The Gory Details of the Inaugural Houston Open Air Festival [UPDATED]

Typically found in dark places, MINISTRY seemed right at home on the outdoor stage.
Typically found in dark places, MINISTRY seemed right at home on the outdoor stage.
Jack Gorman

Update 11:50 a.m. September 28, 2016:  Open Air has issued a statement about its refund policy. Please see it at the end of this story. 

Anyone who held a Houston Open Air ticket this past weekend, or at least was within earshot of someone who did, got quite an earful of concern and complaining. That’s because for Houston’s inaugural Danny Wimmer Presents metal festival, the grounds were evacuated both days because of inclement weather in the form of lightning strikes. And although the show was advertised as “rain or shine,” it didn’t happen. Out of the dozens of scheduled bands slated to perform, only a handful played at all.

That's extremely disappointing. Most bands cleared Houston immediately afterward, headed on to their next tour stops, but a few stuck around to treat fans. Namely, Avenged Sevenfold played a free show at White Oak Music Hall, much to the adoration (and appeasement) of fans. Starset played a free show at Raven Tower, and while Deftones were rumored to play Warehouse Live, that didn't occur. One more free show will happen tonight at Scout Bar with Avatar. 

Yet the question remains, is it enough? Updates from HOA’s Facebook page Sunday evening mentioned refund details coming shortly, but for many ticket holders who responded though angry posts, that didn’t feel like nearly enough to compensate for travel, parking, time lost and, for some, hotel expenses too.

So what are we to take away from this anticlimactic epic fail fest? Well, a few things to consider before swearing never to attend another festival (or someone might hold you to that unfortunate oath.)

1.) HOUSTON WEATHER IS NEVER STABLE
While the meteorological bipolarity of our metropolis is — at best — either oppressively hot or raining, is weather really stable anywhere? Unless you’re at Burning Man in the predictable desert climate of the American Southwest, you just can’t bank on perfect weather. And the flip side of that argument is you CAN bet Houston weather will probably not cooperate. (See FPSF 2016 and a half-dozen other similar outdoor concerts in recent history.) So the idea of an outdoor festival in Houston is a gamble and probably not one to be taken lightly.

In this case, the weather was grueling and, at one point, dangerous. While waiting in line in the baking heat for more than 45 minutes on Saturday to clear my credentials on the NRG asphalt, I experienced the initial symptoms of heat exhaustion. Shortly after my feet started burning through the soles of my shoes, I grew nauseated and then developed a throbbing headache that lasted the entire day no matter how much water I drank or how much time I spent in cool air. While it’s important to plan for Houston’s intermittent downpours, future promoters should consider the subsequent heat as well by providing shade when obviously needed.

2.) HOUSTON DESERVES DESTINATION FESTIVALS
During both evacuations, I overheard again and again people swearing off not only HOA but all festivals. Sure, I get it. This experience was really awful for nearly everyone involved, but the future of live music entertainment resides in festivals. They’re not going away anytime soon. And if you consider that Houston is in the top ten media market, a destination festival of this magnitude is long overdue. There have been plenty of touring festivals, but Houston deserves a bigger share of the festival market. While nobody wants to spend any festival hunkered down in the Green Lot of NRG parking watching skies darken for hours, more festivals will arrive, just (we hope) the indoor kind.

3.) VIP MEANS SOMETHING DIFFERENT
It’s hard to feel like a “very important person” when the front gates open and your very important line is not moving. It’s also hard to feel important when you’re being patted down and harassed about the size of your purse at the gate. Further, and most important, it's hard to embrace that VIP experience when you're corralled into a tiny yard with a few picnic tables and a side view of the stage. At some point, you begin to realize that general-admission free-flowing gates and front-row views of the stage are at a better advantage than what your VIP pass offers. In fact, all your VIP pass bought was a private yard in which to mingle with other concert elitists about what a joke VIP actually means.

Chevy Metal (and Foo Fighters) drummer Taylor Hawkins flashed his pearly whites throughout their set.
Chevy Metal (and Foo Fighters) drummer Taylor Hawkins flashed his pearly whites throughout their set.
Jack Gorman

4.) THE OLD BAG POLICY
While NRG or HOA aren’t the first to have bag rules for obvious safety and security concerns, the fact that these policies target women and not men is sexist and ridiculous. While men carry large billfold wallets and wear cargo shorts with numerous pockets and get away with the sweep of a metal-detector wand, women are continually harassed over the size of a mini-wallet, or an over-the-shoulder micro-purse, neither of which is large enough to conceal a firearm or steal merchandise. This past weekend at HOA, many were turned away, forced to either chain their purse to the gate fence (for reasons that were unclear) or told to throw them away. Some people acquiesced and purchased clear bags instead. These policies are unfriendly toward women who need to carry personal items. Ladies, you can either become period-free or start wearing billfolds and cargo pants.

