Fests of Fury

With a second 420 festival planned for the weekend of April 19 and 20, Houston is rapidly earning itself a new nickname. With the old "Baghdad on the Bayou" falling from favor, perhaps we should replace it with "The Big Ol' Bag o' Bud on the Bayou."

In all, 86 bands will play the two events. The festivities kick off Saturday afternoon at the International Ballroom, where Alex DiSaggio's 420 Fest fires up at (natch) 4:20 in the afternoon and runs for a good 12 hours. (For a full account of DiSaggio's debut on the Houston scene, see "Dreaming the Impossible Dream," April 10.)

Eight and a half hours after DiSaggio's soiree winds down, the Houston Music Alliance will spark up the bulkily titled Houston's Washington Avenue 420 Music Fest. Since 4/20 falls on Easter Sunday this year, expect a lot of people to be looking for things like their car keys in addition to the usual painted eggs. (And perhaps those eggs will be singularly psychedelic.)

At any rate, the HMA's Alex Lozano isn't letting a little thing like the anniversary of the resurrection of Jesus Christ get in the way of a big old rock and roll/marijuana festival. As of press time, 54 bands were signed up to play on seven stages along Washington, including Walter's, Fat Cat's (which will also have an outdoor stage), Silky's, the Rhythm Room and Second Ward newbie the Warehouse. Eight bucks gets you a wristband and access to all of the club stages, while the seventh stage -- the, heaven help us, 4:20 Cannabis Odyssey Stage -- is free. The show is 18 and up and runs to midnight. A 1976 Ovation Viper electric guitar will be raffled off at $10 a ticket. (Thirty percent of the proceeds from the raffle and the wristbands goes to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.)

Highlights include De Sangre and Naked Content at the Warehouse; the tongue-twisting lineup of South, Four and Sore at Fat Cat's, which will become a metal bar for the day; Jimmy's Pawn Shop, the El Toros and Romeo Dogs at Silky's; Slop Jar Jr., Feighl and the Fumigators, Oscar O'Bear and Guy Schwartz & the New Jack Hippies at Walter's; Three Fantastic, Gary Dorsey, Felix Madison and Plump at the Rhythm Room; and Bigga Figgaz and Fault at the Cannabis Odyssey stage.

Last year a similar fest was marred by a heavy undercover police presence and a mass arrest of Fitzgerald's patrons. (See "Doobieous Bust," by John Suval, May 4, 2002.) Lozano knows it could happen again. "All my people are going, 'Aren't you worried about all the narcs that are gonna be there?' I just go, 'No, but thanks for reminding me,' " he says. "I think I'm just gonna roll a hundred fake joints and pretend I'm smoking, and maybe that will draw them out. But I think it would be kinda cool for you to remind people to watch who they smoke with.

Abruptly Lozano changes tack. "It's not a marijuana festival," he claims, more than a little, well, doobieously. What about the Cannabis Odyssey stage? The 420 in the title? The pot leaf tattooed on the arm of the rockin' Easter Bunny on the event's poster? Turns out Lozano means that the event isn't meant to celebrate pot as a fun thing, but rather a medicinal aid. "I actually wanted the money to go to a residential AIDS hospice. Since that's conducive to 420, it's a natural connection," Lozano says. "This is about medical marijuana…"

In part. Lozano's stream of consciousness next sweeps him off to another event he's helping to plan: the return of the Westheimer Street Festival to its original home after several years in "exile." Lozano wants to roll some of his profits from the 420 shindig into that endeavor.

In 1999, acting in response to complaints from Montrose residents, the City of Houston forcibly removed the long-embattled festival from its home, claiming that it had outgrown the neighborhood. For the last few years, the Westheimer Street Festival has been held in Eleanor Tinsley Park on Allen Parkway.

"We're doing it again this year, on Westheimer, without the city's permission, on June 28 and 29, during the Gay Pride Parade," Lozano says. "As long as we have the stages on private property and sound permits, there's nothing they can do. They can disrupt us a little bit, but get this" -- here his tone turns conspiratorial -- "remember what happened in the Kmart parking lot a few months ago? And it's also an election year. It's not in their best interest."

