Feat. Dr. Dog, Neon Indian, etc.
October 23, Discovery Green
Untapped Fest bills itself as a celebration of music and Texas beer, and that’s true to an extent. Untapped, which hosts festivals in Austin, Fort Worth, Dallas and San Antonio, made its annual Houston stop on Saturday night. And while the vibe was certainly festive, this year's outing was lacking in some respects.
For starters, the crowd — while not exactly dead — seemed more in the mood to show up early, sample some Texas beers, then head home. By the time headliners Dr. Dog took the stage around 9 p.m. for a one-hour set, much of the crowd had long since headed home or taken the party elsewhere.
Not that you could blame them. No disrespect to Dr. Dog, which is a quality band and one deserving of a spot on festival bills. But to sell tickets for $50 a pop to a Dr. Dog show, even with some beers included, was going to be an uphill battle.
Two years ago, the Toadies headlined Houston Untapped. Last year, Cold War Kids — who happened to have one of the most popular songs on the radio at the time, in “First” — closed out the festival. Dr. Dog, a tenured act with skins on the wall, just doesn’t resonate the way those bands did.
In the past, Untapped Houston featured two stages; this year, there was only one. And while artists like Dr. Dog, Neon Indian and Still Corners — all of which put on a hell of a show — are acts worth checking out, a festival is only as good as its headliner. Next year, perhaps luring in a Texas or even Houston act like the Suffers (who played Untapped 2013) may be the way to go. Or maybe showcasing more hip-hop, as festivals like Free Press Summer Fest and Austin City Limits Music Festival have done in recent years, is the path to festival stardom.
So while the music left something to be desired, the beer did not. In short, if you’re looking to get a sense of all the Texas craft scene has to offer, Untapped is the place to be. Local vendors like Karbach, Saint Arnold, Brash, Spindletap, 8th Wonder, and Buffalo Bayou turned out to showcase the best and brightest from the Texas craft scene. Then there were a number of other Texas distributors attempting to make inroads in Houston, including Dallas’s own Deep Ellum.
And then there was the crowd, which didn’t do much to positively influence Houston’s position as some sort of underrated live music hub. Yes, there were thousands in attendance on Saturday, but most showed up early, used up their beer sample cards and headed home. Even those who stuck around mostly stayed near the beer and merchandise tents.
Of course, they had their reasons. While the stage area was tucked in a back corner, the beer and merchandise vendors were on full display for the masses on Saturday night. Saint Arnold was a particular star of the night. Houston’s oldest and most respected brewery of course had its many beers on tap, but also offered up a “game garden” with giant Jenga, cornhole and ping-pong, in addition to a row of art cars that had those in attendance snapping photos aplenty (props to the good-time gal who said to hell with it, got in one of the cars and snapped a photo).
Untapped Fest, in theory, is a great idea. It showcases area beer vendors, which is never a bad thing. And it celebrates live music, which is always awesome. But if the festival is ever going to elevate itself, it will need to bring bigger, or at least more local, names to Houston. While other Untapped cities get headliners such as TV on the Radio and Gogol Bordello, it’s going to take a better brand of headliners to keep craft-beer lovers coming out for a festival that runs north of $40 for a one-day ticket.
Here’s hoping Untapped makes the leap next year in Year 5 of its existence. After all, beer and quality live music are certainly worth celebrating.