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Chafing 101: Rocks Off's 2011 Music Festival Odyssey

Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters at The Hangout Festival in May
Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters at The Hangout Festival in May
Photos By Craig Hlavaty

Music festivals are now a part of our lives, just like deadlines, angry commenters, lack of sleep, and eye fatigue. And eating at our desk. That sucks. But at least we have food and a desk, right?

Rocks Off ventured all over the state -- OK, really mostly Austin -- to cover festivals for the blog. Hell, I even went to Gulf Shores, Alabama to see the Foo Fighters and Paul Simon, and masked it by taking pictures of southern girls in bikinis so it wasn't really a vacation per se. Um, it was research. For BestFest. Yeah.

Finnegan's Taylor Lee at the Main Street Block Party
Finnegan's Taylor Lee at the Main Street Block Party
Photo By Jim Bricker

The Main Street Block Party

Around 9 p.m. Saturday, Rocks Off was walking out of Tacos A Go-Go and ran into Main Street Block Party organizer Eric Dean on the corner in front of the Continental Club, and he told us he had just broken even. This was before any of the evening's real main events, and by about 10 p.m. the wristband line stretched outside the Mink all the way past the entrance of the Big Top.

Besides the inevitable delays and a few instances of scheduling three-card monte, everything seemed to go pretty smoothly Saturday. The only real question was whether or not the indie-heavy lineup could pack the Continental.

Unfortunately for bands like Baton Rouge's teeth-gnashing Twin Killers, it didn't look like it early on, but the club began filling up around the time CC regulars the Small Sounds opened with a lovely Waterboys-esque tune, and was wall to wall for keyboard-heavy Austin New Wavers The Black & White Years and Houston's own Ton Tons.

All in all, Rocks Off would say Dean's little midwinter experiment has to be counted a success, especially for a first-time festival with no clear headliner. -- CHRIS GRAY

Quasi-riot at the SXSW Death From Above reunion gig. There were horses!
Quasi-riot at the SXSW Death From Above reunion gig. There were horses!
Photos By Craig Hlavaty

South By Southwest 2011

This SXSW wasn't a pretty one by any means, with a camera boom falling on fans at Stubb's before Orchestral Manoeuvers In the Dark, Ben Weasel lashing out physically at unruly fans, the Death From Above 1979 police party, and the massive crowds seemingly dwarfing the numbers from the past few years.

Add to that Rebecca Black, the super-moon in the sky, and the UN allies bombing Libya, and it was a virtual pop-culture maelstrom.

But aside from the mace, Kanye West, and the harried SXSW staff, this wasn't a bad year for music at all. We found ourselves wide-eyed and grinning every night in front of one or two artists, thankful to be in the right place at the right time. Here are our ten favorite things we saw last week.

Honorable mentions go out to the Black Angels, Buxton, and especially Billy Gibbons for showing up to the Rachael Ray Feedback party and playing Elmore James' "Dust My Broom" with a bottle of his own BFG hot sauce in his back pants pocket. -- CRAIG HLAVATY

The sea of people at Hangout Festival
The sea of people at Hangout Festival
Photos By Craig Hlavaty

The Hangout Festival (Gulf Shores, Alabama)

Imagine the Austin City Limits Music Festival or even the rapidly approaching Free Press Summer Fest on pure, white sand just feet away from a (variably) blue ocean, or as Thurgood Jenkins from Half Baked would say, "Right near da beach. Boy-eeee!"

The Hangout Music Festival is located at Gulf Shores, Ala., on the shores of the Gulf Of Mexico, in the sleepy resort town of just a few thousand people, and mere miles east of Mobile. This year's edition of the three-day festival was just the second in its history. In a crowded crop of music festivals, Hangout is actually the biggest in its habitat, meaning it can cater to masses starved for big-budget sweaty spectacles.

With a lineup including Motorhead, Paul Simon, Foo Fighters, Flaming Lips, My Morning Jacket, Widespread Panic, The Black Keys and Primus, among others, the second year was more than enough to compete with the established big boys in the festival industry.

