Montrose Winter Social: Festival of Sound Checks
Photos by Barry Sigman
For more pics from the inaugural Montrose Winter Social, check out our slideshow.
The years spent organizing and attending a number of live music events have taught us several valuable lessons: 1) the line-up will inevitably change the second after being finalized and sent to print, 2) musicians -- especially young, inexperienced ones -- are generally not the most reliable or punctual beings, and finally, 3) most bands, left to their own devices, will sound check and tune for hours.
Rocks Off did see a few exciting performances at the Montrose Winter Social, held on December 3 from 1 p.m. to 2 a.m. at various venues around the intersection of Westheimer and Taft, but in all, the sprawling thirteen hour event left much to be desired.
We arrived a little after 3:00 p.m. and wandered into Avant Garden. Purple was supposed to be playing upstairs at 3:15 p.m. but the room was completely empty save a couple of lonely mic stands. Downstairs Wayword, a 19-year-old rapper from Spring (who looked more like a high school gaming nerd), was flowing like a seasoned veteran to interesting background tracks like the The Church's "Under the Milky Way". We sat through the entire set, entranced both by the performer and the non-stop dancing of a faux-hawked dude wearing the tightest brown cutoff shorts we've ever seen.
We could hear music drifting down the stairwell so we decided to check back for Purple or Black Cassidy. We hadn't even made it two feet into the room when our traveling companion whispered, "Ho-ly shit". He could have been referring to the singer's high-pitched vibrato, the fact that she's also the drummer (and a damn good one at that), or that she's only 19, but something tells us the comment made reference to the petite blond's appearance, described to us later as, "totally smokin' hot". Turns out it was Purple, a 3-piece band out of Beaumont, but we didn't find that out until the end of the set, despite asking half the people in the room.
At 4:15 p.m. we crossed the street to the VIP area at Sole Purpose for Thurogood Wordsmith, but the shoe store was empty and the stage was set up for We Were Wolves, listed a full hour earlier on the schedule. We couldn't tell whether they had just finished or had yet to start, but it didn't look like anything was going to happen any time soon so we headed back to Mango's. "Is this Sleuth or Peloton?", we inquired, but the bartender just threw up his hands in a "beats me" gesture. Our buddy snarked back with, "It's that band you expect to see at Cousin Sal's bar mitzvah." We stayed for a beer and then went back to Avant Garden for NOSAPRISE at 5 p.m.
At 5 p.m., there was no sign of NOSAPRISE. We waited around for 25 minutes then gave up, perusing the alleged schedule for the most novelly named band to see next. HOSPITAL at Numbers, 5:15-5:35 p.m. We can't say for certain that the keyboardist standing in front of a projection on a sheet and five head-bobbing hipsters was, in fact, HOSPITAL, only that whatever was happening reminded us of the Friends episode about Ross's "music". Back to Avant Garden.
At 5:40 p.m., NOSAPRISE was finally onstage and the downstairs room was packed, but Papaya upstairs proved even more energetic and interesting and we wished we'd caught more than a few minutes at the end of his set. We stayed for Hello Chief, another talented 3-piece band from Beaumont that sounded something like Modest Mouse meets Vampire Weekend, and then made our way back to our apartment around the corner for a bite to eat.
We arrived back on the scene at 8 p.m., refreshed and ready to rock, but it seemed the bands were not. We sat through two bloated sound checks before heading to Numbers (in the rain) to check out three bands we'd heard a lot about, and the only names on the line-up we specifically flagged as "must see": The Handshake, //TENSE//, and Bang Bangz. What we got was 45 minutes of Shiny Toy Guns sound check. Annoyed, we went back to Avant Garden, deemed the most reliable venue of the day.
Featherface (9 p.m.) lifted our spirits a little, with unique Wilco-like use of guitar effects and strong vocals , but we were still thinking about the acts we'd wanted to see at Numbers and decided to go back and wait it out until one of them came on. We arrived at 9:23 to one of the larger crowds of the day and a young, hip-looking group of guys doing sound check onstage. Finally. We asked a couple of people who was playing next and got that damn "beats me" shrug again, a recurring theme at the Montrose Winter Social.
9:35 p.m., still doing sound check.
9:45 p.m., more sound check.
10:00 p.m., yep, you guessed it.
In our notebook, the line, "30+ minute freaking sound check?? Prima-donna bullshit. These kids had better fucking rock." Except they didn't. And when they announced that they were the Infinite Apaches, the band scheduled to play from 5:40-6:15 p.m., we decided we'd had just about enough and left.
We commend organizer Eric Dean for his efforts in supporting the local music scene, and have enjoyed his Main Street block parties, but this particular endeavor, with more than 60 local acts dispersed between four venues and only 15 minute windows between shows, may have been a tad too ambitious.
We can understand last minute changes to the line-up and a random no-show here and there, but the problems with Saturday's Montrose Winter Social surpassed a couple of hiccups and rendered both the online and printed schedule distributed on-site relatively useless, making our attempt to cover it a fairly frustrating endeavor. If there were stage managers -- the guys at hired at festivals and events to kick the current band offstage at the end of their set and get the next one ready to go by their scheduled start time -- we didn't see them.
From our perspective it felt like musicians left to their own devices, which, as we explained before, is never a good idea. If this does become the quarterly event promoters had envisioned, we'd suggest cutting it down to a more manageable six or seven hours at most.
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