Festivals are incredibly complex machines, with hundreds if not thousands of moving parts. Those include everything from stage construction and sound engineering to trash disposal and security, but unless something goes wrong, most of them are taken for granted or just go unnoticed by the public (with good reason).
But spend enough time at festivals, and the more you start to notice which ones are run the right way and which ones aren't. Despite one final blast (I hope) from the furnace of eternal Texas summer, last weekend's inaugural Best of Houston® BestFest in Midtown was run the right way.
I say that not as an employee of the Houston Press, which sponsored and co-produced the festival along with J.A.C.! Entertainment, but as someone who has been to more than my share of festivals in the past decade: Nine of ten Austin City Limits Music Festivals, all three Free Press Summer Fests, the first Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin and Lollapalooza in Chicago, and ill-fated Houston one-and-dones Rock The Bayou and GhoulFest, just to name a few.
The better a festival is run, the easier it is to focus on just the entertainment, and BestFest's talent was up to the challenge. Breakout act of the weekend was a three-way tie between the Tontons, Buxton and Wild Moccasins. These three local bands have all been painted with the "not quite ready for prime time" brush in the past, but they each showed they've put in the hours — and have the songs — to make significant inroads outside of Houston. Each has a new album due within the next year, so now it may just be a matter of who gets there first.
But here's to the veterans, too. Houston rappers Bun B and Slim Thug brought their A game (and many friends), as usual. Chamillionaire had the most interactive set of the weekend, making instant stars of two guys he brought up onstage for impromptu verses. Los Skarnales blazed through the hottest part of Saturday, front man Felipe Galvan literally jumping for joy. Bluesman Little Joe Washington was, in a word, indefatigable. But he always is.
Two of the weekend's other standouts, former Houstonians Hayes Carll and Carolyn Wonderland, could hardly contain themselves about how happy they were to be back home. As smoothly as BestFest ran, it wasn't hard to see why. CHRIS GRAY
It's easy for a company man to say that his paper's first try at an outdoor festival was something fun and exciting, but it's really true. BestFest was one of those things that came together in ways all of us who helped organize it couldn't have imagined. Having Cake, Deer Tick and some of Houston's best rap and roots artists play our party made me smile all weekend.
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No telling how many people felt their gears switching when they saw kids like Buxton, Wild Moccasins and the Tontons live, probably for the first time. Rockers thelastplaceyoulook came in Saturday afternoon with a great buzz off radio play for "A Band to Save Me," which has bumped them up to next month's BuzzFest at The Woodlands. (I know they were sweating hardcore under their stage clothes, though.)
Then there was the scheduling magic of being able to walk from Buxton to Deer Tick and back to Hayes Carll within a couple of hours, which would be a great lineup in any local venue. Or how about Chamillionaire, Slim Thug, Baby Bash, Bun B and special guest Z-Ro one after the other Saturday evening?
Anyone who thinks that rap isn't Houston's greatest unifier was probably spending too much time testing the wares of the glass blowers near the east entrance. CRAIG HLAVATY
Catch up with all of our BestFest coverage at blogs.houstonpress.com/bestfest.