Having a festival on sand is a welcome change from grass and hard ground, but a challenge for fans and those working the event. Getting from one main stage to the other in time to shoot a band was an exercise in agility and endurance, but something we needed anyway. -- CRAIG HLAVATY  

Weezer's Rivers Cuomo at Free Press Summer Fest
Weezer's Rivers Cuomo at Free Press Summer Fest
Photo By Jim Bricker

Free Press Summer Fest 2011

I think the quickest way to sum up Summer Fest, environmentally, is in fact biologically: In eight hours at the festival Saturday, hydrating continuously with mostly water, I made my own water once, shortly before Beirut. Sunday, in seven hours on only water, I did not see that horse until well after I had gone to Leon's Lounge to piece together my thoughts and pick over The New York Times.

Saturday, my musical blue ribbon goes to Rusted Shut's Don Walsh screaming "Kill! Kill! Kill!" for several minutes (or what seemed like several minutes) over lurching Frankenstein guitars and Ralf Armin's wandering tenor sax. This was going on at the same time as, high on a hill up above, Buxton was enchanting dozens of doe-eyed fans with an otherworldly blend of Bill Monroe and Bright Eyes.

There was more - Big Boi's double-time barrage of OutKast hits, some chosen by the crowd; Indian Jewelry's chopped-and-screwed approach to droney dance music (was that Blondie I heard?); Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears' scorching soul, bumped up to a gospel plane by Dallas' the Relatives - but those two bands, at precisely the same time, made a perfect microcosm of both the city and Summer Fest: It's a big, sprawling motherfucker riddled with pockets of psychosis and beauty.

Not long after I got to Summer Fest Sunday, I spotted festival honcho Omar Afra finishing up one of local musician/yogi Tyagaraja's yoga workshops in the wooden glade known temporarily as the Budweiser Beer Garden. (No doubt he needed it.) Afra told me that the festival had already reached last year's take... six weeks ago. However many people did show up to Eleanor Tinsley Park this weekend, both the attendance and the heat index were well north of Summer Fest 2010, Flaming Lips and all.

So where does the festival go from here? Hard as it may be to believe, Summer Fest may have yet to peak. On the the park's western edge, the festival's two new stages, Budweiser and Gritsy/Reprogram, seemed pretty sparsely attended every time I walked up there. Maybe it took a while for all the people entering through the downtown gate to realize they were there.

The one good crowd I saw at the Budweiser Stage this weekend was for HEALTH, who had the good fortune to play just as Sunday's cooling breeze and long-awaited rain shower began. Although I was a captive audience (parked under a tree, ready to ride the lightning), I'll call their tribal electro-grind my favorite set from Sunday because it was the most unique thing I heard all day, and because at this point Hayes Carll - who introduced himself and his "Gulf Coast Orchestra" as from Houston - would be a little obvious. -- CHRIS GRAY

For almost two hours on Sunday night, Weezer led a sea of thousands through some of the saddest and happiest times of their lives an their 18-song set of hits from their 19 years of activity. It's hard to do justice to a band that means so much to so many, especially one that acted like a Band-Aid to those of us with fragile yet huge hearts.

If the Flaming Lips at last year's Summer Fest turned Houston into a loving glowing orb in the hands of Wayne Coyne, Weezer's set shoved us all into the pop-brain of lead singer Rivers Cuomo, back into your old teen bedroom for some real talk surrounded by your closest friends.

As the band was ending, or generously drawing out the ending of, set closer "Buddy Holly," a huge fireworks display from near the Jamail Skate Park struck into the night sky, thrilling everyone in the crowd, and making the evening and weekend end all that much more a sweet note.

Couples were kissing under the smoke, friends hugged and cheered, guys were spilling the last of their beers, and a few people had misty eyes as the fiery display hit its grand finale. Somewhere in there, Weezer walked offstage and let Houston have its little moment of bliss after spending two days in the rain, heat, stink, dirt, and did we mention the heat? -- CRAIG HLAVATY

Lucinda Williams at iFest
Lucinda Williams at iFest
Photo By Jason Wolter

iFest Houston (Weekend One)

Besides being disgustingly sweaty for two days straight, I thoroughly enjoyed iFest. And honestly, the humidity didn't bother me as much as it did my friends and the performers, who were only occasionally given reprieves from the weather by short, sweet gusts of cool wind.

My favorite performances of the weekend came from Lil' Brian and the Zydeco Travelers, Mia Borders, Come See My Dead Person and Robert Cray Band. Brian and the Zydeco Travelers combined old-school zydeco with a newer, folksy kind of music.

