The Best of iFest's Second Weekend: Aaron Neville, Sergent Garcia, Grupo Fantasma, etc.
Photos by Jody Perry
Aaron Neville After four certified platinum albums and a few Grammys, Aaron Neville -- now 72 -- would have had every right to hang it all up years ago. Instead, to the delight of fans, the New Orleans soul singer found himself performing at iFest this weekend in support of his fourteenth studio album, My True Story, his first release in seven years.
Clad in a white button-down, blue jeans and with a beige fedora atop his head, Neville closed down the World Music Stage early Sunday evening, crooning to the horde of listeners that had gathered to hear and see the legend for themselves, eventually getting everyone to snap their fingers and dance along. He performed plenty of his own songs, including "Hercules," "Don't Go, Please Stay" and True Story's title track, peppering his set with renowned classics such as Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and Ben E. King's "Stand By Me."
If Sunday's performance was any indication, Neville's still got soul to spare, and he won't be slowing down anytime soon. MATTHEW KEEVER
Rob Curto & Matuto Houston music fans got their first major exposure to forro, one of the reigning Brazilian rhythms now being popularized in America, during the festival's first weekend, via the manic musical artistry of Forro in the Dark. Saturday the second lesson, a sort of forro in the rain, came courtesy of a water-soaked but uniformly wonderful set by accordionist Rob Curto and his New York band Matuto. The group played Sunday under sunny skies, but the Saturday-afternoon show on the Bud Light World Music Stage, which had fans, with and without umbrellas, dancing blissfully in the rain, was a quintessential outdoor festival experience.
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The sound of Matuto is at once more traditional, due to the lead role of Curto's accordion, and yet more eclectic, due to the fusion of additional musical styles, such as overt bluegrass quotes, than many of the other bands working in the forro genre. The fans probably didn't know about such technicalities and they certainly didn't care as long as the band, featuring superlative guitar stylings by Clay Ross, kept the music coming amidst the claps of thunder and the ever-increasing rain. MICHAEL POINT
Sergent Garcia Thinking I would snag an early seat for Aaron Neville's performance at the Bud Light World Stage, I instead had the great fortune of running into the end of Sergent Garcia, a French artist who blends Latin melodies and Caribbean beats into something I couldn't walk away from Sunday evening.
Houston is a city known for its fusion food scene, mashing together supposedly separate cultures into tasty cuisines (check out Happy Endings, a Korean/Japanese fusion food truck for proof), so why can't music get in on the fusion fun?
It's no wonder why Garcia's sound was so welcomed: It's an alchemy of Spanish-spoken songs backed by Jamaican reggae beats, which explained the scores of couples dry-humping rhythmically in the city's post-storm humidity. Garcia uttered the word "cumbia" seconds before the advent of a song featuring maracas, trumpets, bass drums and hip-thrusting women, which led me to assume that the word was tied to some kind of mating dance, and that the majority of his pulsating songs settled around the same. Later research confirmed that cumbia, a style fusing Hispanic, African and Colombian cultures, was indeed part of a historic courtship ritual. ALTAMESE OSBORNE
Jovino Santos Neto Seattle pianist Jovino Santos Neto, a Brazilian emigre who worked extensively with one of the country's most legendary musicians, composer/multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal, had his highly-anticipated Saturday show with former Houston jazz queen Kellye Gray washed away by the monsoon rains. But Neto, a world-class music educator as well as performer, took full advantage of what was supposedly a "workshop set" Sunday on the small H-E-B Cultural Stage to showcase his talents.
Neto assembled a highly qualified quartet, anchored by Houston jazz stalwart Sebastian "Bash" Whittaker on drums, for the educational set. Local guitarist Michael Anthony Shanks, playing what looked like a Brazilian four-stringed cavaquinho, and Neto's Seattle percussionist Jeff Busch completed the group with the leader providing piano, flute and a little melodica as well.
Neto provided entertaining insights with his discussions of the music but it was the demonstrations that made the set an eminently enjoyable master class, even to the musicians in the audience, who included Matuto's Rob Curto and Clay Ross. A simple demonstration of syncopation, with some Texas blues chords thrown in to localize the sound, evolved into a free-flowing exercise in virtuosity that may have been the jazziest musical segment of the festival.
Other demonstrations, each featuring condensed flashes of instrumental excellence, were equally rewarding, making the learning experience both pleasurable and profound. MICHAEL POINT
Grupo Fantasma Grupo Fantasma was the final group to take the Houston Press Rocks Off Texas Stage at iFest, it became quickly apparent why the 11-piece Austin Latin/funk orchestra was chosen to close out the day. From the infectious buzz of the horn-heavy ensemble to the high energy of the cumbia-salsa-reggae-funk amalgam, the band exploded with a buzz that had the audience on their feet and dancing within a couple of notes.
Grupo is known for their energetic live shows, a reputation is definitely street-cred worthy. Those guys were crammed onstage amidst a wide array of instruments, and despite the lack of breathing room, they made the entire performance look effortless.
They danced along with the crowd while flawlessly performing their vibrant mix of seamless Latin fusion. There weren't many folks sitting around during that set; the front of the stage an impromptu dance-floor for cumbias and any other form of dancing that one could conjure up. ANGELICA LEICHT
Andre Thierry & Zydeco Magic I'm glad I got to see Andre Thierry & Zydeco Magic. Before their Sunday-afternoon performance on the Houston Press Rocks Off Texas Stage, I wasn't too keen on zydeco music, thinking it an incessant jumble of accordion and drum sounds crashing into each other over and over again, all facilitated by a group of old guys in Easter-pink fedoras and matching suits.
However, I'm willing to admit when I'm wrong, and Sunday afternoon served me a big slice of humble pie. With Thierry, dressed casually in a blue shirt and matching baseball cap, and his Grammy-nominated Richmond, Calif.-based band, I learned that zydeco is, in fact, a varied and quite enjoyable genre with pleasant harmonies and meaningful songs about women and the blues, two topics that can be interchangeable, depending on your feeling about the former at the time. Or maybe...
"They're a good band. A real good band," said a gray-haired man seated beside me. A relaxed two-steppin' tune that caused a mass Electric Slide to take place. ALTAMESE OSBORNE