There was a moment as Aftermath was walking through the Caribbean Market section of iFest Saturday when we had the most visceral of flashbacks -- stepping off a Carnival cruise boat at the rip old age of 14 in Nassau, Bahamas, and being inundated by tourist-baiting marketeers trying to pawn off bootleg Bob Marley cassette tapes and begging to braid our hair Bo Derek-style. Thankfully, like the Bahamas, not all of iFest is a tourist trap, and Aftermath was able to see some pretty inspiring acts Saturday, from a sensitive reggae singer to a California native singing good old-fashioned Americana.
iFest had a significantly larger crowd this weekend thanks to what is probably the best weather we're going to have in Houston all year. When Aftermath arrived, the Louisiana Stage area was packed. As was the case last weekend, it seemed to be one of the most popular stages crowd-wise. Aftermath wonders if that's because of its proximity to the entrance -- festival-goers can hear the music from that stage on the street outside. The Zydepunks were in the midst of their set, and every retro-hipster at the festival was on the lawn watching them, including tattooed belly dancers and members of Los Skarnales, who played later in the evening. The self-described "New Orleans Cajun Irish Breton Klezmer Slavic Zydeco" punk band is a force of energy, and though Aftermath has heard them compared to Gogol Bordello a number of times, their sets Saturday seemed more reminiscent of Dengue Fever thanks to a tinge of 1960s exotica. Aftermath's companion asked, "What's the difference between this and regular gypsy music?" We just shrugged our shoulders. "They're from Louisiana?"
The Zydepunks were followed by Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas, who paid tribute to the "King of Zydeco," Clifton Chenier, rousing members of the audience to two-step and zydeco dance to Nathan Williams' accordion. By 6:45 p.m. people were lining up to get into the Caribbean Zone to see George Clinton, whose set was supposed to start at 7:30. Aftermath bypassed the traffic jam by going around to Allen Parkway and entering from a side gate there. One act we were most eager to see was Taj Weekes, who played two sets Saturday afternoon, first with his band, Adowa, and then a solo acoustic set on the minuscule HEB Cultural Stage. We caught the second set, where he was accompanied by bandmates Adoni Xavier on guitar and Radss Desiree on bass. Weekes was suffering from a bout of laryngitis, but if anything that gave his voice an even more delicate edge on songs like "Kink and Crinkle," about the persecution of Rastas in his hometown. It was a rare treat to hear his reggae music stripped down to its barest essentials. It's nice to hear acoustic guitar in reggae and not a Casio. The people crowded onto the grass seemed to agree. When Weekes said he'd have to cut his set short because he felt his voice sounded so bad, members of the audience begged him to play a few more songs. As Weekes was finishing his set we noticed a guy in the crowd dressed like Hollywood Montrose attempting to hoist a HUGE drum onto his shoulders. He stumbled around a bit before heading away from the stage area. As we meandered through the Caribbean Zone (Aftermath's favorite section of iFest this year, BTW) towards the Bud Light World Music Stage to see George Clinton we found out where the guy was headed. Turns out he is the frontman for Kozzmic Steel, a band that can only be described as Sheila E. meets Cameo with a side of STOMP and steel drums thrown in for good measure. They were corny, to say the least, but they were also good. Our companion said, "This is the best thing I've seen all day!" We were not so sure about the people sipping chardonnay at the Sister Cities Wine Bar Stage. There was a distinctive haze over the World Music Stage by about 7:30 p.m. We're sure it must have been all the dust in the air, stirred up by the mass of people there to see George Clinton. Aftermath sweet-talked our way into the iFest VIP Lounge where we had an excellent view of the stage, but unfortunately, the first 20 minutes of George Clinton's set featured some guy who was definitely NOT George Clinton singing R&B and church revival music. So instead, we decided to forgo Funkadelic and head back to where we started, the Louisiana Stage, to hear roots-rocker and founder of the Blasters Dave Alvin.
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The music came full circle too. Herman 'Rat' Brown, the drummer for Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas, who'd played earlier in the day, used to be the drummer for Buckwheat Zydeco. Dave Alvin wrote a song, "Marie Marie," that was covered by Buckwheat Zydeco. Alvin played his version early in the set, backed by his all-girl band, The Guilty Women, featuring five-time Grammy winner Cindy Cashdollar wailing on the lap steel and Austin Music Hall of Famer Sarah Brown on bass. It's a concept Aftermath loves, and Alvin does it right, without hogging the spotlight. "If you haven't noticed, I'm just about the luckiest guy on stage here," he said. Alvin, who was born and raised in California, performed several songs from his year-old self-titled record with the Guilty Women, including "California's Burning" and "Weight of the World," a tune about the burdens of womanhood. On the former, his Sam Elliot voice complimented perfectly the twang of fellow singer Christy McWilson. On the latter, she carried the whole song herself, with power and passion.