Let's Talk About That Bewildering FPSF Lineup

deadmau5 at last year's Austin City Limits Music Festival
deadmau5 at last year's Austin City Limits Music Festival
Photo by Jack Gorman

Tuesday's announcement of the 2016 Free Press Summer Fest lineup left the Houston Press music staff a little dumbfounded. But not for long.

I imagine some people out there are really excited about this year's lineup. If you're into EDM, you're probably smiling, because the dance-music lineup is full of acts that are really great in the festival environment. I'm happy for those people, no snark, because I look at the lineup and I don't really feel much of anything. I've never put on a festival, but I suspect that it isn't easy. With Governor's Ball the same weekend up in NYC and other obvious headliners just not lining up for a quick jaunt to Houston (At the Drive-In), booking this one must be a nightmare. Ignoring the lack of big rap names and female artists of all levels of popularity, my real takeaway from this lineup is this: FPSF isn't interested in becoming a destination festival. And that's fine; they don't have to become one. I wish they would reconsider, though. Fingers crossed the X-Games' music lineup delivers this year.

Not very excited about this year's lineup as a whole, but just as in past years, there are certain to be a handful of mid-level bands that will generate hype. Look out for Big Grams; seriously, how could a Phantogram and Big Boi collab go wrong? Solid group of electronic artists, though, especially Jamie XX. Hope the scheduling gods don't pit mau5 against Mouse.

This year's FPSF lineup is solid, and I'm especially excited at the prospect of seeing Deadmau5, Modest Mouse, Frank Turner, Against Me! and Wild Child alongside local favorites Trae Tha Truth and Another Run. I was also pleased to see Nathan Quick's name among so many other great acts. That guy has put in the time and is one of the most underrated and slept-on acts in town. This year's FPSF should provide him with some additional momentum, which I hope he can ride toward another solid album following last year's breakout EP City Lights.

Lastly, it's nice that Gogol Bordello and Matt & Kim are returning for another round of FPSF, since both acts put on amazing live performances. I'm excited for the artist(s) yet to be announced and pleased with what I've seen so far.

All the anti-R. Kelly uproar changed absolutely nothing, so maybe the idea of any FPSF backlash is so last year. But this lineup is not even underwhelming; it's just baffling. First, although female artists or female-fronted bands (or hell, female DJs) have been woefully underrepresented since the beginning, this year may be the most dude-heavy lineup of them all. It's like you can smell the musk already.

Also, with all due respect to Beatking and Trae Tha Truth, the absence of any higher-profile Houston rappers is equally glaring, especially in light of the triumphant “Welcome to Houston” ad hocs of recent years. So unless FPSF has something up its sleeve – which is certainly not out of the question – that one really stings. For that matter, there's not much in the way of big-time non-Texas rap talent there, either, but this is what really hurts: Where are the other locals? Past lineup rollouts have usually yielded a dozen or more of H-Town's finest; this year, besides the aforementioned rappers, it's down to Children of Pop, Another Run, hip-hop producer/rapper Ill Faded, indie-rockers King Finn and rootsy bard Nathan Quick. Those cats are great; there's just not nearly enough of them. (FPSF has promised more, though, so let's hope it delivers.)

So let's focus on who is there. Even conceding my advanced age and lack of interest in festival culture, certainly there are a few bright spots: Violent Femmes, Leon Bridges, Aubrie Sellers, David Ramirez. My own interest in the National may have faded a little compared to the Boxer years, but within their slow-building, majestic songs lies the potential for an unforgettable set. FPSF always seems to bring over a few Austin bands worth checking out; with White Denim, the Black Angels and Blue Healer here, that's no different. Beyond that, something about this year's bill feels somehow…uninspired. Perhaps the past few months have already shown us a peek into the future, though. What if FPSF keeps the EDM lovers and beardo bands, and leaves Day For Night to the folks who prefer a little more surprise and adventure at their festivals? That sounds fair.

After anxiously waiting for months to view the FPSF lineup, the reality is anticlimactic, to say the least. A quick scan revealed more than three dozen acts and promises of more to come...and out of all of the names, I recognized exactly six selections. I’d like to think of myself as somewhat savvy as to who’s who in modern music, but I’m simply at a loss for many of these groups. And while I’m all for discovering new music and supporting fledgling musicians, at $157.50 per ticket in the Houston humidity, sadly, Spotify and air-conditioning look like a reasonable alternative.

Even if FPSF seems to be moving toward an overall EDM and alt-pop package, I’m not sure if this ticket can draw as diverse a crowd of music fans as past offerings have. Comparatively, there’s not the same kind of headliner punch as in years past. While there are some interesting acts for (loosely) punk/metal fans, like The Black Angels, Refused, Moving Units and Matthew Logan Vasquez, nothing really qualifies as a sure-money bet for those genres. I could try to enjoy music that’s typically pumped through the speakers in The Gap's dressing room, but why, when FPSF has hosted the likes of Weezer, Mastodon, Pentagram and Goatwhore before? Fact is, the fest could use some dirty gutter punks, angry guitar feedback and hell-raising hardcore blast beats. You know, real sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I need a band that eats glass for breakfast, courts Satan and incites a mosh pit, otherwise I’m uninspired.

I want to cheer for this lineup, but I just can’t. There’s not enough beer at FPSF to make me remotely interested in bands that are the fodder of every bearded hipster playlist. Sorry. After a lackluster Rodeo lineup and no touring metal fests booked through Texas, FPSF is the last nail in the summertime Houston concert coffin. Unless “more to be announced” includes some heavy metal hitters and serious variation in genre, count this writer out.

Deadmau5 for the EDM crowd. The National and Modest Mouse for the aging hipsters. Edward Sharpe for the popsters. Leon Bridges for the "hot new kid." Big Grams and A$AP Ferg for the hip-hop heads. Refused for the metal and punk kids. Violent Femmes for the throwback. If you dig around, you'll find some really inspired bookings like the Coathangers, San Fermin, Mac DeMarco, Wild Child and Thee Oh Sees. What do you expect? It's a Free Press Summer Fest lineup. This is exactly what they've been doing since finding their footing in 2012.

It's booking Mad Libs-style: Just find the right band to fill those categories and voilà. Come to think of it, could they get Madlib next year? Anything's possible, but I wouldn't hold my breath. In the meantime, it's a ho-hum reveal unless one of these is your favorite band. The only ones you really don't want to miss are Refused, Violent Femmes, Tiger Army and Big Grams, who are unlikely to be back around Houston again any time soon. The rest will probably headline a show here six months later.

This year’s lineup makes it official: FPSF is the Houston Texans of music festivals. For one, women have been relegated to the sidelines like cheerleaders. As of now, it’s only Matt and Kim’s Kim Schifino in the huddle with all the dudes who were drafted to suit up and play the main stages. (#FreePressSausageFest). Maybe it’s just me, but the women who are slated for the smaller stages are some of the most interesting acts unveiled today; Zoe Kravitz’s band Lolawolf and Lee Ann Womack’s daughter Aubrie Sellers, to be exact. A couple of acts equate to big plays – The National, Big Grams, Tiger Army and Refused – but overall it’s as ho-hum as Bill O’Brien’s seen-it-before, you-know-what’s coming (dance music, aging indie acts) offense.

FPSF's organizers are like Bob McNair: Both gave Houston something exciting and thrilling to cheer for, and there’s still great promise in their enterprises. But they need to move beyond simply being competitive and truly vie with the champions of their respective worlds before we all lose interest.

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