Bros Gone Wild: FPSF Doubles Down on Bad Boys

Bros will be bros. Looking over this year's Free Press Summer Fest lineup after Thursday's addition of Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz, Father John Misty and a few others, it's hard not to think about Wesley Morris's “First Words” column in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine. Each week, a different writer (Morris is the Times's critic-at-large) examines the origins and deployment of a word or phrase on the rise; here, Morris chooses those three letters that rankle everyone from feminists to anyone who found How I Met Your Mother annoying.

Morris's column draws a line from The Jersey Shore and Rob Gronkowski's party boat to Berniebros and Trump rallies, steering his column from pop culture to the political realm as he charts the current pandemic of "broliferation.” In their feckless pursuit of babes, rays and a good buzz, these bros have driven the non-bros who must regularly interact with them (male and female alike) positively batty. Perhaps inadvertently, but perhaps not, all this recent douchery has also managed to pick at the slow-to-heal scabs of some pretty old cultural wounds.

“But now 'bro' has been ripped from its life as a teasing term of endearment and description of camaraderie and plunked into the sociopolitical swamps of entitlement and privilege,” Morris writes. “It starts to get at the fractious identity rifts at the heart of this campaign season. On one hand, women and people of color don’t want to be patronized by know-it-all white guys or bullied into supporting one presidential candidate and harassed away from supporting another. On the other: #NotAllMen.”

You may be wondering, what on Earth does all that have to do with Modest Mouse and A$AP Ferg? Well, if bro culture is being put on notice by gatekeepers like Morris (plus countless others on social media), it appears that one reliably safe refuge of unfettered, unapologetic male behavior may be music festivals like FSPF. This fest enjoys tweeting out promotional jargon like its intention to be "lit, bae, squad, fam and chill all at once," leaving some of us to wonder which "squad" of tenth-graders they've drafted as their social-media team. This year, instead of adding an act or two who might placate the critics who have made “sausage-fest” a familiar anti-FPSF rallying cry, the organizers have instead booked a handful of headliners who are practically poster children for prototypical male behavior run amok. 

First, there’s Father John Misty, the dashing L.A. troubadour alter ego of real-life musician J. Tillman. Misty's wildly acclaimed 2015 album I Love You, Honeybear is a squirmingly frank dissection of Tillman's relationship with his wife, riddled with uncomfortable TMI disclosures, unflattering imagery and enough ribald humor to (almost) excuse lines like “she blames her excess on my influence/ then gladly Hoovers all my drugs.” Too bad Honeybear's attempt to play both ends against the middle, hipster rake versus devoted husband, didn't hold water with NPR's Ann Powers. “Tillman's ultimate faith in his own sincerity as a lover provides a redemption that his Misty character simply doesn't earn,” she wrote around the time of the album's release.

Hardly concerned with whether he comes off ironic or not is Lil Wayne, who simply claims to be one of hip-hop's great cocksmen of all time. And who's to say he's wrong? His catalog is as devoted to carnal pleasures as novelists like D.H. Lawrence or Henry Miller, making albums like Tha Carter III the Tropic of Cancers of the 21st century. Weezy's extensive on-record coital exploits once even inspired “Feminist or Misogynist,” a tongue-in-cheek Washington City Paper article from 2009. Not to be outdone, 2 Chainz touts his swag on "What Happened," a song from his and Weezy’s brand-new joint album ColleGrove:

My dick is the antidote
She like me on top like an antelope
That time that I smoked with ya best friend
I wanted ta fuck ya’ll on the patio
You miss when I kiss on your ear-ring
You miss when I kiss on your clit ring
Thats why I put you in this 16
I’ll fuck you and watch you on the big screen

Well now. Talk like that is great if you’re roughly a 14- to 25-year-old dude, but what about everyone else? Would FPSF sell any more tickets if it had booked, say, Halsey, Courtney Barnett, Sleater-Kinney or Liz Phair? It’s easy to say yeah, but maybe not if one of those acts had to take the place of Edward Sharpe, Leon Bridges or Jaime xx. What if they brought in M.I.A. or Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott or, heck, pinched Salt-N-Pepa from the “I Love the ’90s” festival? That would be awesome, too, but maybe if a frog had wings, he would also fly.

Like any other festival, FPSF is limited to whatever talent is available and affordable, and competition is cutthroat. A handful of deep-pocketed U.S. events — Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, ACL — can quote a price to A-list acts, leaving everybody else to fight for the leftovers. FPSF weekend alone, Houston is probably running third behind Governor’s Ball in NYC and Cincinnati’s Bunbury; fourth if you head overseas and count Primavera in Barcelona, Spain. However, let’s not lose sight of the fact that FPSF does have some pretty brilliant bookings this year — among them Violent Femmes, Thee Oh Sees or the just-announced Preservation Hall Jazz Band. It’s just a shame that the New Orleans institution’s greatness will probably be lost on a lot of people who just came out to see deadmau5 and the Chainsmokers. But hey, maybe not. That’s festivals for you.

And besides, if you think FPSF is a sausage-fest, it’s got nothing on Rocklahoma, which also firmed up its lineup this week. That Memorial Day Weekend fest outside Tulsa is probably twice the size of Houston’s, and ladies on the stage there are in much shorter supply. (That said, congrats to Houston's The Grizzly Band for scoring a spot on the bill.) Everything is relative, but music festivals are more relative than a lot of other things. No doubt lots of people out there are thrilled that Weezy & 2 Chainz and Father John Misty just got added to FPSF. Everyone else who’s going will just have to grin and bro it.
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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray