Let's get the obligatory Summer Fest comments, critiques and criticisms out of the way first: yes, it was hot; yes, unfortunately, there was limited water available; and yes, there was a glaring lack of box-office infrastructure Saturday. Did you really expect anything different from a first-time festival being held in August in Houston? To dismiss this past weekend's overarching success based on such situational happenstance is to not really care about how vitally important this past weekend was to Houston. Simply put, the weekend was all about the music, and the bands that played dealt a rather hearty blow to the naysayers' arguments. To put it a different way, Free Press Summer Fest displayed to the doubters and non-believers inside and outside our fair city that Houston most assuredly does have an active, thriving, imaginative music scene. To say otherwise means you haven't been paying much attention to the strides many of our most talented local acts have taken in the past 18 months.
Both days found Eleanor Tinsley Park teeming with teenagers, twentysomethings and a surprising number of families all coming together to have a great time with great local bands, celebrating some of the best music our city has to offer. Moreover, Aftermath thought it was wonderful to be able to interact with several bands before and after their sets, as many members of several notable acts were present for both days of the Festival, lending the event a family-picnic feel to the whole event. Also, we couldn't resist yet another chance to play our new favorite game: Hipster or Hippie?
In terms of the actual music - you know, the alleged reason that most of us braved the Texas heat all weekend long - we were in awe at the number of styles represented across two stages and two days. Not only did all manner of old- and new-school indie-rock felt right at home next to rollicking folk-rock, but the rap and hip-hop acts only served to compliment and bulk up the energy displayed by Summer Fest's punk and metal groups. When you can leave one stage blaring the gloriously dirty, bluesy garage rock of Ume to frolic in the weed-, women- and booze-laced lyrics of Devin the Dude - and do so without losing a smidgen of intensity or interest - you know that something good is happening.
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For Aftermath's money, the weekend's best set was by Los Skarnales. Never having been privileged to see this critically acclaimed group in action, we had to pick our jaw up off the dirt by the time these guys were finished with their set. Second-wave ska was fused with high-grade strains of Tejano and cumbia to release a potent form of insanely up-tempo music that had around 100 dirty hipsters (or hippies?) skanking and dancing in full force at 2:30 in the afternoon. This band's stage presence and energy were damn near irrepressible. Other top performers observed by Aftermath included the ridiculously amazing wordplay of Fat Tony; the old-school hip-hop beats and flow of H.I.S.D.; the stellar metal riffing of The Sword; and the indie/folk-rock swagger of Buxton, each of whom brought its top game in fine form, whether you had seen them in action before or not. Broken Social Scene won a special little place in our hearts when, during the middle of the fifth song (a tasty, fun pop jam whose title we can't quite place), Kevin Drew stopped everything to break up a fight that was occurring right in front of the sound tent. After earning the appreciative crowd's acclaim for calling out the fighters as "dicks," the band picked up the song right where it had left off without missing a single beat. That, my friends, is quality musicianship.
Thus, despite the somewhat obvious gaffes in organization - ones many artists and fans we talked with were willing to overlook because of the otherwise excellent musical goings-on - Aftermath would like to declare the inaugural Free Press Summer Fest to be a rousing success. Omar Afra and his staff (as well as the folks at Pegstar) should be applauded, not only for the vision and foresight necessary to create such an event, but also for the hard work required to make everything operate as it did. Now if we can only find a way to cut down on those two-hour will-call lines... Adam P. Newton writes Houston-based music blog Dryvetyme Onlyne. Follow him on Twitter here.