Matt Willhelm has heard the question before, the one that goes something like, "Who, in his right mind, would plan a music event on Summer Fest weekend?" The simple answer is he and his friends would. They've done it before, with success, and are doing it again tomorrow with the Unofficial and Unsanctioned Summerfest BrokeAss Stage.
Music starts around 5 p.m. at La Playa, 2719 Alabama. According to the Facebook event page, the show is "Absoutely Free. Double Free if you have a SummerFest wrist band. Triple Free if you know all the lyrics to Toto's 'Africa.'"
Willhelm is a promoter and musician, whose band, popeNQM, will perform a BrokeAss Stage set. He wants to make it clear that the gathering isn't anti-FPSF. Quite the opposite, he notes.
"Summer Fest started out as a small local festival that put a lot of attention on local bands," he says. "This was great. In fact, it was so great and so well done that it became very successful. It kept on getting bigger until it got to the point that there wasn't much room for local bands in the actual festival."
"This led a lot of people to think that the festival wasn't doing anything good for local bands,” Wilhelm continues. “These people are typically too busy whining that they don't notice that there's literally tens of thousands of people pouring into the city from surrounding suburbs and towns to watch live music. Naturally, they're too busy whining to take advantage of this.
"I don't care that there's not as many local acts on Summer Fest as there used to be," he says. "It's making people pay attention to music, and that helps everyone who is willing to do something about it."
This time out, that includes the bands popeNQM, Baltazar, Devil Killing Moth, Mantra Love, Mojave Red, PIMP$ of FIRST WARD SOUND and Space City Lovers. A pair of New Orleans-based acts, All People and FPSF act Pope, will round out the roster.
“They played my band's EP release a few months back and asked me if I could help them get onto a Summer Fest after party,” Willhelm says of the visiting bands. “At first I assumed this would be really easy. I know plenty of promoters and I was sure that someone would be throwing something to take advantage of the energy Summer Fest brings. I was wrong.”
Instead of leaving his friends in the cold, he started contacting bands, Wilhelm says La Playa, formerly known as The Poor Man’s Palace, stepped up to serve as the host venue. Lone Star is “giving us quite a bit of beer,” he notes.
It all sounds like a perfect party, which suits out-of-towners and Community Records label artists Pope just fine. They play the Venus Stage at FPSF at noon Saturday and it turns out they're not really strangers to Houston or it's premier music fest.
“Well, we are all originally from Houston before we moved to New Orleans. And our high school band, Harts of Oak, actually played Summer Fest a few years back. It's kind of a cool thing for us to get to come back after growing up and after seeing the festival evolve into what it's become,” said Pope’s bassist, Alex Skalany. “We are actually just finishing up a three week tour with All People and Summer Fest is kind of our homecoming. We are super excited.”
If past efforts are an indication, Houston music lovers will show out for the BrokeAss bands. Willhelm says he helped organize the “Unofficial Official Summer Fest Afterparty” at the now-defunct Doctor’s Office a couple of years ago.
“That one went great," he recalls. "We had lines out the door, great acts performing, a ton of venues involved. I'm still very proud of those two nights. I'm not sure how any others have went. Not a lot of people seem to be trying. As I said, no one else really seems to be that focused on making a big auxiliary event. House of Creeps is doing a little thing this year, and did a little thing last year."
Willhelm adds that he hopes the event will help introduce adventurous music listeners to La Playa.
“In my words, it is a slightly sketchy house of bohemians transitioning to a slightly but not too legit counterculture space," he says. "Or, to put it in other terms, La Playa is going someplace. La Playa is a little freaky. La Playa is a hell of a place. You would never find La Playa at the bottom of a cereal package, and these days you'd be really lucky to find it at the beach.
“In their words,” he continues, “’La Playa is an ethnomusicological outlet/inlet that aims to document and archive urban indigenous music in Houston, Texas, and surrounding areas. It is also a salon for peoples of all walks of life and remains being a supporter of emerging artists and an understanding of being open to all culture around the world.’”
Music, beer, food, interesting people. A party doesn’t need much more. Asked which Summer Fest artist he’d steal away for the BrokeAss Stage, Willhelm didn’t hesitate.
“St. Vincent because, frankly, I want to be her," he says. "I can't even begin to describe how amazing a musician and artist Annie Clark is,” he said. “Annie, if by some weird chance you read this, I swear I won't be that weird if I meet you and if you ever wondered who started a mosh pit when you played House of Blues Houston, you're welcome, that was me.”
Clark expects to be busy Saturday evening, but who knows? That’s the beauty of a weekend like this one. Anything can happen. But even without St. Vincent blessing the BrokeAss stage, there’ll be plenty to grateful for, Willhelm says.
“All the bands are good and interesting," he offers. "In the larger scope of things, every single group is young and developing, though some certainly more than others. And while all the bands have a draw of some sort, this isn't so much an event for current fans of the band but an event showcasing different sectors of a community and allowing outsiders a window to catch a glimpse, and maybe break and crawl through, should they feel interested enough."
The Unofficial and Unsanctioned Summerfest BrokeAss Stage will be at La Playa, 2719 Alabama on Saturday, June 6. The event is free.