Defending Buzzfest: A Festival Perfectly in Tune With Its Audience

Toadies are but one of many bands playing Buzzfest this weekend in The Woodlands.
Toadies are but one of many bands playing Buzzfest this weekend in The Woodlands.
Photo by Francisco Montes
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Sometimes, a person, place or thing is lambasted to the point where piling on said person, place or thing becomes a pastime of sorts, low-hanging fruit for everyone to take a shot. And, of course, as is commonplace, such pastimes often become stale. In music this holds true perhaps more than in any other capacity.

Take Creed and Nickelback, for instance. The former basically owned the '90s rock radio charts, while the latter inherited the mantle from them and rolled that success into the 21st century. Neither band is particularly inventive, and both are fairly predictable. Yet these two bands became synonymous with the poor state of pop-rock radio during their respective primes.

So while it’s fair to blast Scott Stapp for his '90s Jesus complex or to deride Nickelback for some of the corniest songs ever to hit radio – “Rockstar,” seriously? – the criticism of these two bands is beyond played out. Yeah, Creed and Nickelback aren’t for everyone, but it’s time to move on.

Which brings us to Buzzfest.

The semiannual rock festival hosted by Houston's 94.5 The Buzz, whose next installment is scheduled for Saturday at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, is a showcase for bands that ruled the rock-radio charts of yesteryear, as well as those looking to do the same in an era when rock radio certainly lacks the pop and impact it once had. This year’s notable acts include Godsmack, Breaking Benjamin, P.O.D., Filter, Toadies and many more.

This lineup, as is often the case with Buzzfest, can safely be described as polarizing. In one corner, you have folks who either never left the '90s or are simply in the mood to relive it. They are more than excited to check out a band like Godsmack, who hasn’t really done much of late but really was a thing in the late '90s and early 2000s. Or they’re looking to check out Toadies, who seemingly play Houston two to three times a year but are a legitimately good – and Texas! – band.

In the other, you have those cynics who point to Buzzfest as the indicator of all that is wrong with music today (seriously, check out this Reddit feed; it gets personal in a hurry). They view Buzzfest as a way for suburbanites to leave their cardboard-cutout abodes for a weekend, show off the chin-strap goatees and tribal tattoos, drink far too much watered-down domestic lagers, and rage loudly and ignorantly into the night.

In actuality, both sides have a point.

No, Buzzfest isn’t exactly a bastion of highbrow music. You will not see highly respected artists like Radiohead and Pearl Jam turn up at Buzzfest, though both do get radio play on 94.5. Sure, bands like Godsmack and Breaking Benjamin are sorta one-note in their angst-ridden portrayals of life as a middle-class white guy. And yeah, having attended a few Buzzfests in my day, some of the folks you run into can be safely described as interesting, and the tattoos alone are worth the price of admission.

In contrast, Buzzfest wasn’t designed to be Day for Night, a local festival dominated by art rock and elitist types. Quite frankly, I find a lot of the music that populates festivals like Day for Night to be inaccessible and sanctimonious. It shouldn’t be so hard to “get” music.

While some local festivals – we’re looking at you, Free Press Summer Fest and Houston Whatever Fest – seem to have trouble gaining a firm grasp of who their audience is and what exactly it is they want, Buzzfest has no such issue. Its fans, who are loyal and turn out in droves twice a year, want popular, straightforward rock music from bands of long ago (mostly), delivering catchy hooks in five minutes or less. They have gotten just that in the past from bands like Cage the Elephant, Papa Roach, Chevelle and Staind. This year, much of the same will be delivered from the likes of Godsmack and Breaking Benjamin, who have produced tracks like “Keep Away” and “The Diary of Jane,” respectively – two examples of pop-rock done right.

Point being, one must not necessarily like something to accept its existence. Godsmack isn’t your thing? Maybe Buzzfest isn’t for you. Not interested in checking out some of the young, up-and-coming bands that may headline future Buzzfests? Certainly understandable. Think Toadies are overrated, a band riding one hit for the better part of 20 years? Well, you’re simply wrong there. Toadies can play any festival they want.

Buzzfest returns to the Woodlands Pavilion Saturday, April 15, featuring Godsmack, Breaking Benjamin, Toadies, Pvris, Highly Suspect, P.O.D., Red Sun Rising, New Politics and many more. Tickets range from $175 to $42.50; gates open at 12 p.m.

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