Free Press Houston New Years Eve Sam Houston Park December 31, 2013
When gates opened at 4 p.m. Tuesday, it felt a bit early to start partying on New Years Eve. That's still hours later than any festival normally begins, true, but Tuesday the Free Press Summer Fest team turned New Year's Eve into their first outdoor winter event -- something a little bigger than a ten-second countdown with a champagne toast.
Sure, it's a smaller version of what we now know as Summer Fest, but everything felt strangely familiar within moments of walking into Sam Houston Park. With only two stages, aptly titled the "Fitzgerald's Stage" and "Pegstar.net Stage," it was like a time warp back to the first Summer Fest; each of the two stages more resembled a tent than the towering structure we saw this past June.
Over the past five years, Summer Fest co-founders Omar Afra and Jagi Katial have been gradually finding the balance it requires to run a successful event on a large scale. It seems like they've finally nailed it down, because FPH NYE ran smoothly for the hundreds of Houstonians who battled temperatures in the mid-40s to spend their final hours of 2013 underneath a twinkling City Hall.
Fans crossing the the park's threshold were greeted by the Fitzgerald's stage, home to local acts such as Josiah Gabriel, Grandfather Child and American Fangs. The heart of the festival, however, was the "Gastrodome," a circular arrangement of local eats and spirits such as Uchi, Lowbrow and the St. Arnold's Beer Garden. Various art installations, a line of food trucks and vendors like B.C. Smoke Shop added to the FPSF similarities, but its new winter counterpart definitely had a feeling of its own.
For one thing, heaters were in high demand instead of ice-cold water and air conditioning, while an entire bar was dedicated to champagne. But a music festival is ultimately defined by its entertainment, and for less than some Houstonians were paying for cover charge and bottle service, FPH NYE offered acts like the legendary George Clinton.
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The P-Funk mastermind was almost unrecognizable when he showed up without his rainbow dreads, opting instead for a gray suit and wide-brim fedora. Regardless, fans were dancing and singing along to his entire set, which consisted of tracks such as "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)" and an electrifying cover of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" with the help of Mary Griffin.
By the time Girl Talk (real name Gregg Gillis) took the stage, the entire hill in front of the main stage was packed. And despite the fact that there were no large screens, viewing wasn't an issue. Instead fans crowded around one another, dancing to clever mashups of Joy Division and Mike Jones, M.I.A and Lorde, and Missy Elliott and Snoop Dogg.
Gillis is a perfect choice for events like this. Not only is he so talented that he can make nearly anyone dance, but his good mood is infectious. So it may still be too soon to tell if FPH NYE will become an annual occurrence, but Tuesday was without a doubt a successful evening.
The Crowd: As diverse as the crowd at Summer Fest.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Oh, she is too turnt." -- in reference to a girl who had to be carried out of the concert by her boyfriend around 9:30.
Random Notebook Dump: I wonder if the person throwing glowsticks into the crowd every five minutes is the same person that snuck in roman candles.
More photos on the next page.
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