Bayou City

FPSF Rolls With the Punches, Into NRG Park

Besides unseasonably hot temperatures for early June (i.e. the threshold of hell), the last thing the Free Press Summer Fest organizers probably wanted to see was record-setting flooding along Buffalo Bayou, from which their home of Eleanor Tinsley Park sits mere inches away. But that’s what they got, so last Friday evening the FSPF team announced they were relocating the festival — which is about to mark its seventh year — to NRG Park, home to the Astrodome, the Texans, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and a whole lotta concrete.

Specifically, FPSF will now take place on the park’s Yellow Lot, also known as the “Main Street Lot,” a plot of land bounded by Main, McNee and Murworth streets. (See a map here.) Heading west past the MetroRail, the Dome and NRG Stadium, the site is directly past the Texans’ huge “bubble” practice facility. Reached Sunday afternoon, co-founder Omar Afra said he was holding up “pretty good, all things considered.”

“Our team has had to do all the work [of] several months in several days,” he says.

However, due to the dimensions of the new site, Afra says FPSF’s production crew did not lose any buildout time, and has already begun setting up the festival.

“We lost some and gained some,” Afra reasons. “With the setup of the site we lost maybe a day [to the weather], but we gained on with the ease of setting up the site. Everything is on track.”

Noting Saturday night’s further heavy rains, Afra says that only reinforced organizers’ belief that their decision to relocate was the right choice.

“Look at not only what happened [on Memorial Day], but what was gonna happen,” he says. On top of that, “What we were afraid was gonna happen did [Saturday].”

NRG may have been the festival’s only backup-site option, but Afra says that doesn’t make the festival organizers’ task this coming week any easier. He likened moving the festival to supplanting an entire small Texas city — say, Waco, whose population is about 87,000.
“You cannot understate the logistical implications of doing this,” he says. “I could not be prouder of our amazing team that has literally been working around the clock making sure that this is the best it can be, and we’re really excited.”

Aesthetically, Afra says the production team will be bringing as much shade and seating to NRG as they can get their hands on, including a “ginormous” misting tent, as well as the now-familiar works of art (“live painting, local graffiti artists, silly signs”) that give FPSF its unique Bayou City character. The Fancy Pants tents will be transplanted wholesale as well, he adds.

Fans should also expect a radically different layout of the festival’s seven stages, Afra says, and not as much of the sound bleed between stages that has plagued FPSF in years past.

“This layout is enormous,” he says. “The thing is at Eleanor Tinsley, our home, it’s great but very linear — narrow and long, [and] you have to walk really far. This place is more of a beautiful hexagon/circle type of layout. All things considered, I think we did a slam-dunk job to get it laid out so quick.”

Sadly, despite the pop-up ads touting the new FPSF as “in the shadow of the Astrodome” (h/t Rodney Crowell), Afra says the Eighth Wonder of the World’s actual use will be limited to scenic selfie backdrop and readymade directional aid.

“Right now there’s no way anyone can can do anything with the Astrodome, otherwise we’d be doing it all the time,” he explains. “It’s a great backdrop and a great landmark for people to orient themselves by.”
The biggest question looming over FSPF any year is always the weather, and Afra says the forecast of limited rain chances and reasonable temperatures on FPSF weekend is welcome news. And besides the forecast and the scenery, Afra says the new site’s proximity to the light-rail line is another plus.

“It helps quite a bit,” he notes. “I encourage as many people as possible who can avoid driving not to drive. It’s important to us on every level, from drinking to getting in and out of the fest to just reducing our carbon footprint. I like to tell people, ‘Why would you even wanna drive if you’re gonna party for several hours?’”

Finally, Afra says that besides coming ready to party, fans headed to FSPF this weekend should expect various flood-relief efforts to have a high profile at this year’s festival.

“When we first announced [the move], what was really on our mind was, ’How do we bring people together?'", he says. “We’ve even through a lot the past couple of weeks. We lost a festival site but others lost their homes and even their lives.

“We try to remember that there’s people who have gone through more,” adds Afra. “This city has been good to us, and we want to be good to it.”

See all the latest FPSF info at the festival's Web site.
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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