10 Ways to Make Free Press Summer Fest More Exciting

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Those of us who have been around Free Press Summer Fest since the beginning are still having a little trouble wrapping our heads around the fact that the festival is almost a decade old. In that time it's become a massive success by almost any yardstick — by some estimates, FPSF is now the second-largest outdoor music festival in Texas, behind only Austin City Limits. But in that time, it’s also had to deal with some acute growing pains, struggling with everything from severe flooding that forced last year’s relocation to NRG Park to persistent criticisms like “Free Press Sausage Fest.” And who could ever forget the R. Kelly controversy?

This year, with a lineup again dominated by male artists like deadmau5, Modest Mouse and the Lil’ Wayne/2 Chainz duo known as Collegrove, FPSF has struggled to muster the same level of buzz it’s generated in years past. (Tickets remain available at $92.50 for a single-day general-admission pass or $157.50 for the weekend.) Granted, it’s no easy feat to remain competitive in an increasingly crowded music-fest marketplace dominated by the “Big 4” destination fests of Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and ACL. FPSF has yet to reach that lofty plateau (and frankly maybe never will), so it can’t help but still feel like a work in progress. Perhaps these ten humble suggestions might help it get some of that buzz back.

10. Bring back “Welcome to Houston.” To the dismay of local hip-hop fans, the almighty crew is absent from this year's FPSF lineup. Given that it was such a fantastic, homegrown act during the festival's formative years, this was a disappointing development, to say the least. To the fest's credit, however, it has highlighted other H-Town rappers to fill the void, notably Trae tha Truth and Ill Faded. Still, Welcome to Houston is sorely missed. MATTHEW KEEVER

9. More art. Participatory art exhibits would definitely make FPSF more exciting. The art installations have been part of the best things at Summer Fest over the years. The ones that seemed to be the biggest hits were the "Mustache Ride" and cooling misters made in the shape of a pipe maze. However, the most fun I've ever witnessed people having was with the temporary paint slide as part of the 2009 and 2012 offerings. JACK GORMAN

8. Somehow, someway, space it out. This will be FPSF's return to its original site of Eleanor Tinsley Park, which has been closed for renovations, apparently to make it more suitable for events like the festival. Hopefully, the renovations will make a big difference. FPSF has felt extremely tight in terms of space in recent years, with the exception of last year at NRG Park. Cramming a festival into a relatively small spot seems to be an FPSF speciality, but at what point do you realize that maybe the event is just plain outgrowing the location? BRANDON CLEMENTS

7. Allow camping. One of the worst parts of FPSF has nothing to do with either the lineup or the ticket prices. It's just that some of us are lazy, whiny babies who don’t want to leave Saturday’s late shows only to return mere hours later on little rest for Sunday’s early acts. The remedy is overnight, urban camping on the festival grounds. True, it would be some risk manager’s nightmare, but that’s their problem. Imagine pitching a tent down near the Mother Bayou with your fellow festgoers. If you need sleep, go for it. If you belong to the “sleep when I’m dead” faction, maybe Summer Fest keeps one ancillary dance music stage raging all night for the nocturnals. You won’t be able to see them – it’s June in Houston, which means probable cloud cover – but it’d be kind of exciting to know you’re out and under the stars. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

6. Enough with the repeat bookings. Wow, there are some great acts at FPSF 2016! I love Matt and Kim, and I know that they put on a great live show, because I saw them at FPSF. And Gogol Bordello is great at festivals, and at Eleanor Tinsley especially! Saw them at FPSF too...and Big Gigantic! And, uh, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros!? Wait! What the hell is going on?! Am I in a wormhole? Have I already been to this year's festival and it hasn't happened yet? It's great that these groups give our hometown festival love, but maybe it would be more exciting to have some bands play that haven't played in the past few years? SELENA DIERINGER

5. Add a purely local stage – hell, even a purely local day. Houston talent can more than handle the lack of variety on this bill. I suggest some of the best of what we offer, and this short list barely touches upon the mountains of talent in this town. In metal, Oceans of Slumber, Old Skull, An Oath of Misdirection (among others). In punk, D.R.I., The Hates, MyDolls, 30FOOTFALL. In rock, American Fangs, thelastplaceyoulook, We Were Wolves, Die Fast and Weeds. In Southern rock, The New Offenders, Black Water Mountain and Chris Hardy. Even in writing this, I’m struck by the notion that what we really need is a Houston festival that celebrates Houston music. Period. Not another festival telling us what talent is when we already own it. KRISTY LOYE

4. Book a legit headliner. If you're going to charge ACL prices, you have to deliver ACL headliners. And while headliners of yesteryear — such as Jack White, Vampire Weekend, Band of Horses and Childish Gambino — certainly fit the bill, the past couple of years have fallen rather flat with solid yet unspectacular offerings like Weezer,  the Decemberists, the National and Modest Mouse. Festivals are akin to a sports team: Depth is key, but to succeed, your stars have to deliver. It's unrealistic to expect Drake or Radiohead to walk through that door, but not to consider a FPSF where acts such as My Morning Jacket and Chris Stapleton close out each night. CLINT HALE

3. Women. Ragging on FPSF for not booking enough of them is an easy target. I'm not the first to bemoan the dearth of XX chromosomes on this year's lineup, or the microaggressive hostility of the headlining male acts. But 2016's roster has taken patriarchy to ironic proportions. FPSF is a slideshow of act after act after act after act after act of dudes with guitars/microphones/turntables standing around with their beards and their feelings. Even the local bands on the lineup are full of men, in spite of the dozens of women who are quietly crushing the Houston music scene. These monochromatic acts aren't just sexist; they're boring. Constantly supplying the festival with milquetoast men's music isn't going to inspire Houstonians to suffer through a weekend of June heat, nor is it going to build FPSF into the destination festival it deserves to be. If organizers want this festival to survive and thrive, they're going to need more women. KATIE SULLIVAN

2. Find an identity. After a few years, you start to know what a festival's brand is. You can describe it in a sentence. I can tell you that ACL is "the most chill of the Big 4 festivals" or that FFF is "three days of festival favorites past and future." They are known commodities. FPSF has been around for more than half a decade, and the only thing close to a brand it has is "Houston is neat," which is great, but it doesn't tell me anything about the event's booking philosophy. FPSF charges destination festival prices for a festival that isn't a destination. Simply put, FPSF needs to figure out what it wants to be, then adjust the messaging appropriately so people can manage expectations. CORY GARCIA

1. Two words: "Hippie Mike." JACK GORMAN

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