T2 the Ghetto Hippie
T2 the Ghetto Hippie
Photo by Marco Torres

The Best and Worst of Houston Whatever Fest 2017

BEST

HOU's Next
The rapid-fire sets of the HOU's Next hip-hop showcase were a blur of the city's best up-and-coming rap talent. Each artist brought his own unique signature to the mix. There was T2 the Ghetto Hippie, whose drive for "oneness" with the audience suffused his rhymes about the grind. There was Tim Woods, the self-proclaimed "black Willie Nelson," who laced every bar with irreverence and camp. And there was Soul of Sherif, whose groovy, almost mystical style of rap thumped inside our bodies with each deafening bass beat. These rappers and the rest of the HOU's Next crew represent a Houston rap scene that is experimental and extraordinary. They are heralds of a new rap future. KATIE SULLIVAN

The Waffle Bus
Maybe the nicest, most convenient thing about Day 2 of a fest nearly ruined by weather that never arrived was that there was no line at the Waffle Bus. The wait was hours long for the food trucks at Day for Night, but at Whatever Fest, you could stroll right up to the window. After a festival littered with little annoyances, feasting on chicken and waffles was the most delicious and hassle-free proof on Sunday that all music festival rules are broken at HWF. Stuffed full of fries, we left asking each other the same thing we ask after every Houston Whatever Fest: You think there will be another one next year? NATHAN SMITH

The Best and Worst of Houston Whatever Fest 2017
Photo by Jack Gorman

AWOLNation
AWOLNation was kind of just what the doctor ordered for Whatever Fest. They certainly had no problem being heard over the din of conversation. The band rocked harder than I expected them to, given their radio hits, and they sounded huge in a half-full Warehouse Live. The crowd clapped and stomped and danced, whooping it up and giving in to the “What the hell?” attitude that pervaded Sunday evening on St. Emanuel Street. Singer Aaron Bruno and Co. played to the last row with stage moves crafted for much larger crowds, but the people who were there were loud and into it. The band's set was a clear highlight of the weekend. NATHAN SMITH

Victor Wooten
Fans were loud and appreciative for Victor Wooten, too. Matched note for note by drummer Dennis Chambers and a saxophonist, the bass-guitar prodigy uncorked some sizzling fusion rhythms that lit up the darkened warehouse with grins. Early on in his set, after a number featuring some syncopated soloing from Chambers, Wooten spotted Rice University double-bass professor and all-around bass master Paul Ellison up font and center and suggested to the crowd that they stand in line for the man’s autograph. Maybe Wooten put a little extra stank on his tunes for Ellison’s benefit after that, but whether the musicians were consciously trying to up their game or not, it was definitely the loudest, busiest tunes that went over the best with the well-lubricated crowd. NATHAN SMITH

Ashton Womack (left) and a fan
Ashton Womack (left) and a fan
Photo by Marco Torres

Ashton Womack
Though the comedy stage provided a welcome palate-cleanser to HWF's many musical acts, Houston comedian Ashton Womack stood out. Womack came to the stage with an easy, animated charm and a 1,000-kilowatt smile. But his real talent came from his ability to craft fresh material from well-trod comedic territory. Jokes about weed and sex shops aren't exactly novel, but Womack's unexpected twists of humor keep his audience wrapped up in his performance and bursting with laughter. Even when his comedy drifted to darker subjects, the comic landed his punch lines and never let a joke fly off the rails. Of course he's leaving us for Los Angeles — this comic is going places (zing!). KATIE SULLIVAN

WORST

Ghostface Killah
Ghostface Killah
Photo by Marco Torres

Poor Attendance
Maybe it was just because of April Fool's Day, but Saturday's festival attendance was a joke. Artists begged scattered listeners to fill in the areas closer to the stage, their performances met with thin, self-conscious applause. Even Wu-Tang Clan veteran Ghostface Killah drew a crowd of only a few hundred half-hearted fans. Short lines for bathrooms or food trucks notwithstanding, having such low attendance made it hard for HWF to gain momentum. That's a damn shame considering how much local talent was on the lineup; low attendance meant that those great artists didn't get exposure to a wider audience. KATIE SULLIVAN

Hecklers, etc.
It was a tough room over at the Secret Group’s comedy stage. I arrived at the tail end of Sam Demaris's set, which was derailed just a little when a credentialed photographer got tossed from the building after a confrontation with the comic. That’s something I hadn’t seen before, and it kinda set a tone. Dave Ross battled heckles and other nonsense from drunks, but mostly managed to keep his cool. Security eventually bounced a couple when the woman wouldn’t stop flipping the comedian off. It was inane and distracting for everybody, but the well-behaved (okay, better-behaved) majority came to laugh and clap, and that’s what they did. The rowdiest elements of the crowd were gone for Emma Wilmann and Gabe Bravo, and everybody seemed to settle down a bit. NATHAN SMITH

The Best and Worst of Houston Whatever Fest 2017
Photo by Marco Torres

Too Much Gravel and Concrete
If you want audiences to suck it up and stay at an outdoor festival, you need to give them a few soft places to land. While HWF had limited seating in The Secret Group comedy tent and some benches outside 8th Wonder Brewery, for the most part audience members had to make do with resting on the withered patches of grass next to the gravelly stages. Endurance for a multi-day festival is hard enough. Would it have been so hard to spring for some jumbo-size bean bags? Or some massage chairs? KATIE SULLIVAN

Michael Winslow
Michael Winslow was a bit of an awkward fit for the comedy stage. He had some funny sound-effects bits, but a large portion of his show was dedicated to musical impersonations of Led Zeppelin and Prince. They were certainly impressive, with Winslow aping all of the different musicians with his mouth and a few effects pedals, but they weren’t exactly jokes. The whole thing appeared to stupefy many of the youngest audience members, who seemed too young and confused to have ever seen Police Academy 3. NATHAN SMITH

Sherita Perez (bottom left) and band
Sherita Perez (bottom left) and band
Photo by Marco Torres

Sound Bleed and Stage Placement
Sound bleed between stages is always a festival challenge, but it seems like HWF didn't even try to put up a fight. The festival's two main stages were placed right next to each other; while this made for tighter set transitions, one stage's sound check inevitably crept into another band's performance. The smaller Wonderland Stage was particularly beleaguered by sound bleed; lighter singer-songwriter acts like Sherita Perez were interrupted by another stage's transitional music. You could even hear the Cold War Kids during comedian Judah Friedlander's set, even though the comedy tent was on the opposite side of the festival. It's a disservice to artists and audiences alike to be so careless with stage placement. After all, we're all there to hear (or play!) the music. KATIE SULLIVAN

T.J. Miller (and Crowd)
Maybe that made for an extra-restless crowd for headliner T.J. Miller. Maybe people were just feeling those drinks. But for whatever reason, people were simply in no mood to shut the fuck up during his set. Miller never lost his cool, and he did his best to engage with the hecklers and cat-callers, but most of them seemed in no condition to respond coherently. Finally, he simply gave in to the noise, requesting that everyone just holler out whatever bullshit they wanted at the count of three. I think he could have done it three or four times without people getting tired of hearing their own voices. Miller got in some good cracks about the festival’s name as well as the tornado that wasn’t, but ultimately, it was a gig to be survived, not remembered. That might sum up most people’s experience with Houston Whatever Fest ’17. NATHAN SMITH

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