The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley when it comes to Houston weather. That's how Aftermath found ourselves obsessively refreshing the iFest Twitter page around noon yesterday for some sign that the show would go on in spite of the stormy weather. In the absence of an update we listened to Frank Billingsley instead, who promised the rain would abate by 2 p.m. We got to festival shortly after, just in time to catch the New Orleans Hustlers Brass Band who were working the pro-Saints angle hard for a crowd of die-hard fans (and one Spiderman T-shirt-wearing pop-and-locker) who were all ready to shake out their umbrellas and soak up the sunshine. Aftermath was disappointed to miss Curtis Poullard & the Creole Zydeco Band, who played on the Louisiana Stage just before the New Orleans Hustlers, but the rain didn't keep this adorable couple from line dancing to Robert Ellis & The Boys at the Chron.com Entertainment Stage, despite the fact that it looks like they're the only two people at the festival. [Ed. Note: They pretty much were at the time.]
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The best thing about iFest is the sheer number of sensory experiences packed into one small area. There's the smell of patchouli and ubiquitous Bob Marley flags, the colorful Mocko Jumbie Stilt Dancers (left) and Carnival-clad jesters moving swiftly through the crowds, cinnamon and jerk spices wafting from food venders, the hilarity of drunken dancers, the amazing art. We bought a neat surreal drawing from Texan Shawn Corbett, who also imports work from a Brazilian woodcutter, and some handmade bamboo earrings from New Orleans-based Bamboozle. And the music. My goodness, the music! There are so many good performers that it's nearly impossible to catch them all. Aftermath wandered into the Center Stage area in search of some Caribbean vittles but was sidetracked by the effervescent Lawless Goat, "El Chivo Sin Ley" Ysidro Cabrera, who's been performing bachata and merengue since the 1960s. Cabrara, now an old man, still performs with the same level of energy and intensity as the frenetic merengue dance, which originated in the Dominican Republic.
Aftermath grabbed a plate of goat curry from the family-run Calypso Grill booth near the Center Stage then hurried to the Bud Light World Music Stage to catch the second half of legendary reggae group Mighty Diamonds. Aftermath's not a huge reggae fan, but it was hard not to get caught in the spirit of things when a good portion of the crowd was made up of enthusiastic natives of the island nation. We even spied iFest's Director of Performing Arts Rick Mitchell skankin' in the crowd. Friends reported that the previous act, Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba, of Mali, were spectacular. We were sad to have missed them but happy to have caught Cabrera instead. Near the childrens' educational area, Aftermath found ourselves huddled in a simple thatched hut with a young couple as we all waited out another brief rainstorm. Behind us, we could hear some familiar 1960s ska, so when the sprinkle stopped we went to investigate. At the Jamaica booth, two dozen people who apparently didn't get enough at the Diamonds' show had started their own spontaneous dance party. Light rain was still falling, but the sun had also come out, and Aftermath just couldn't resist joining the dancers for a song or two. It turned out to be a pretty excellent Sunday.