Houston Whatever Fest is the little festival that could, or at least the little festival that's trying to. While it hasn't been held since November 2015 (which in turn was a date-change from its ill-timed August 2014 debut), the latest lineup suggests that things are finally coming together. This year, the festival takes advantage of Houston's gorgeous springtime weather and East Downtown skyline views to make for a unique local entertainment experience. Pair that with top comedy talent like Judah Friedlander, music headliners Ghostface Killah and a dirt-cheap ticket price (general admission is only $55 for the entire weekend), and you've got yourself a festival.
HWF also provides a broader platform for some exceptional local talent, lending the mike to rappers Guilla or T2 the Ghetto Hippie and comedians Warren Wright and Son Tran. If you're a sentimental local who has mourned the loss of ye olde Houston block parties, then HWF is the festival you've been yearning for. Of the 50-plus musical performers who will be taking the stage over the weekend — and please don't forget what's going on at the Secret Group Comedy Tent, either — we recommend keeping a close eye on these ten.
6:15 p.m. Sunday, Stage One
Not a big fan of spastically shaking your ass at music festivals? That’s what you think. It’s certainly what I thought before I saw the Queen Diva of sissy bounce perform, but she set me straight quick. Big Freedia will bring the most butt-rippling bass that Whatever Fest is likely to see, and whether you’re a longtime fan or just a gender-bending neophyte, you will dance. Freedia’s frenzied orgy of clapping butt cheeks is just too much to behold without joining in. NATHAN SMITH
12:30 p.m. Saturday, Stage One
You'll have to get to HWF early, but if you pride yourself on alerting others to something new and special in the Houston music scene, then it's wakey-wakey eggs and bakey on Saturday for The Contagious. The trio is making waves with a debut single called “This Time,” which sounds like it was plucked from an early-aughts alt-emo compilation, at home right between Jimmy Eat World and Motion City Soundtrack. Expect a feature on the burgeoning act here in the next few weeks, or just be there for their set, which kicks off a full weekend of music. Yes, you’ll need to be there early, but they’re driving from Montgomery, they’re all teenagers and they actually have to work when they get there…so what are you complaining about? JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
6:45 p.m. Sunday, Wonderland
There’s a big buzz behind Frog Hair among the Houston music cognoscenti, and it doesn’t take long to explain why. Assembling some of the best parts of dead horse, Pain Teens and Spain Colored Orange together with a guy banging on a marching bass drum, Frog Hair is maybe the city’s noisiest, most tuneful Americana band. Plenty of people are saying they’ll be the next act to break out of Houston, even though all these guys have heard it before. Catch ’em Sunday and judge for yourself. NATHAN SMITH
GREAT WHITE FIRE
4:35 p.m. Sunday, Wonderland
I’m not really sure what rock genre Great White Fire is supposed to fall into. I guess they’re hardcore. All I know for sure is that they’re probably going to be the heaviest, gnarliest act at the fest, and they’re definitely going to be juiced up and ready to prove it. Both of the band’s vocalists have a tendency to stalk the stage, looking for a face to scream into, and hey, that’s twice the microphones for you to grab. If cutting loose for you tends to find you slamming into someone, this is the group you’re going to want to check out. NATHAN SMITH
2:30 p.m. Saturday, Stage One
Walker Lukens may have moved on from Houston to greener, Austin-ier pastures, but the artist still remembers to come home. His recent EP, Never Understood, is a rollicking roll through the genre of classic rock (with a few indie-pop flourishes sprinkled in for good measure). Songs like "Jacket On Ya Shoulders" grab listeners with ear-catching syncopation, while his latest single, "Where Is Thunder Road" punches with bluesy abandon. Lukens's songwriting is more than the sum of its parts; no one lyric or lick sticks out, but the holistic experience of his sound is memorable and moving. The singer has a long summer tour of festivals ahead of him (including Bonnaroo), so best to catch him at HWF while he's still fresh. KATIE SULLIVAN
2:15 p.m. Sunday, Stage One
Lyric Michelle is a Houston rapper known for her hustle, but hustle on her own terms. Her 2016 release, Miss Direction, was such a triumph of the local scene that the Houston Chronicle deemed it the best album of the year. So much of the album's success, however, is attributable to the intense, personal nature of Lyric Michelle's songs. In a genre dominated by masculine bravado and excess, Lyric Michelle weaves unflinching vulnerability into penetrating bars. Her work flatly confronts a brutal industry (and world) that would rather see her fail. That courage is all the more reason to support this talented artist's success; at HWF and beyond, Lyric Michelle brings rap to a whole new level. KATIE SULLIVAN
3:40 p.m. Sunday, Secret Group
Though Passerbye only formed in 2016, this eclectic electronica act hasn't been wasting any time. The band's first album, Apathy, Tx, is a high-concept patchwork of audio samples, classic synth sounds and good, old-fashioned violin. This mess of disparate sounds makes for a sonic experience that's complex and satisfying, if at times a bit confounding. We're not sure how Passerbye managed to combine vintage MIDI files with smooth-jazz piano and shape it into a road-trip track, but somehow they did on "Hwy 71." HWF will finally offer this fledgling group a bigger stage, a wider audience and a chance to show the city what it's made of. KATIE SULLIVAN
5:55 p.m. Sunday, Secret Group
HWF's local music roster is like an astronomical chart. Some acts are T-Tauri stars — young, with a now-visible shine, but maybe still a little nebulous. And then there's PuraPharm, an act that's as true to the horizon as Polaris. In recent years, Tessa Kole and company have slowed on live gigs in town (earlier this year, they announced plans to do fewer shows in order to focus on new material and out-of-town dates), but they've put ten years into a Houston music career, no small feat. The first time I heard Kole open up and wail, she wasn't even fronting the band — she was singing the Alice in Chains song that was on the PA between sets at one of the first For the Community festivals. I was stopped cold in my tracks. When she’s fronting the band with its original music at HWF, I promise you'll see stars. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
T2 THE GHETTO HIPPIE
3:15 p.m. Saturday, Stage Two (w/Rizzoo Rizzoo, Why Jae, Doeman, Soul of Sherif and DJ Mr. Rogers)
"Double Cups and Taco Trucks," the latest single by T2 The Ghetto Hippie, is smooth, ambitious and complicated, much like the artist himself. The song mixes whispering, gravelly vocals and a brooding bass beat, all while musing on the daily comforts of Houston life. Of course these sly references to lean and corner stores are endearing to any local ear, but it's the song's haunting undercurrents that stick with listeners. T2's sound has matured enormously since last year's release of A South West Side Story, and it's likely that he'll treat his HWF audience to tracks from his yet-to-be-released album. Be sure to catch his set and hear his new stuff. KATIE SULLIVAN
3:25 p.m. Sunday, Wonderland
This will be his second year at Whatever Fest, and Vockah Redu is still one of Houston’s most underappreciated artists. Check him out, and you’re likely to agree. The New Orleans native’s sound is built on a strong foundation of sissy bounce, but it’s something else; Vockah rocks too hard to remain fully in the hip-hop camp. He calls his music "Pop Rock Neo Vock," and he’s pretty much the only guy doing it. Even if you don’t feel like dancing (you will — you will be ashamed not to), just watching Vockah do his thing is a wild experience worth the admission price. NATHAN SMITH
Houston Whatever Fest rolls into EaDo, around the corner of Hutchins and Polk, on Saturday, April 1 and Sunday, April 2. Gates open at 11:30 a.m.; see houstonwhateverfest.com for ticket info and more.