It was Cajun enough to be authentic, yet poppy enough to get the attention of those walking by. It gave both the genre's enthusiasts and newcomers alike reason enough to stop and listen. Like with the rest of the weekend's entertainment, I watched as longtime lovers (and members) of the culture danced along to a familiar type of music, while the unfamiliar did their best to get lost in the beat.

On a related note, only at iFest will you hear Hari Krishnas chanting in a prayer circle while Outkast's "I Like the Way You Move" plays in the background, from a tent where people were shooting free throws... a hilarious, nonetheless accurate, representation of Houston's diversity. -- MATTHEW KEEVER

iFest Houston (Weekend Two)

Yes, it was hot at iFest this weekend. Houston hot. Sunday afternoon, partway through Lucinda Williams' surprisingly nostalgic set, both the temperature and humidity were in the low 90s and Rocks Off felt like we were losing weight by the gallon.

But the thing that stood out to us most about the Houston International Festival's second and final weekend of 2011 was how easy it can be to drop that "International" out of the equation. And how satisfying - even international - a "Houston Festival" can be.

Unlike last weekend, Rocks Off did not (accidentally or on purpose) stumble across anything as alien to our Southwestern ears as Kora Connection or the Homayun Sakhi Trio. We sat and watched Bollywood Blast's surreal and fairy tale-ish performance for a few minutes, and walked through the castle-like Great Wall of China replica, where the gong about two-thirds through was especially popular with the kiddos, if not so much any adults within earshot. -- CHRIS GRAY

Against Me! at the Vans Warped Tour
Against Me! at the Vans Warped Tour
Photo By Matthew Keever

Vans Warped Tour At Sam Houston Race Park

As we made our way into the barren, asphalt-covered desert that was Warped Tour 2011, Aftermath was stopped by a young woman standing just outside the gates.

"If I give you my number, will you text me and let me know when Reliant K is playing?" she asked with an "I know this is an awkward request" kind of smile. "I really only want to see them, and I don't know if I can leave once I go in."

We thought it was something of a strange request, but we agreed, took down her number and made our way inside. For those previously unfamiliar with the tour (such as ourselves), Warped's day-to-day lineup is decided the morning of the event, and changes from city to city. Set times are, more or less, pulled from a hat at random.

For this analogy to work, we should specify that there are two hats: One for the bigger acts and one for the lesser-known acts, so certain bands that got a good slot one day might get a terrible one the next. A bummer, we suppose, but also fair. -- MATTHEW KEEVER

Rusko at the IDentity Festival
Rusko at the IDentity Festival
Photo By Jim Bricker

Identity Festival At The Woodlands Pavilion

Saturday's Identity Festival was Aftermath's first exposure to popular electronic music in over a decade, since we gave up the ghost when we discovered The Clash and punk rock. We left rave culture and electro beats behind for something we saw as more "real," before the big letdown that nothing is real anyway.

After leaving Identity, the biggest surprise for us was how much more curious we were about dubstep and the new sounds currently making the electronic youth movement spin. Aftermath wasn't at all surprised about how detached we felt from the crowd or the music, though.

With the crowd roughly a decade younger than us, for the most part, we sat on the sidelines, bewildered and amused, but not at all disgusted or turned off. If anything, we just wanted to know how long we had been ignoring this next wave of electronica.

The festival's maiden voyage was very reminiscent of the all-day events we had previously seen at the Pavilion. Your Buzzfests and whatnot are not that far off from IDF, with three scattered stages, adolescents milling around ruling the day, and copious amounts of attitude and alcohol.

It was orderly in structure, not at all the packed clusterfuck full of drugged-out burners we had (sadly) hoped for. Music is the real drug, or some shit like that. -- CRAIG HLAVATY  

Arcade Fire's Win Butler
Arcade Fire's Win Butler
Photo By Jim Bricker

Austin City Limits 2011

Sunday night in a serene Zilker Park, Arcade Fire made an appropriately historic closer for the Austin City Limits Music Festival's 10th anniversary. Although Stevie Wonder's seniority won him the lead spot on this year's lineup card - as well it should have - the Montreal crew with the two transplanted Texans is the first band formed in the 21st century to ascend to the pinnacle of having ACL entirely to itself.

