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.[jump]
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
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