As Sunday morning came down in sheets of rain and the crackle of thunder, prospects looked cloudy for Day 2 of the Houston International Festival. Intrepid music fans who dragged out of bed and braved intermittent showers that continued all day were rewarded with an eclectic selection of tunes focused on Gulf Coast soul. While headliner Eddie Palmieri drew the most significant crowd, the few listeners who found their way to the HEB Cultural Stage for the Truth Universal show got a full-throttle sample of the New Orleans hip-hop trio's socially conscious message. Strutting out on the runway fronting the stage, MC Tajiri Kamau griped about music-business suits, then intoned, "Should I change my style? Should I change my style?" and received a resounding "no" from audience members, including a dreadlocked family of four, before leading into songs from the band's latest EP, Guerrilla Business. During their afternoon show on the Louisiana Stage and evening show on the Chron.com stage, the New Orleans Hustlers played a tight blend of brass-band standards. The seven-piece band serenaded a small crowd that included Billy Gibbons, who hung around after checking out the African art booths, as kids danced up and down the steps of City Hall. Women waved their arms to the strains of "Mardi Gras in New Orleans" as the band's two trumpet players traded runs. Led by TSU grad and Soul Rebels alum Lumar Leblanc, the band follows its iFest engagement with shows at the Big Top (tomorrow) and Under the Volcano (Wednesday). Pianist Marcia Ball returned to the Louisiana Stage after her Saturday show, displaying a contemplative edge in keeping with the melancholy weather. The Orange native entertained a captive crowd with tunes from her latest album, The Scene of the Crime. Drenched in sweat and soaked from showers, a core contingent gathered at the Louisiana Stage and hung on till the very end to hear the Cajun-inflected strains of Houma's Tab Benoit, whose three-piece band played a 1 1/2-hour set. If there was any doubt that Cajun was on the menu, the preserved head of a grinning gator staring from atop an amp confirmed it.
On "Sac-au-lait Fishing," Benoit chicken-picked and scratched a washboard rhythm out of his guitar's worn maple neck. As a cool breeze blew through before the last shower of the evening, a few couples got on their feet and shuffled across the muddy grass. Breaking a string first on one of his three beaten Telecasters and then another, Benoit didn't miss a beat as he offered crowd-pleasing versions of favorites such as "Make a Good Gumbo" and Texan Freddie King's "Pack It Up," playing his last note as the festival closed at 8 p.m.
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