Bayou City

Houston's Fall Festival Forecast: Partly Cloudy, Chance of Joy

Willie Nelson will headline a massive hurricane-relief concert next Friday at Austin's Frank Erwin Center, then visit Sugar Land's Smart Financial Centre in November.
Willie Nelson will headline a massive hurricane-relief concert next Friday at Austin's Frank Erwin Center, then visit Sugar Land's Smart Financial Centre in November. Photo by James Minchin/Courtesy of C3 Presents
This fall is shaping up to be a strange time for Houston music fans. A handful of prominent concerts have been either canceled or postponed — Coldplay, Eric Church, Mary J. Blige, Sturgill Simpson, Olivia Newton-John just Wednesday — but the festival scene has really been hit hard. Just this week, those calling the shots at Index Fest and Houston Open Air decided to cancel those events because, in so many words, they just weren’t ready to move forward; it’s probably a toss-up whether that means “logistically” or “psychologically.” Maybe both. Likewise, word has since come down that the smaller Yes, Indeed! has decided to sit this year out as well.

Though it’s certainly understandable, it’s quickly becoming apparent that the mere idea of having fun for its own sake rubs a lot of people the wrong way right now. Perhaps the most revealing glimpse into promoters’ post-Harvey state of mind comes not from a music festival but the traveling pop-culture convention Fandemic; after already postponing its three-day Houston stop at NRG Park from this weekend to December, earlier this week it announced a new date of October 2018. The press release did not mince words: “Fandemic Tour remains cognizant that the Houston area and its community has more immediate and pressing concerns over the next few months than leisure.”

And yet, to play devil’s advocate, that kind of thinking dismisses live music and other “leisure” activities as little more than distractions or diversions, when nothing could be further from the truth. Music heals; that is a demonstrable scientific fact. When Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner went on Face the Nation one week after Harvey blew through and declared the Bayou City “open for business,” concerts were one of two specific types of events he mentioned by name. Indeed, since the storm, several live-music events — concert or festival, whether cancelled or not — have incorporated some sort of organized fundraising or donation drive into their business models. The producers of End Hip End It, the psych-rock fest that debuted last year in Old Town Spring, say they're hoping to find a new location and turn the entire event into a Harvey-relief fundraiser. Stay tuned.

So it’s with that in mind that the Houston Press has decided to go ahead with our annual rundown of the most promising fall festivals in Houston and the surrounding region — those that are left, that is. Several are happening out of town, but no further than a good day’s drive. That’s no coincidence. With everything this city has been through in the past month, there’s no shame in wanting to get out of town for a few days.

Various locations, Austin, September 14-16
Tickets: $15 to $50
The seasonal changes swirling in the Texas air also bring the third edition of this Austin experimental festival, which features more than 30 acts performing at four different locations: Barracuda, Kick Butt Coffee, Kenny Dorham’s Backyard and Victory Grill. Founded and curated by Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, the three-day festival features a wide array of music, from horn enthusiast Joe McPhee to pedal-steel guitarist Susan Alcorn to the cumbia tunes of Carmelo Torres y Los Toscos. Houston represents with the futuristic hip-hop of Jawwaad Taylor and long-running psych-rockers Charalambides. VERONICA ANNE SALINAS

Frank Erwin Center, Austin, September 22
Tickets: $30 to $199
Not a festival per se, but a lineup that blows most out of the water: Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Leon Bridges, Lyle Lovett, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, Ryan Bingham and more; plus presenters including Dan Rather, Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger. The concert is to be televised across the state via TEGNA stations (including KHOU in Houston) and streamed internationally via Google, but only the first hour of four, meaning if you’re not there in person, who knows what you’ll miss. Don’t overlook the details, either, namely musical director Charlie Sexton (Arc Angels, Bob Dylan), house band Asleep at the Wheel, and the almost limitless guest-star possibilities. Some have grumbled about the concert’s placement in Austin rather than, well, Houston, but that’s musical politics in Texas for you. Besides, Nelson will play Smart Financial Center November 14 if you must see him live (and you should). Donate and buy tickets now at CHRIS GRAY

Zilker Park, Austin, October 6-8/October 13-15
Tickets: $255 to $3,600 (Weekend 1 three-day GA passes sold out)
How time flies. Once upon a time, ACL was just another upstart looking to find its place in the crowded festival scene. Now, entering its 15th year, it’s unquestionably one of the more anticipated festivals on the musical calendar, so much so that it became a two-weekend affair in 2013. Unequivocal headliner Jay-Z wasn’t even part of the original lineup announcement, but alongside Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chance the Rapper, The Killers, and Gorillaz, Hova anchors one of the better bills ACL has ever put together — welcome news after a 2016 bill that some fans derided as somewhat lackluster. CLINT HALE

Sam Houston Race Park, October 14
Tickets: $29.50 to $129 (RV camping extra)
The success of ex-Staind singer Aaron Lewis’s turn toward the country side of the tracks can be gauged by the artists playing before him at Ziegenbock’s 15th annual racetrack roundup of practically all the honky-tonk and Americana artists worth their guitar strings: Josh Abbott Band, Shooter Jennings, Blackberry Smoke, Whiskey Myers, Jamestown Revival, Uncle Lucius, and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real...for starters. Seek out the third stage for homegrown acts looking to wow the big crowd, including The Broken Spokes, Josh Fuller Band and Chad Cooke Band. CHRIS GRAY

City Park, New Orleans, October 27-29
Tickets: $140 to $1,300
One could argue that spending Halloween weekend in New Orleans is reason enough to make the trip that weekend. The fact that the flight from Houston to New Orleans runs under an hour certainly doesn’t hurt; hell, it takes some people longer to get home in Houston traffic. Throw in one of the best sets of festival headliners going, and you get a must-see experience in Voodoo Fest. Depth be damned; a festival is only as good as its headliners, and Voodoo Fest delivers on that notion. The three-day festival features arguably the hottest rapper in the game today (Kendrick Lamar), the closest thing we have to modern-day rock legends (Foo Fighters) and a band returning to the big stage, one known for its over-the-top, grandiose live show (The Killers). LCD Soundsystem, DJ Snake, The Head and the Heart, Post Malone, and Prophets of Rage help round out the bill, which costs less than $150 for a three-day experience. Did we mention you get to spend Halloween weekend in New Orleans? CLINT HALE

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