While it may not have the cachet of festival hotbeds like Austin and Chicago, Houston has quietly emerged as a major festival presence. But which festival is our finest? These are the Houston Press Music Awards finalists for Best Festival. Cast your ballot here.
DAY FOR NIGHT
Day for Night, since debuting only last year, has quickly risen not only to the top of Houston’s festival totem pole, but nationally as well. In fact, Consequences of Sound recently listed the local visual-music hybrid as the third-ranked fall festival in the world. Day for Night’s appeal lies in its uniqueness. Whereas numerous other festivals rely solely on music to draw paying customers, Day for Night also offers up visual and immersive art installations; in short, Day for Night — taking place at the old Barbara Jordan Post Office in December — is going to look really good. It’s going to sound pretty phenomenal also. After featuring artists like Kendrick Lamar and Dillon Francis in 2015, Day for Night has truly upped the ante in 2016. Aphex Twin will play his first U.S. set in nearly a decade, not to mention appearances from Butthole Surfers, the Jesus and Mary Chain and Travis Scott. Plus, Bjork will be on hand to present the U.S. debut of Bjork Digital, an art-music combo.
FREE PRESS SUMMER FEST
Free Press Summer Fest is at a crossroads of sorts. Is the festival going to become Houston’s version of ACL Fest, or is it going to settle in to a nice mid-tier status among festivals in and around the city? The Festival certainly remained a draw in 2016, even if it had to relocate to NRG Park for the second straight year because of inclement weather. The bad news didn’t end there, as an 18-year-old woman died of a drug overdose during the festival. The lineup itself was good but not great in 2016 (major names included Collegrove and The National), leading some to wonder the long-term fate of FPSF. We’ll remain optimistic that the festival will re-establish some momentum in 2017, and it all starts with (hopefully) decent weather and an even better lineup.
HOUSTON WHATEVER FEST
We don’t have much to say about the 2016 incarnation of Houston Whatever Fest, mostly because there wasn’t a 2016 incarnation of Houston Whatever Fest — the third annual edition of the festival has been rescheduled for April 2017 in EaDo. However, the last installment of Houston Whatever Fest — which took place in November 2015 – one hell of a job of blending music, art and comedy into one centralized festival. The music was diverse, featuring acts like Ghostland Observatory, Metric, Heartless Bastards, GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, DJ Damon Allen, and Say Girl Say. The comedy was held down by such major acts as Doug Benson and T.J. Miller, the latter of whom has developed into a full-blown star thanks to appearances in Deadpool and HBO’s Silicon Valley. Here’s hoping Miller makes it 3-for-3 as Whatever Fest alum in 2017.
MADNESS ON MAIN/YES, INDEED!
8th Wonder Brewery has brought a ton to the community since opening its doors. In addition to quality beer and one of the best brewery experiences in town – and by far the most Houston-themed one — 8th Wonder is responsible for some local festivals also. That includes Madness on Main and Yes, Indeed!, the former of which took place in May and feature more than 25 area musicians, local arts and crafts vendors and a visual art installation (all for only $25 day-of). Yes, Indeed!, meanwhile, took place in September and was spread out among local bars like Neil’s Bahr, Lucky’s Pub and Warehouse Live. The single-day festival featured four stages of music and more than 20 bands, including Ringo Deathstarr and Muddy Belle. The festival is the epitome of local, as evidenced by stages sponsored by local vendors like Frank’s Pizza, Heights Guitar Tech, Lynchpin Audio, and of course, 8th Wonder Brewery.
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Anyone that considers local Tex-Mex restaurant/live-music venue Last Concert Café a rock/folk-exclusive venue has obviously never heard of Praia Urbana. The techno festival took place at Last Concert in October 2015 and featured some of the best house music the area has to offer. Local talent ruled the day, and headliners like Stefano Noferini, Hollen and Adrian Hour closed out the annual event. This all-day electronic music festival has been going strong for a decade now, and local EDM enthusiasts are anxious to see what it has in store for the next go-round on November 26 at The Hive. Headliners include Alex Clavijo, Steven Towers and Bobby Blyss.
Something Wicked Fest has it all figured out. Pick a popular party weekend, book some hot EDM acts, select a large venue with tons of space (in this case, Sam Houston Race Park), and let the revelry unfold from there. As much was evident this past October, when Something Wicked rose to new heights. It’s a bit odd for an EDM rave to begin with the sun still out, but Something Wicked does just that, which likely helps folks get their bearings by sundown. That’s when the party really started. Yes, some folks take the whole rave/EDM culture thing a bit too far, but on the whole, Something Wicked easily ranks among the best, most well-run festivals in the Houston area.