How to Amuse Yourself in a Massive Music-Festival Line

It’s not so bad, I think. Some people really dislike the sensation of a thin trickle of sweat that’s passed the small of the back and ventured further south. Standing here with few things to contemplate besides my own bodily functions, this is a realization I’m prepared to stand by. Sweat rolling onto the buttocks may not be preferred, but it’s not the worst thing one could experience, either. I’m okay with it.

This is one of many random thoughts from idle hours on a Sunday evening. I’m sweating because I’m hemmed into a mass of people waiting at the corner of LaBranch and Dallas to be admitted to Sunday’s March Madness Music Festival. The festival events began Friday with bands like Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy and culminated Sunday with performances by Flo Rida, Pitbull and Maroon 5. We planned accordingly on Saturday to see Twenty One Pilots and Kendrick Lamar. Both were excellent. Heading out Sunday was more or less a decision based on the cloudless skies and the promise of free music.

The late start meant waiting with thousands of people who’d also come to Discovery Green for the shows. About an hour into waiting, we’d worked our way to within ten feet of the entrance. That’s when event organizers made it clear no one else would be allowed into the festival for the rest of the night. But it was only 5:30 in the evening. Flo Rida had only played one of the songs I cared even a little about (“Right Round”) and wouldn’t play the next one (“GDFR”) for another hour. All the time in between got me thinking about some things.
Waiting here at the gates reminds me of being a teenager at AstroWorld. This is practically the same as being stuck in line for the Texas Cyclone on a day when it broke down. Technicians would tell us the ride wouldn’t be operating for the rest of the day, but our stubborn hopes to experience the thrills wouldn’t allow our tired feet to turn back to the exit. So, we just stood there, shooting the shit with others in our predicament.

Like David, a fellow we met who said he was going to wait things out because he’d been turned away on Saturday before Kendrick Lamar’s set. He told us the event officials said the very same thing on Saturday that they were telling us now, that no one else would be admitted for the rest of the night. Then, he said, within the hour they’d changed their minds and opened the gates up to him and others. Saturday’s wishy-washiness was reported on the local nightly news; so here we were, expecting them to once again flip-flop and allow us entry as others left the area. Nearly three hours into the wait, David and his friends tapped out and the remaining crowd pushed forward.
Police look so officious, I think. Every time a few congregate, it seems like they’re making a decision to let us all in. But no. They’re probably just asking one another if they need a bottled water or how the family is. A few of the women in the crowd are muttering about how cute one of the cops is. For their part, the officers are very patient with us, and, for our part, we are a well-behaved crowd. The only ones who seem a little irritated are the red-shirted 5 Star Events staffers. They keep megaphoning at us to just leave already.

A kind-faced HPD officer gives a civics lesson to a young woman at the entrance, telling her they can ask us to leave, but can’t force us to. Right to peaceful assembly and all. While he’s being so pleasant, some jackass shouts out something about cops going to get donuts. That is just stupid and uninventive. You’re better than that, Houston.

It’s a bit surreal watching an officer of the law explain to Maroon 5 fans why they won’t get to see their favorite band. Except for “because the fire marshal says so,” his best explanation has to do with Sunday’s bands all being of the same ilk. He refers to Flo Rida, Pitbull and Maroon 5 as “rock bands.” Since all these bands share common fans, he reasons, not enough people are leaving to allow more of us in. On Saturday, he explains, Twenty One Pilots fans left the area and were replaced with rap fans for Kendrick Lamar.
I don’t know if that’s true, but I was there Saturday and I do know these things from that day’s events:

Jason Derulo is corny onstage. His songs are elementary. He's got worse dance moves than Whitney Houston. He made Kool and the Gang roll over in their graves with his karaoke version of “Celebrate.” They aren’t dead yet, but that’s how bad the rendition was. When they are dead, the first rollover is on Derulo. Nice abs, tho.
I enjoyed Twenty One Pilots, but couldn’t understand why they’d perform “Stressed Out” and “Ride” — two of their biggest hits — so high in the set order. Then singer Tyler Joseph explained that the songs had been recorded for televised viewing. He finished a spirited set by performing a David Copperfield-like act, appearing onstage for “Car Radio” and then, moments later, clear across the crowd and climbing the sound mixers’ scaffolding.

Kendrick Lamar is great on record but even better live. I’ve never experienced an earthquake, but when the crowd jumped to opener “levitate,” the hardpan earth of downtown Houston liquefied into a rolling wave. Forget making the crowd move – Kendrick Lamar makes the earth move.

My mind meanders back to the present, when we meet Cynthia and Joyce. They’re genial, even though they’ve been waiting for hours, too. They love Maroon 5 and say they’ll wait for even more hours to get a chance to see them from inside. It seems unlikely, according to the guy wearing an HFD cap who says there is zero chance we will get in. For emphasis, he makes a zero with his thumb and index finger.
“How about one chance?” a crowd member shoots back, extending a middle finger. Clever. We laugh. We listen to the set by Louisiana’s Royal Teeth. We agree we like what we hear from our places in the street. The crowd tries to chant “Let Us In!” a few times, but every effort is weak and defeated, the deflated protests of procrastinators who know they have no one but themselves to blame for being on this side of the fence.

The long evening shadows grow into full darkness. The last semblance of hope was lost when the event crew began moving the bag-check signs from the entrance. The very patient police officer explained how obvious it must now be – no chance anyone would get in without having his bags checked. Around 9 o’clock, we left the area and passed a crowd hundreds deep at the corner of Austin and Dallas. They were outside the fence watching Maroon 5 on a large screen situated a hundred yards away, inside the gates. There was little to no audio to match Adam Levine and company, but none of these fans seemed to care at all.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.