Lozano contends that when word gets out (a sizable ad campaign is planned) that the festival is back in its old home and a crowd he estimates at 10,000 to 20,000 rock-starved hellions arrive on Lower Westheimer expecting a bash, the police will have no choice but to cave. "You know that little HPD substation on Westheimer across from Katz's?" he asks. "Let me tell you what's gonna happen: 'Hey, Lieutenant Billy Bob! Look at all those people out there! What do I do?' And he's just gonna go, 'Shut the streets down! Shut the streets down!' They're gonna have to, or somebody's gonna get hurt."

Lozano admits that not everyone is happy about the plan. City Councilwoman Annise Parker is against it, for starters. Parker was instrumental in getting the fest moved out of Montrose in 1999, and Lozano hasn't forgotten; his opinion of her is unprintable.

No matter. Lozano claims that John Flores's Westheimer Street Festival group polls better than Parker. Much better. "Dude, we have a 93 percent approval rating, so I have all the power," he says. (Who knew that Gallup measured the popularity of rabble-rousing Houston concert promoters?)

As for the yuppies who chased the fest from Montrose, he has little sympathy. "The quarter-million-dollar condos, those people knew what they were getting into moving there," he says, adding that the group is getting some flak from the Gay Pride Parade's organizers as well. "For them to say we're jumping on their coattails…Wait a minute, that's been going on for what, ten, 15 years? The festival's been going on for 25 years? What a crock of shit, man."

But then it's back to his old foes: the heat. "We've already got our sound and our permits, so what can they do?" he says. "They don't have enough paddy wagons, you know?"

Famous last words.

Hitler's Bunker Found -- in Montrose?

Local college student Amanda Matthieu recently sent a letter to the Press complaining about the design of Tim Murrah's new nightclub, Stuka. Apparently Matthieu's Russian friend was upset by the club's theme of black-and-white Baltic Crosses and German fighter planes from the Nazi era. "I'm not sure what the intent of the owner of the club was," she wrote, "but it is very offensive to some people and it worries me that he may have intentionally been trying to glamorize the Nazis…If the owner of the club is actually a Nazi follower himself, I think people would like to know that before paying this guy any of their money."

No, Murrah is not a Nazi sympathizer. But he will admit to admiring German aesthetics, if not politics. "If you look at history books, the Germans always had the coolest-looking stuff," Murrah says. "Their planes, their tanks, their uniforms -- they were the hottest-looking things. They thought about putting fear into people a lot, and that's what I want my club to do."

Murrah also wonders why it's okay for a club to have a Russian theme but not a German one: "You could call your club Red Square and hang a picture of Stalin in it, and nobody complains. And there are no pictures of Hitler here."

Turns out Matthieu's friend, whose name she declined to divulge, isn't alone. "A couple of weeks ago this hippie guy came in," Murrah relates. "Some fuckin' Montrose weirdo with gray hair and a ponytail. He was throwing a big fit, saying stuff like, 'What is this, some kind of new fascist regime place?' It was totally pathetic. How can the place look like some Nazi meeting hall with posters of David Bowie, Roxy Music and the Rolling Stones on the wall? Anyway, he was bitching to our bar manager, and he was going, 'What if you were from Eastern Europe and you lost people in the war?' And our bar manager says, 'I am from Eastern Europe. What's your point?' " The man ended up reopening his tab and staying for another two hours talking history with the bar manager and the doorman.

Scuttlebutt Caboose

Blue October releases History for Sale, its debut on Dallas-based Brando Records, April 19 at Fitzgerald's…The full Houston International Festival lineup is up at the organization's Web site, www.ifest.org/ ifest2003. By the way, next year, the I-Fest will be saluting Thailand…Speaking of international affairs, Racket is puzzled by the fact that we singled out France to bash in the run-up to the Iraq war. What about Turkey? Didn't they stab us in the back at the last minute by not letting us use their bases? From now on, Racket will be calling turkey "Free Bird." No doubt the turkey farmers of America will be in agreement on this. After all, every time you hear Skynyrd, you'll start wishing it was Thanksgiving.

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax