Saturday will no doubt go down as one of the most interesting days in Free Press Summer Fest's still-young history. Shortly before 2 p.m., festival officials suspended performances and urged everyone to evacuate Eleanor Tinsley Park, citing "impending weather conditions."
At first fans seemed to react with indifference or disbelief until park security began sweeping the premises, ordering everyone to head towards the exits. Not everyone did -- the underpasses beneath I-45, this year still inside the FPSF perimeter, became an instantly popular refuge -- but enough did that within a half-hour or so the park looked all but deserted. According to various reports and tweets, people also sought shelter in parking garages, porches, hotels, nearby businesses like the Refinery on West Dallas, and even as far away as the George R. Brown Convention Center.
The evacuation came off peacefully, with no reports of any arrests or other trouble, and wound up lasting almost exactly two hours. It did rain, enough that certain parts of the already-sodden park more or less became mudholes, but the festival was spared a direct hit. Although some performances like Houston's the Tontons were canceled, several more were only postponed; once the all-clear sounded, fans endured some pretty long re-entry lines, but filed back into the park quickly enough to make for heavy crowds at Chvrches and FLOSStradamus. And especially at the all-star "Welcome to Houston" set, featuring a half-dozen of Houston's top rappers, Allen Parkway was all but impassable.
According to KHOU Saturday night, officials had not decided whether or not they would issue any refunds due to the interruption, the first-ever "rain delay" in FPSF history, or any more that might happen tomorrow, when the forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of rain. A few of us managed to slip into the FPSF media tent, where we waited for updates from the handful of staffers there with us and popped our heads out every so often to look around the vacant Artist's Village. Rocks Off asked our other writers covering FPSF this weekend their own experiences.
Normally evacuation tweets mean the worst. FPSF had been warned about the weather not being all that great this weekend; hell, most of us prepared for a mud bath when we touched upon the grounds for Day 1.
When the hammer sort of came down (as did the rain) around 2:15 p.m., people scurried. They huddled en masse under the 45 bridge, clearing the way and making Allen Pkwy. look more like 1 a.m. on a Tuesday than FPSF. There were curses as people were ordered to leave, while media and the like found themselves camped out, snarky and comical.
Two hours later, the rain ended. The order was in that doors were open again, and the swarm officially came back. People tried their best to push and shove and come back in to enjoy whatever was left for the day. Some of the artists such as Third World TV had their sets completely scrapped, considering a last minute FPSF gig is pretty damn special.
People tend to make the best of weird situations, even ones where they look like a refugee camp waiting for freedom. Or some EDM to wash the rain away. The lines were huge to get back in but peaceful...shocking. BRANDO
In a word: insurance. This is the only word I needed to really describe to fellow festival-goers why we were being evacuated out of Eleanor Tinsley on Saturday afternoon. After talking to a FPSF security team member/Eddie Vedder doppleganger, who emphatically assured me that the "team was in tents watching Doppler," it was pretty clear that was all this was about.
Look, I get it: no one wants to be held liable for lightning strikes. But sending droves of people into downtown Houston in the middle of the day without warning seemed like much more a liability to me than anything the weather would bring. During the roughly two-hour festival hiatus on Saturday afternoon, liability was all around.
Thankfully for me and my homies, a friend of a friend's friend (yup) had a hotel room at the nearby Best Western. As we walked down West Dallas, I noticed The Refinery swelling with people it wasn't anticipating. I saw multiple people almost get hit by cars. I also overhead an entire conversation about the "molecular differences" between MDMA and MDA and how much easier it was going to be to sneak in drugs once gates reopened. I also saw a ton of people take drugs on the street. What did I say? Liability.
Once word spread that the fest was reopening, every single person who had previously trickled out of the grounds tried to reenter at the same time, earning the term "total shitshow." At this point, the sun was out and it was insanely humid at the gates, which were swollen with people. I would not be surprised to learn that this is where the most heatstroke occurred over the weekend.
The evacuation and reentry to FPSF was a perfect example of how this fest, like Houston itself, continues to grow but hasn't quite figured out how to manage itself. The positive is that despite the potential extreme annoyance of the situation, everyone remained super-friendly and kind. My guess is the drugs they all took on their jaunt through downtown didn't hurt the positivity. SELENA DIERINGER
Story continues on the next page.
