It could be successfully argued there’s more to life than music and beer, but thousands of Houstonians at this weekend’s Untapped Festival would have gladly debated the subject.
With Friday’s rains cleared, all that was pouring at Discovery Green Saturday evening was glorious craft beer, more than 275 varieties from six dozen breweries. Event organizers allowed the brews to be the headliners, but a handful of well-selected musical choices including Cold War Kids, Twin Shadow and Deer Tick made for a stellar evening.
The music day for us began with some bad and even worse news. Sadly, we missed Gio Chamba’s opening set, although we did get to witness the always-busy, multifaceted artist shimmying to a Fat Tony song. Worse yet, we learned we were watching the last New York City Queens set for the foreseeable future and, possibly, for all time. After the set, the group's John Stephens and Daniela Hernandez assured us that the members have plans to continue playing, albeit not together. They shared thanks with the loyal fans who have made them an acclaimed Houston act, then swan-songed against the falling shadows of an unseasonably cool late summer evening.
We grabbed a couple of excellent brews (two low-alcohol-by-volume citrus shandies from the Traveler Beer Company of Burlington, Vermont) and walked mere yards over to the Saint Arnold stage for Fat Tony. As if a few hundred beers being sampled by thousands of beautiful Houstonians weren't enough, another thing that made Untapped attractive was its format. Two stages parallel to one another were offset by the Lake House at Discovery Green, with scheduling conflicts as wonderfully absent as any threatening storm clouds. For once, the hard choices were being made over what to drink instead of which band to watch. It was a good change of pace and allowed us to take in Fat Tony’s full set, which included shoutouts to Gio Chamba, the entire southside of Houston and music promoter Mark Austin, whose acknowledgment prefaced “Sushi.” In case anyone wasn’t feeling H-tine enough, Tony brought his spirited set to a close with “Home.”
If there was a more appropriate song than “Revelation” for Denton’s Sarah Jaffe to open with, we can’t think of it. All evening, we met people who expressed awe over her voice and the songs she’s crafted for it. A lot of them hadn’t heard of Jaffe, whose music has been on NPR and recognized by no less a music authority than Rolling Stone. Thankfully, many were also familiar with her work. They sang along quietly or sent up a cheer when she went into the opening strains of “Clementine.” She was backed by a band of skilled pros who showed prowess on songs like “Defense” and “Lover Girl.” Jaffe traded between bass and rhythm guitar as her all-white outfit, punctuated by gold boots Adidas would envy, made her mythically angelic.
All that extraordinary singing made us thirsty, so we found beers from a new favorite brewery, Granbury’s Revolver Brewing. We tried Blood & Honey, its flagship wheat ale, and a 9 percent ABV oak-aged wheatwine ale called Anodyne. Scrumptious. We walked over to Saint Arnold’s tent for some Divine Reserve 15, then prepared for the first act to draw a considerable crowd, Rhode Island’s Deer Tick. Newsfix’s Craig Hlavaty came onstage to do the intros and asked what everyone was drinking. “Beer!” was the reply. He asked what everyone was eating. “Beer!” the crowd echoed. He introduced the band by saying it has such an affinity with our city it even named a song after it. Then Deer Tick hit the stage with enough keep-it-weirdness to recall that city west of Discovery Green and enough songcraft to bring Houston’s own Robert Ellis onstage for a spell. Fans didn’t have to wait long to hear “Houston, TX” — it was second in the set behind a rollicking “The Dream’s In the Ditch.” Other favorites included “Twenty Miles” and “Baltimore Blues No.1.” If Houston truly is a favorite stop for Deer Tick, it’s because the love is reciprocal.
We traversed back to the Karbach stage for the opening song or two of Twin Shadow, but that thing happened then that sometimes does when the beer and the company are both especially good and plentiful. We felt the need to socialize, to toast our neighbors and commend them on their excellent taste in weekend entertainment options. First, we met Tony and Jennifer, who said they were at the inaugural Untapped last year and preferred its shorter beer lines. They’d come out for cold beer and Cold War Kids. But mostly for cold beer, they said. They spent some time near the Brooklyn tent, drinking Sorachi Ace Saisons. Later, we encountered Annie, Kelsey and Tan, a trio who also said music was notched behind beer drinking on their day’s agenda. They advocated for Karbach’s Bourbon Barrel Hellfighter vanilla porter and all things Goose Island.
As with any festival, the restroom lines were long and filled with people good-naturedly grumbling about the fun they could be having if not for the inconvenience of their filled bladders. Or, as one woman walking to the end of the trailing line put it, “This is bullshit.” Following that, we raised glasses with Bobby and Ashley, over near the 8th Wonder stand. By that time, the brewery’s excellent Vietnamese coffee porter, Rocket Fuel, had been tapped, so we drank Alternate Universe and talked about how fucking cool our city is.
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Hlavaty and Saint Arnold’s Lennie Ambrose came out to introduce Cold War Kids by noting the L.A. band has the nation’s top-charting alternative song and remarking, “Everybody smells like beer," while Ambrose thanked Houston’s avid craft-beer fans for supporting the brewery for 21 years now. Then, the band came on to close the day’s events for the day's largest gathering of music fans. Their legions weren’t disappointed either, as the band went “One Song at a Time” through favorites such as “Audience,” “First” and “Hang Me Up to Dry.”
Speaking of dry, no one with a ticket at Untapped was, save a few toddlers and some dogs who had been dragged to the event by their beer-lovin’ parents/owners. If beer did indeed supersede music as a festival's main attraction this day, it was at least enhanced by the good sounds coming from Discovery Green's stages.