iFest's Second Weekend Brings It All Back Home

See lots more iFest pictures from Saturday and Sunday (and some food) in our slideshows.

Yes, it was hot at iFest this weekend. Houston hot. Sunday afternoon, partway through Lucinda Williams' surprisingly nostalgic set, both the temperature and humidity were in the low 90s and Rocks Off felt like we were losing weight by the gallon.

But the thing that stood out to us most about the Houston International Festival's second and final weekend of 2011 was how easy it can be to drop that "International" out of the equation. And how satisfying - even international - a "Houston Festival" can be.

Unlike last weekend, Rocks Off did not (accidentally or on purpose) stumble across anything as alien to our Southwestern ears as Kora Connection or the Homayun Sakhi Trio. We sat and watched Bollywood Blast's surreal and fairy tale-ish performance for a few minutes, and walked through the castle-like Great Wall of China replica, where the gong about two-thirds through was especially popular with the kiddos, if not so much any adults within earshot.

But the most exotic thing we heard this weekend was Red Baraat, a New York-based Indian-American group that describes themselves as "Bhangra funk," but sounded to us like a polyrhythmic New Orleans brass band whose esprit de corps springs from ragas instead of second-line parade marches. Someone at iFest must have agreed with us, because after double-dipping at the Bud Light World Stage and Fadi's Caravan Tent Saturday, there they were on the Louisiana stage Sunday.

Maybe we're just spoiled, because all the international flavor we needed this weekend came from local bands we've seen umpteen times. As usual, Los Skarnales triangulated tropical cumbia, Jamaican ska and their own trademark East End pachuco boogie to a fine decimal point, frenetic front man Felipe Galvan acting as a one-man welcoming committee. (See you on Friday, guys.)

Blaggards, meanwhile, stitched a Celtic corker into Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" and a country shuffle into Thin Lizzy's "Whiskey In the Jar." Brandi Belle Clarke's fiddle acted as the high-powered sewing machine, while front man Patrick Devlin whipped his hair hard enough to spin the clock back to ...And Justice For All. Even The Octanes added some Tex-Mex San Antonio stroll to their 80-proof rockabilly/roadhouse-country cocktail.

Curiously enough, the only real local misstep we saw was Grandfather Child, who were uncharacteristically erratic and hesitant on a song that moved (perhaps a little too far) into smoothed-out Steely Dan territory. Lucas Gorham's crew recovered nicely on Stonesy slow blues "Waiting For You" and its stompier flipside, "Dog Water," though, and whatever that Prince thing was they were doing when we walked up, it made Rocks Off wish we had gotten on the train a little sooner.

That left this year's two crown jewels, Joe Ely and Williams, who each flipped the iFest script somewhat. Instead of bringing the world to Texas, both have been bringing Texas to the world for more than 30 years now.

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