H-Town to Boomtown: Beaumont Has a Music Festival, Too

The 2014 music festival season is kicking into gear, with Free Press Summer Fest announcing its lineup last week. The rundown features at least a half-dozen acts coming right from Coachella, which announced last month, and probably at least a few who will be performing at Bonnaroo, which announces this week.

It's nice to see the local effort headed to its rightful place among major U.S. music fests, but it may have you a bit nostalgic for the old days, when everything was more closely focused on homegrown talent. If so, this weekend's Boomtown Film & Music Festival may be just what you need.

You'll have to travel a bit to get there -- over to Beaumont -- but you'll be sharing I-10 East with some Houston acts scheduled to play, if you do. Here Come the Girls, Funeral Horse, Vanilla Sugar, Texas Car Crash and (full disclosure) my daughter Marissa create the Houston contingent at this year's gathering.

Maybe one day Boomtown will become the Gulf Coast's Sundance -- or even its next Summer Fest -- but for now its focus is on independently produced film and music. Some of the films at this year's event are from as far away as Iran and New Zealand, but all the music has roots in Texas and Louisiana.

"We like to celebrate our local talent, and part of that is bringing in successful musicians from other Texas cities to show how other regions are developing musically," says Christina Trujillo, a Boomtown Festival spokeswoman. "Unlike larger cities where crowds can often feel standoffish, our town is passionate about seeing new artists from other cities. If we like a touring band, we're not afraid to dance and get crazy."

"We have not performed in Beaumont before -- at least not as Funeral Horse -- so we're excited and intrigued by the opportunity to be a part of the Boomtown event," says the Horse's Paul Bearer. "We're hoping that people will check us out and either be highly offended or absolutely in love with our sound. The worst possible outcome would be to be completely ignored and lost in the shuffle."

Doubtful, as the trio's stoner metal is on the rise here in town and has listeners recalling Black Sabbath and The Melvins. But more than two dozen music acts will be playing Boomtown, so there's plenty to seek out. as organizers seemed to look for diversity from its Bayou City selections.

The entire event kicks off Thursday night with Houston all-female DJ act, Here Come the Girls, spinning 1960s vinyl. Another all-female Houston band, Vanilla Sugar, is as far from Dusty Springfield and Barbara Lynn as you can get, and will be bringing their alternative electro-pop to the Golden Triangle for the first time.

"We always like to perform in new areas because we get to hopefully expand our listener base. When we play new cities, we usually get a pretty good response," said the band's Jessica Perry. "Festivals like this are extremely important for local bands. It provides a great opportunity to network and create new business relationships. It also gives bands like us a chance to perform in front of much larger crowds than we may be used to."

"Boomtown is especially interesting for us because we're hoping to meet up with filmmakers attending the festival," says Funeral Horse's Bearer. "We're hoping to start shooting some videos for our music once the new album is released, and we'd prefer to work with someone in the area."

Melodic punks Texas Car Crash have played the area before, and assure their fellow Houston acts that Beaumont will be cool.

"We've played the Art Studio in Beaumont twice and have also gigged frequently around Beaumont," says Geeves, who plays guitar and sings for Texas Car Crash. "The audiences have always been kind and receptive in Beaumont. We love every opportunity to play down there."

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There's been a lot of talk over the last week about Summer Fest growing to take on bigger national and international acts, and how that growth crowds out locals. The Houston bands performing at Boomtown see the networking value of festivals as critical to what they do.

"Festivals are usually a great place to meet a lot of different artists and musicians all at once," says Paul Bearer. "Plus, it's an incredible amount of exposure to a wider audience than a band would normally see at a club."

For its part, Funeral Horse is taking full advantage of that networking capability by incorporating Boomtown into a mini-tour, with shows in Fort Worth, Dallas and Shreveport this week. They'll be playing songs from Sinister Rites of the Master, their new album set to release on 4/20.

Geeves reminds everyone that he and his band are music fans too, not just performers, which is a big appeal to playing an event like this.

"It's a great opportunity to hear and see other bands and talent," he adds. "I think it's great exposure and a lot of fun and we're glad to be a part of it."

"The beautiful thing about our festival is that it is small, but energetic," Trujillo says. "When you really analyze the history of music in Beaumont, you see that this petrochemical town is responsible for many successful musical acts. Janis Joplin is an obvious one, but this town also produced Johnny Winter, Blind Willie Johnson and many others.

We're coming back to those roots, and festivals that integrate different art forms, like this festival, are on the rise," she adds

And once the Houston bands traveling to Beaumont make local fans, they'll be fans for life, Trujillo reasons.

"At a recent local show, two local opening bands turned over their door money to the traveling band because their set was so enjoyable," she says. "When you rock us, we'll love you. That's the benefit of playing a small town with a rich musical background."

Full-access tickets to this weekend's Seventh Annual Boomtown Film and Music Festival are $15. For ticket information and a complete schedule of films and music performances, visit boomtownfestival.com.


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