5.) LAWYERS RUIN EVERYTHING
Lightning, heat and heavy rain are dangerous. Any reasonable person would not put him or herself in harm’s way just to see a rock concert, or so you would think. There are numerous examples of audience members who have lost their lives during a concert or similar event because of weather. During last year’s Rocklahoma event, two young men died because of the weather even after the concert grounds had been evacuated. So it’s understandable that a business would be concerned for its patrons' safety. More so, it’s perfectly allowable that same franchise would also try to avoid a lawsuit by removing itself from a liability situation. Complain all you want about missing musical acts you paid for, but this is America and people have sued for far less and won. It’s not just a risk against foul weather to attend an outdoor concert in Houston; it's also a risk to attend an event under dangerous circumstances and expect not to get evacuated. Welcome to the modern concert age. — Kristy Loye

But What About the Music?

Slayer, the highlight of the fest, crushed the crowds with its signature metal.
Slayer, the highlight of the fest, crushed the crowds with its signature metal.
Jack Gorman

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Chevy Metal's fun remakes of '70s rock were thoroughly entertaining; from Bowie to the Kinks, it was like turning on the classic rock station and partying with your best friend. Comedian and festival mate Jim Breuer joined the trio onstage to slay the AC/DC cover "Let There Be Rock." On a side note, drummer Taylor Hawkins had the whitest teeth of anyone at the entire festival.

Seeing Al Jourgensen perform in daylight is odd. MINISTRY should be consumed in a dark, dank club with gritty strangers intoxicated beyond belief, but it worked at HOA. The industrial classics "NWO" and "Just One Fix" pumped the crowd with an energy not seen up to that point in the day. Jourgensen and his bandmates made great use of the stage, constantly traversing the area and interacting with fans. Uncle Al even tossed his harmonica to a superfan after "PermaWar." 

By the time Slayer hit the stage, more than one mohawk had fallen to the side. The entire set from the thrash metal kings was the clear highlight of the weekend. Kerry King's face-melting guitar riffs to signature time changes of "Raining Blood" brought screams from fans and multiple mosh pits on the NRG grounds. A large number of festival-goers bolted after their set, emptying out as soon as Tom Araya pounded the last note from his bass.

Alice in Chains played a fantastic set that naturally spanned from the Facelift days to their newest album. William DuVall is a great front man that is respectful to his predecessor, the late Layne Staley. As solid of a performance as they gave, it was not special. It begs the question, are Jerry Cantrell and the crew simply going through the motions now? AIC played less than an hour for a set of fans that missed several hours of festival fun due to the pending weather.

Houston Open Air had every potential to be the #WeekendToRemember for all the right reasons. Unfortunately, the festival was a dud and fell flat mostly because the Gods of Thunder scheduled a visit to the Bayou City. The crew onsite did the best they could to keep everyone safe given the circumstances. — Jack Gorman

Update: Open Air organizers have released this statement: 

Dear Houston Open Air ticket purchaser-

We want to thank all of you for your support and patience over the past few days. As a result of the weather/safety related delays and cancellations from last weekend’s event, we are offering all buyers the following refund:

Saturday Only Ticket— 50% refund of your ticket price.
Sunday Only Ticket—100% refund of your ticket price.
Two-day Ticket — 75% refund of your ticket price (I.e. 50% refund of the Saturday portion of the ticket price and 100% refund of the Sunday portion of the ticket price.
The above refunds apply to all GA and VIP tickets at each applicable price level.

For those of you who purchased via Front Gate Tickets via internet or phone, please email info@frontgatetickets.com or call 888-512-7469 to request your refund. All refunds must be requested by Thursday, December 1st, 2016.

If you purchased tickets via a third party such as Groupon, Songkick, or Street Team, please contact that company directly.

For any further questions or assistance, please email weather@dwpresents.com.

Thanks again,

The Team at Houston Open Air

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NRG Park - Main Street Yellow Lot

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Houston, TX 77054


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