Float Fest Rises to the Top Level of Texas' Outdoor-Music Events

Located outside San Marcos, Float Fest is hardly your run-of-the-mill music festival.
Located outside San Marcos, Float Fest is hardly your run-of-the-mill music festival.
All photos by Roger Ho/Courtesy of Float Fest

Year 1 of any music festival is basically a crapshoot. In Year 2, festival organizers learn from the inaugural event and make tweaks and corrections. Year 3? That’s the make-or-break year, when a festival either vanishes into the ether of fallen festivals or takes the next step in what is sure to be a long run.

Float Fest most certainly falls into the latter category. The annual tubing-and-tunes event, which takes place just outside San Marcos, rang in its third year over the weekend. The event, headlined by the likes of Rick Ross and Big Gigantic, played before a packed house of weekend campers and festival revelers.

The question on the mind of many first-time Float Fest attendees was a simple one. What exactly is Float Fest? Some thought you simply floated the river while music played on the banks. Other theories sprang about as well.

The one and only Slim Thug took the Float Fest crowd to "Chuuch."
The one and only Slim Thug took the Float Fest crowd to "Chuuch."

In short, Float Fest takes place on a big open field in a ranch just outside San Marcos. Attendees have the option of parking and leaving the festival or camping for one night or two. Campers bring tents or sleep in their cars, and outside food and drink (yes, alcohol too) are allowed into the campgrounds (these items are not allowed on the festival grounds themselves). 

A short walk from the campgrounds is the festival itself, which features two stages, food, drink and merchandise vendors, and even assorted carnival rides. With regard to the float itself, patrons board a bus, are dropped off at a nearby river entrance, and the two-hour float actually finishes up on the banks of the festival. Convenience is the theme here.

Future Islands' Samuel T. Herring (left) gets up close with the Float Fest crowd.
Future Islands' Samuel T. Herring (left) gets up close with the Float Fest crowd.

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As for the music, this isn’t ACL Fest — or even Free Press Summer Fest, for that matter. Float Fest isn’t really in the market of breaking new or up-and-coming bands. Obscurity really isn’t the goal.

Rather, Float Fest is a party festival with party music. That much was evident via high-octane sets from the aforementioned Rick Ross (rocking a throwback Larry Johnson Charlotte Hornets jersey), Big Gigantic and Houston’s own Slim Thug (other Houston acts on the bill included Wild Moccasins and Fat Tony). These artists, and numerous others, kept the crowd going well into the night. Bonus points for acts that played before smaller crowds in the afternoon, while most folks were either drinking on the campgrounds or floating the river, but still managed to keep the energy level high.

With regard to the float, the line to get on the buses grew longer throughout the day, but festival goers kept it – and the accompanying box office – line moving fairly briskly. The same can be said for food and drink and merchandise lines as well.

Yes, that is a giant inflatable pizza slice in the crowd during Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's set.
Yes, that is a giant inflatable pizza slice in the crowd during Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's set.

What Float Fest has in store for Year 4 is anyone’s guess. Based on the packed campgrounds and lively buzz in the crowd, I’d expect the headliners to get a bit more noteworthy in 2017. And I’d expect an even larger crowd for next year’s event. These are signs of a festival that’s well on its way to being all grown up.

Personal Bias: Bone Thugs N Harmony knows how to amp up a crowd. The Cleveland rap veterans sampled Eazy-E, 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G. during their 45-minute set, and closed with the all-time rap anthem, “Tha Crossroads.” Having never seen the group in person, it was refreshing to see how much life the group still has after two-plus decades in the game.

Good times and carnival rides.
Good times and carnival rides.

The Crowd: Young, tan and ready to party. The crowd you expected was the crowd you got, large groups of college students and twentysomethings looking to wear as little clothing as possible, drink as much as possible and absolutely make a few memories along the way. Props to the guy rocking a "Don't Tread on Me" Speedo that left very little to the imagination. 

Overheard In the Crowd: “So you just sit in the tube and float for a few hours?” — New York native in my group who had never floated the river before

Random Notebook Dump: To anyone complaining about the heat, Float Fest takes place in July in Central Texas; you kinda have to expect that. The carnival rides were a really nice touch. Charging $6 for a 16-ounce beer was refreshing when compared to other music festivals, when a beer of the same size would likely retail for at least $8. In speaking with many folks who had attended Float Fests past, this year’s crowd dwarfed the previous two years by a considerable margin. 


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