That also means Arcade Fire is the first ACL closer that has the Internet to thank for its popularity rather than widespread radio play, but since their earliest days have delivered the live goods to back up all the blog buzz. (So have the Walkmen, one of Rocks Off's other Sunday favorites alongside Ryan Bingham and Manu Chao.) Each album has risen Arcade Fire a notch or two higher in ACL's pecking order, from Funeral-marching Wilco table-setters in '05 to Neon Bible-thumping Friday-night '07 closers to Sunday stand-alones preaching the gospel of The Suburbs. -- CHRIS GRAY

Bun B at BestFest
Bun B at BestFest
Photo By Marc Brubaker

Houston Press BestFest

It's hard to write about Bun B objectively anymore. Really, it is. He has ascended to where ever it is that people who are hard to write about objectively ascend to. It feels like, if he just did it with conviction, he could walk out on stage, take a dump right in the middle of it, then be like, "UGK for life!" and people would lose their shit.

"@BunBTrillOG That was a trill ass dump you took on stage, thanks for keeping it real," someone would inevitably tweet.

That said, for real, no fanboy, Bun was strong. There just aren't a lot of things better than listening to country rap music performed outside at night in September. Two things from the show that maybe were accidents but might not have been:

1) Bun performed the song where he likens himself to a money press, during which he spouted water from several water bottles out into the crowd. Something about making it rain, I imagine. Or maybe he just thought it'd be funny and neat. They both seem reasonable. I mean, he did name his third album Trill OG (trilogy).

2) Bun performed "One Day," which has just about the most inescapable premise found in any chorus of any song of any genre ("One day you're here, the next day you're gone"). Naturally, he dedicated it to Pimp C. The clever part though: He preceded it with his work on Three 6 Mafia's paradigm shifting "Sippin' On Some Syrup," which, duh, played a part in Pimp C's death (the syrup, not the song). -- SHEA SERRANO

B L A C K I E at Fun Fun Fun Fest
B L A C K I E at Fun Fun Fun Fest
Photo By Marc Brubaker

Fun Fun Fun Fest In Austin

In a weekend that was fraught with Danzig's sad faded rocker antics and dust dust dust, two Houston artists brought their "A" games to Fun Fun Fun Fest's inaugural Auditorium Shores appearance in Austin. B L A C K I E and Fat Tony, two wildly different kinds of rappers, one edging ever towards mainstream popularity and the other veering into a noise and industrial stomp, made their presence known this weekend.

Now we don't want to sound too dramatic or verbose, but B L A C K I E's set on Saturday almost brought tears to our eyes. Maybe it was the dust whipping up in the pit before him, the sun, or the hangover from Friday night, but watching someone we have followed since 2007 totally destroy conceptions and performing tenets, while also burning down the house was something that made our tear ducts leaky.

The look on B L A C K I E's -- real name Michael LaCour -- face was terrifying and inviting all at the same time. You wanted to hear his story. Breathe that rancid air. You wanted to embrace him when he lunged into the pit. Clad in only brown boots and gray gym shorts, he was more or less naked in front of strangers. This wasn't daytime music, this was starving, locked-in-a-closet stuff that scared the shit out of bystanders on the venue's Black Stage.

To us assembled from Houston, it was something we've seen at least once a month for three years, but on Saturday LaCour opened up a door in him that holds all new treasures for him and the world. If this was 1991 and he was at Lollapalooza, we shudder and giggle to think of the massive societal revolt he would have created, or at least the co-headlining tour with Nine Inch Nails... -- CRAIG HLAVATY

Chafing 101: Rocks Off's 2011 Music Festival Odyssey
Photo By Barry Sigman

Montrose Winter Social: Festival of Sound Checks

We commend organizer Eric Dean for his efforts in supporting the local music scene, and have enjoyed his Main Street block parties, but this particular endeavor, with more than 60 local acts dispersed between four venues and only 15 minute windows between shows, may have been a tad too ambitious.

We can understand last minute changes to the line-up and a random no-show here and there, but the problems with Saturday's Montrose Winter Social surpassed a couple of hiccups and rendered both the online and printed schedule distributed on-site relatively useless, making our attempt to cover it a fairly frustrating endeavor. If there were stage managers -- the guys at hired at festivals and events to kick the current band offstage at the end of their set and get the next one ready to go by their scheduled start time -- we didn't see them. -- LAUREN MARMADUKE


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