This week got the best of me and, despite my best intentions, I overslept. It was already 2 p.m. by the time I was finally walking down Allen Parkway toward Eleanor Tinsley Park. A group of twentysomethings in panchos were walking west, and I absentmindedly decided to follow them.
I shadowed them all the way to their apartments before realizing they were leaving the festival. Eventually, I made my way back to will call, where a volunteer curtly told me that I couldn't have my tickets. When I asked why, she pointed and the sky and said simply, "The evacuation."
Nearby, teenagers huddled underneath trailers for shelter, leaning against tires and holding mud flaps above their heads. It didn't seem like a very safe option to me, but maybe I'm just getting old. For two hours, a friend and I stood in the light drizzle, reading angry tweets and Facebook posts, waiting for the festival to reopen.
"I guess when they say rain or shine, they mean that they'll take your money rain or shine," said one woman. "Turn down for rain #fpsf" read another.
For all the anger being expressed online, everyone on-site pretty much behaved themselves. Thank God for smartphones, amirite? The storm never quite arrived though. Instead, the drizzle intensified for maybe 15 minutes before subsiding completely. Unfortunately, during the two hours during which the festival was closed, a lot of people left, voiced displeasure online and some even threatened demanding refunds.
Houston weather never fails to keep you on your toes. MATTHEW KEEVER
Mariachi El Bronx had finished a couple of songs that already had people dancing and primed for the day's fun to come. At 2:01 p.m., an event organizer announced a severe weather alert would be postponing the performances. The crowd was urged to seek shelter from the heavy rain, hard winds and lightning. Since none were present at the time of the announcement, this resulted in catcalls, followed by the announcer inviting anyone who wanted to stay and get hit by lightning to feel free to do so.
He was only kidding, though, because soon the heavy-handed security personnel hired by the fest shooed everyone off the premises. I tried to snap a photo of the official announcement, but was treated like I was uninvited paparazzi at Kimye's wedding.
Many of us wound up at the nearby DoubleTree Hotel. The lobby bar was the hottest drinking hole in Houston for at least an hour. I sat outside, watching the hipster exodus, exiled from its holy land to this five-star refugee camp. We killed time people watching and reading the vitriolic comments left on the FPSF Facebook page.
When the worst of a typical Houston summer shower had waned, we gathered in the street waiting for the gates to re-open. While we waited, some bored moron climbed the top rail of a parking garage on Bagby and Dallas. People were disgusted with this childish antic, which was frightening and caused some unnecessary worry. Fuck that guy. Had his stupidity resulted in his untimely death, at least it would have been off the festival's grounds and, therefore, not a pending Free Press Summer Lawsuit
In all, the delay was two hours long, maybe a little longer if you count the time it took the festival to get its bearings and bring out acts for the re-filling grounds. Aside from missing the rest of Mariachi El Bronx and First Aid Kit, I'd forgotten all about the delay by Lizzo's third or fourth song. It was all rainbows and blue skies from then on. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
My girlfriend and I arrived at the fest around 2:30 p.m. Saturday, just when the folks at the Will Call/Guest List tent were closing up shop. I managed to get my Media wristband just fine, but for some reason they wouldn't turn over her General Admission band. "When can we pick it up?" we asked, confused. "As soon as the evacuation is ended," was the reply. And then, streams of people, pouring out of the grounds, were expelled. Never seen anything quite like it.
After wandering aimlessly in downtown for a few blocks, we took refuge in the Jimmy John's on Main St. Before long it was filled with slightly damp FPSFers, shivering in their tank tops and chowing down on freaky fast subs. We were able to monitor the status of the evacuation via Twitter, and when word came down after a couple hours that the gates were open again, the restaurant cleared out just as fast as it had filled.
Actually getting in through the gates took hours as well. The whole thing was a bit of a shit-show, to be kind. Luckily, everything seemed to be running smoothly inside the Fest, and I don't recall seeing anybody lose their cool over the unforeseen delays. NATHAN SMITH
More photos on the next page.
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