Due to a previous commitment to my Houston 48 Hour Film Project team, I missed Summerfest on Saturday, so it was with eager anticipation that I got into my car and started on the trip from my home in Friendswood to Eleanor Tinsley Park. And that was how I found myself thinking "I hope they don't pull my drowned body out of the car with this ridiculous handlebar moustache." I played a drug dealer in my team's short film, so I had naturally shaved my facial hair into a handlebar the day before and kept it on Sunday just in case of re-shoots, so when the monsoon hit as I was driving north on 45 around the Edgebrook exit, I lamented what a silly-looking corpse I would make. Traffic slowed to roughly 20 mph, and cars were pulling off by the side of the road one after another to attempt to wait the worst of it out. I plowed ahead, because I drive a Camaro which has approximately an inch and a half of ground clearance, and my strategy was to just keep going through the storm as quickly as possible. Okay, maybe not a strategy so much as a gut reaction to the torrent, but the last thing I wanted to do was pull aside somewhere and become trapped by standing water, so I hauled as much ass as I possibly could at school-zone speed. I'm sure many of you remember how fierce the downpour was, having been standing outside in it.
I arrived just as the rain stopped, parked at Taft and West Dallas and walked to the festival, chatting with a few people along the way, including a high-school kid named José who was excited to see the Flaming Lips and who must have been born around the time "She Don't Use Jelly" was getting radio play. After getting inside the gate, the first great thing about Summerfest struck me: Bumping randomly into people you know. I passed up several people I knew before I had even walked over to the hill leading down to the main stage. This may not seem like much of a big deal at first, but to me it cemented what a close-knit community Houston can be. It really seemed like a big party someone had invited all my friends to rather than just another festival, and that was a nice feeling. Passing all the dripping wet people, I felt somewhat ashamed of my dryness, but soon discovered that, instead of being pissed off and resentful at the stormy weather, most people were just glad to have had a respite from the heat. I inched/slid carefully down the already-muddy hillside to the main stage to see that Stars had just begun their set. They were energetic and friendly, and their live show faithfully replicated the dreamy, layered quality of their excellent albums. The crowd was in good spirits, having already enthusiastically churned the earth in front of the stage into soupy glop. The smell was not entirely pleasant, but it didn't really seem to bother anyone. I have to salute the Free Press' choice of venue. There's something almost magical about watching an amazing band play with the downtown skyline as its backdrop. It was impossible to be anywhere but in the moment, acutely aware of the positivity of your surroundings. I'm not really much of a believer in "good vibes" and other holistic business of that type, but nonetheless, the happiness and enthusiasm surrounding me on all sides was a palpable thing. And these were people who had been standing out in the hot sun for two days straight; I really wish I had seen the energy level at the beginning of the festival.
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Once Stars' set ended, I headed to the VIP tent to have a look around. The air-conditioning was nice, but the dark, club-like atmosphere inside was basically the opposite of the vibe outside, so I didn't stay longer than it took to buy a drink. Venturing back outside, Bun B and Slim Thug were just about to start their set. I carefully shlepped my way back up the hillside which was growing muddier and muddier by the minute and waited in line at the El Tiempo taco stand. I couldn't believe how fast the line moved; despite it being at least fifteen people deep when I got there, I had my food within ten minutes. Sadly, they were out of nacho cheese when I got there, and the vendor explained "You can come back later, the cheese truck is on its way." I hadn't eaten all day, so I went ahead and got some plain beef fajita tacos with salsa verde, muttering to myself that I would like to one day drive a cheese truck. The tacos were delicious, and at $8 for two of them, not a bad deal, especially considering normal festival practice would be to give you one slightly larger taco for the same price. Plus they piled the beef on really high. In short, I highly recommend the El Tiempo booth for all future festivals. After hanging out with some friends in various states of sobriety under the Red Bull shade tent, I met up with another group of friends and watched the Flaming Lips. Hlavaty already summed that show up beautifully, so I'll only add that as dreamy and sentimental as Stars' set made me, multiply that by about 100.
Watching the Flaming Lips, you feel like it's never too late, anything is possible, you still have time to do anything you want in life, you're not a fool for dreaming and hope pays off. Bring friends. You will want to alternately sing with and hug them the entire time. I don't think the Lips mistook our bleary-eyed, sated exhaustion for apathy. Wayne Coyne apologized for neglecting Houston for so long, assured us it wasn't anything against our fine city, and all was indeed forgiven by way of thunderous applause. By the end of the night, people were strolling wearily back to their cars, amiably chatting with whoever happened to be nearby, the line between friend and total stranger blurred by two straight days of heat, community and music. I'm proud to have something like this in Houston. I'm thrilled to see it growing, and can't wait to see what's in store for next year.