Saint Arnold 23rd Anniversary Party
Saint Arnold Brewery
June 10, 2017
How do you turn a party with more than 1,000 people who are mostly unknown to each other into a family affair? It sounds like an impossible feat, but beer helps and there was plenty of good beer at the Saint Arnold 23rd Anniversary Party. Saturday evening’s sold-out event honoring the state’s oldest craft brewery included a musical lineup that was largely built from Houston’s best-known and most-loved acts. A pair of those veteran acts — 30footFall and Bun B – helped to remind the gathered we were more than a bunch of beer-guzzling strangers. In some important ways, as Houstonians, we’re a family and we need one another in critical moments.
Fittingly, the first song we heard at the event was Genesis Blu’s “Local Love.” The 2016 Houston Press Music Awards’ best rapper has been building on those kudos with a very solid 2017, which has seen her release an album, appear in a film, nab multiple TV and radio guest spots and perform at Super Bowl Live and Free Press Summer Fest. It was just kismet (and a prior engagement that made us late for openers We Were Wolves), but getting onto the grounds during Blu’s homage to H-town set the tone for the night.
There were a pair of stages at the event, with the quieter acts housed inside the brewery’s massive beer hall. Looking dapper and sounding soulful as always, The Mighty Orq was an appropriate setup for Arthur Yoria, Say Girl Say and Ancient Cat Society, which all followed in the beer hall and each played to a mix of avid fans and dedicated beer drinkers.
We tried to guess how much of the crowd on hand was there for the beer versus the bands. It’s a fool’s exercise to partake in, but we did notice lots of conversations during sets, and the quaffers seemed chattier indoors than out. A few songs into their set, Say Girl Say – who can belt out their lush harmonies with attention-getting verve – asked the crowd to tone it down some for the sultry selection “Better In the Dark.” To its credit, the beer hall complied and was treated to one of the band’s newest songs.
No such request was made by John Evans Band, which served up loud foot-stompers on the open-air stage. The band grabbed attention from the start with the “swagger is as swagger does” assurance of the title track to Polyester, its recent Splice Records release. The band moved right down the album’s track list, really hitting a groove once it got to “Dust Bowl,” a flat-out nasty track that included some gritty guitar work.
Evans, Mighty Orq and Buxton, which played an early-evening set — all these acts have years of experience and established followings in Houston. The night’s acts mirrored the kind of quality that was being celebrated by the brewery's fans. Ancient Cat Society’s lyrical acuity, for instance, or the reliable hip-sway fun of The Tontons. These were perfect beer-music matches.
But the event’s two best pairings were 30footFALL and headliner Bun B. Like Saint Arnold, their respective brands are Houston flagships and both acts graced the audience with moving performances. For 30foot, it was the band’s first gig without longtime guitarist Chris LaForge. LaForge died following a massive stroke last month. The days that followed threw Houston’s punk community into a despondency that was lightened only by the sharing of tales about one of Houston music’s nice guys. The sting softened some with members of the community banding together to help pay for expenses LaForge’s loved ones didn’t anticipate. Aside from an ongoing GoFundMe set up by bandmate Rubio Cisneros, 30footFall front man Butch Klotz told the crowd a weekend of memorial shows featuring acts like Tsunami Bomb, Nick Gaitan and Bickley has been scheduled for August at Warehouse Live and Rudyard’s.
Before the band’s eight-song set (“We figured we could fuck up 15 or do eight right,” Klotz joked), he shared fan art of LaForge with the crowd and played one of LaForge’s favorites, Thin Lizzy’s “Cowboy Song,” over the PA. Friends of the band stood arm in arm and shed tears listening. Many wore ball caps backwards, in LaForge’s signature style, with his image and a trademark phrase, “Enjoy Yo Self,” stitched in. Klotz returned to the stage with the band, including friends Chris Vasquez and Arnett Vaughn on guitars. The set was raucous, celebratory and cathartic, with fans eventually ramping things into a frenzied mosh pit for show closers “Better Off Dead” and “Fuck Y’all We’re From Texas.”
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If anyone could understand the gauntlet of emotions the band was going through, it’s Bun B. Although he remains-ever present in Bun’s sets, the vibe of the 30footFall show made Pimp C’s absence more noticeable than usual, even ten years on. His name was invoked onstage and throughout the crowd. But Bun didn’t dedicate “One Day” to his fallen bandmate. Instead, he devoted it to John Hernandez, whose recent killing at a Denny’s restaurant here has made international news. Bun B gave an impassioned speech on how Houston is better than the horrific events associated with the killing and implored the gathered to demand justice for Hernandez and to also be kinder to one another in our day-to-day lives.
If the crowd was expecting party-starters to keep the beer buzz high, they surely got them in the forms of “Sippin on Some Syrup,” “Let Me See It,” “Get Throwed,” “Int’l Players Anthem” and a host of others. But Bun B champions Houston and its prosperity above all and rightly recognizes, even in the midst of a great party, that we collectively have some things to work on to make this a more ideal place.
“We gotta do better than that, y’all, we gotta come together in this world,” he said to a sea of Saint Arnold beers hoisted in agreement. “We gonna stop this bullshit about hating people ’cause of how they look, how they talk, how they pray, how they dress, who they love. Fuck that. This is Houston. We don’t get down like that.”