trailers could have done without the close call, though. And this near-miss couldn't help reminding us of a few other outdoor Texas festivals some people would probably rather forget.

No one will forget the “Dillo Dirt” at Austin City Limits in 2009 anytime soon.
Mark Austin
No one will forget the “Dillo Dirt” at Austin City Limits in 2009 anytime soon.
Despite a great lineup, the Texas Pop Festival lost too much money to make it to a second year.
Despite a great lineup, the Texas Pop Festival lost too much money to make it to a second year.

4. Texas Pop Festival Is Ahead of Its Time: Just a couple of weeks after Woodstock in 1969, the Texas International Pop Festival set up shop at another racetrack, the Dallas ­International Motor Speedway in Denton County, and set the burgeoning counter­culture loose in staunchly conservative North Texas like someone had knocked over a mound of fire ants. The three-day event drew acts like Led Zeppelin, Santana, Janis Joplin, Grand Funk Railroad, B.B. King and Sly & the Family Stone, while their fans spurred The Dallas Morning News to write an editorial so scathing you can practically see the blue hairs curling.

"Young people assembling to hear music is one thing," it read. "Young people assembling in unspeakable costumes, half-naked, barefooted, defying propriety and scorning morality is another. Who and where are their parents? Where do these young people get the money to loaf around the country in their smelly regalia?"

Just imagine a paper writing something like that today. Despite drawing as many as 150,000 fans by some estimates, Texas Pop was not a success, reportedly losing around $100,000. There was no festival the next year, but it lives on through a number of bootleg recordings (including a famous one of Zeppelin's set) and the never-released documentary film Got No Shoes, Got No Blues that is still in circulation, albeit difficult to find. And in 2011, the Texas Pop Festival even got its own state historical marker.

3. ACL Fest Gets Washed Away: After the "Dillo Dirt" adventure of 2009 (we'll get to that), the Austin City Limits Music Festival organizers no doubt figured they had thought through every possible rain scenario. They probably didn't figure on the showers that started more than an hour into the Cure's ­Saturday-night set becoming the kind of flash floods Central Texas hadn't seen in ­several years.

With most of Zilker Park literally underwater by Sunday morning, ACL had no choice but to announce the first-ever full-day cancellation in festival history. But after all that rain, the only way anyone could have seen scheduled Sunday-night closer Lionel Richie would have been on a raft.

2. Rock the Bayou Sinks: The year before the first FPSF, Houston finally hosted its first large-scale music festival. After Rock the Bayou, it's amazing anyone wanted to try it again at all. Bringing in some of the biggest names in hard-rock and hair-metal history (Ratt, Queensrÿche, Sammy Hagar, Alice Cooper) for a four-day Labor Day Weekend blowout in the empty field where AstroWorld once stood wasn't a terrible idea, true. But it probably would have been prudent to invite at least a few acts whose best days weren't well behind them at that point.

Rock the Bayou spread itself way too thin over those four days, and wasn't very well-organized or promoted to begin with. Instead, it drew about half the crowds the promoters were hoping for, and became an easy lesson in what not to do when putting on a festival.

1. ACL's Dillo Dirt Debacle: Strangely enough, until you remember what a severe drought Texas has been saddled with for as far back as many people can remember, it took until its eighth year for ACL to have its first real day of heavy rains. That was back in 2009, when showers most of Saturday resulted in the Zilker Park grass turning to a wallow only Wilbur the pig could love the next day. But not just regular mud: The recently resodded turf had been augmented with a kind of compost known as "Dillo Dirt," a pungent combination of yard clippings and recycled human sewage.

This is what we wrote at the time: "This 'Million Dollar Mud,' as a friend called it, caused entire puddle-strewn sections of the park to be closed off with yellow police tape, and completely destroyed what had been a beautiful expanse of golf-course-caliber grass just a couple of days earlier." Both Zilker Park and ACL Fest would eventually recover, at no small cost, but to us Austin has never quite smelled the same since.
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Screwston, Texas

Warm Welcome

The wildly received all-star Houston rap set at FPSF could lead to bigger things.

Marco Torres

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