Houston, H-town, The H -- whichever moniker you prefer, you definitely heard it at Eastdown Warehouse's Winterfest Friday night.
The event gathered nearly two dozen local acts of every ilk, something organizer Visionary Noise is rather adept at. It's a glorious thing when it really works, even for smallish crowds -- as it did Friday night. The roster leaned toward hip hop artists and was headlined by Houston rap legend Paul Wall. His fans came dressed to be ogled. Twenty minutes before he hit the stage, thrashgrass punks Days N Daze performed for their fans, who were dressed to be "oogled." (Full disclosure: my son is in that band. And yes, he too was geeked for Paul Wall.)
The bond these bands shared was they were almost entirely Houston-based. They didn't mind mentioning it, either. Maybe being booked with Wall, who incessantly extols the virtues of being from Houston, created a sense of civic pride in the acts, who thanked, shouted out to and even sang about Hustletown (my preferred Houston reference).
Although many of the acts perform regularly here, tossing them into an appetizing gumbo before bringing out the main course ensured the best kind of crossover effect. For instance, many who were on hand for the in-sync rap potency of Dem Dayum Twinz also had the chance to see one of the city's best rock bands in Another Run.
But the man of the hour was definitely the headliner, who got name-dropped by many of the opening acts no matter what type of music they played. Wall took the stage a little after midnight with "Houston," the homage he, Slim Thug and Z-Ro wrote for the Houston Texans, whose playoff hopes were still alive in the wee hours of Saturday morning. From there, he sprinkled in some cuts from his latest release, Po Up Poet. The 14-track album released this month and features "No Favors," which Wall urged listeners to hashtag and Tweet.
With his trademark sparkling grin, Wall gave the fans the stuff they wanted, dropping in "Draped Up," "Grillz," "I'm On Patron," "Break 'Em Off," and set closer "Sittin' Sidewayz."
By the time Wall closed the show, nearly ten hours of non-stop music had been performed. Winterfest hoped to draw crowds even earlier than most EaDo happy hours begin, with the first artists hitting either an indoor or outdoor stage as early as four in the afternoon. Even on the day after Christmas, with many people relieved of work duties for an extra-long weekend, the crowd didn't filter in until after dark. And, once it was in full effect for the headliner, the extra-spacious venue had room for more fans.
So, maybe audience attendance wasn't the blizzard the event organizers hoped for, but it was a cool and uplifting breeze, thanks to so many people inquiring about bands they were watching for the first time.
It helped that the acts were benefitting from a couple of integral Winterfest players. Eastdown Warehouse got blinged-out just in time for Wall's date there. The venue celebrated its first anniversary recently and some very noticeable upgrades to the bar and seating areas had venue operator Adam Rodriguez beaming.
And, whoever booked Gritsy to handle sound duties should get a special commendation. Taking a page from Phil Spector, Gritsy created a literal wall of sound with amps that doubled as a speaker fortress of security for the headliner. A wall for Wall; it was the best sound I've personally heard at Eastdown.
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That was a good thing, too, because there was some good stuff to be heard. The afore-mentioned Dem Dayum Twinz, from South Park Coalition, were solid. Knowing their roles, they traded off each other, rhymed together and flowed like rap superstars. They even cheesed for the cameras pointed toward them, without ever missing a beat.
Jon Black has been hailed here before as a strong underground rapper deserving of a larger audience. He was fashionably late to the event, which meant his performance time was shaved to a mere 20 minutes, a point he emphasized over the first couple of songs. But, 20 minutes of Jon Black is better than an hour or two of many other rappers, so those on hand relished the short set.
As for change-of-pace offerings, unheralded Houston treasure Gio Chamba turned the damn place out with an electrifying DJ set. The sheer joy and energy he brought to his performance -- leaping off the stage and out into the audience to dance along; shimmying behind the bar to sing with the bartenders; etc. -- was enough to satisfy, but the music did exactly what it was created for and had asses moving like a mule train.
Gods of Death Screw crowded onto a side stage parallel to Gritsy's wall of bass and ground out grindcore tunes about workin', smokin' and drankin' -- not necessarily in that order. The "Fu-Tang Clan" -- that would be Fuska to you -- brought manic ska to the room ahead of the headliner while Ganesha churned out bluesy rock on the outdoor stage at the same time.
Another Run was phenomenal and may have kicked things into a different gear, playing drummer Beef Lerma's last show with the band. The skill they brought to the stage and how polished their set was, with vocalist Adrian Grammer completely owning front man duties, proved why they are commonly seen as a Houston band with huge potential.
The night ended with Wall outside, posing for photos and signing copies of Po Up Poet for fans -- many of them the musicians he'd just shared the bill with. Undisputed king of the parking lot.
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