Springboard South: A Peculiar New Festival Arises at CityCentre

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Springboard South Music Festival Citycentre May 6, 2012

An interesting experiment unfolded this weekend at CityCentre. The Springboard South music festival was the brainchild of Barry Coffing, a music and film industry vet who's the director for the Houston chapter of the National Association of Recording Industry Professionals (NARIP).

The idea was to create a platform for independent artists to perform and network with industry pros lined up to counsel them individually on everything from artist development to music licensing, something akin to the original intent behind South by Southwest.

More than half of the 45 bands and musicians invited were locals, and Sunday's participants (the event ran for three days) seemed altogether satisfied with the proceedings. Springboard South had a wealth of talent on display, and the mentorship and advice from folks occupying the suit-and-tie end of the music business seemed to be a nice step toward filling a niche in a town from which too many artists move away to become "real" pros.

Let's not kid ourselves, though: CityCentre ain't quite Sixth Street. The crowd of people in attendance on Sunday were mostly moms and dads with their young children in tow -- not quite the target demo for many of the musicians onstage.

It's possible that some folks discovered their new favorite band on their way from Ruggles Green to Urban Outfitters, but for most at the sprawling shopping/eating/dwelling complex, the free live music was a pleasant, momentary diversion, not the main draw.

That doesn't mean the tunes were no good, of course. The first band I caught was the Dead C Scales from Spring, whose danceable, semi-psychedelic rock fit perfectly with the cool, overcast afternoon on Sunday. The drummer and keyboardist layered vocal harmonies over some tasty guitar licks while very young children ran around and danced wildly on the Astroturf paddock in front of the festival's main outdoor stage.

It was clear right off the bat that this music festival was going to be of the family-friendly variety. One was immediately struck, for example, by the distinct lack of drug-taking. In fact, smokers were segregated to the sidewalk in front of beer haven Yard House.

This was not necessarily a bad thing. The children having their faces painted and chasing soccer balls around gave the event an innocent, low-key, summery vibe, helped along by the easy grooves of the Dead C Scales.

When they wrapped up, I wandered over to the Flora and Muse bistro, where a small stage was tucked into a back corner. There I found local singer/songwriter Jonathan Ross playing originals like "When You Get Home," accompanied by William Golden on lap steel. Here, Ross's troubadour-ish country sound did indeed create an Austiny feeling, even in the midst of a suburban wine-and-french-fries joint.

Ross showed off some nice, twangy finger plucking on "Heart-Shaped Stone" and accompanied himself on harmonica.

Back at the main stage, Kris Becker and the Frozen Heat were entertaining the outdoor patrons of the eating and drinking establishments surrounding the plaza with their toe-tappin' keyboard rock. The band's sound veered from the fuzzy, dirty blues of the Doors to sleeker compositions that recalled Steely Dan.

I particularly enjoyed the rollicking electric piano and finger-tapping guitar solo that closed out the group's finale, "Feel the Truth."

Next up was Brother Magnum and the Razor Bumps, a seven-piece rock/funk/soul band from Austin. It was slightly uncomfortable to watch the group play songs chronicling divorce and substance abuse to a crowd of four- and five-year-olds and their parents, but Brother Magnum and his boys' upbeat, party-ready attitude kept the spirit of the show PG.

It was fun to hear the band vamp through the funky-indeed "Funky Foot Woman" while half a dozen young kids kicked at least as many soccer balls around and danced with their mommas. Probably wasn't quite what the group had envisioned on the drive down 288, but it worked.

Over at Flora and Muse, I found a Jesus lookalike from Oklahoma City named Dustin Prinz shredding on an acoustic guitar. This guy could really play and sing, and if the clattering plates and scooting chairs in the bistro bothered him any, he hid it well.

He was funny, too -- his song "Bi-Polar" accurately captured the disease's wild mood swings as well as a desperate distaste for the attendant mood stabilizers, rattling off a hilariously terrifying list of potential side effects. Prinz bantered easily with the small crowd assembled, who were happy to laugh and applaud for everything he did. On his song "Media," Prinz displayed some speedy, nimble picking and a nice, natural falsetto.

After Prinz closed with his version of Gorrillaz's "Feel Good, Inc.," which has netted him more than half a million views on YouTube, I headed back to the main stage to catch the tail end of local singer Tami LaTrell's set. LaTrell cut a striking figure in her skin-tight jeans and heels, and the multiplatinum songwriter came armed with a killer backing band.

Her voice on her original hip-hop-tinged neo-soul tracks was good if not spectacular, but she most definitely had the look and the sound to go all the way to the top. It would have been nice to hear more from her, but the dads were beginning to drool a bit.

Closing out the festivities was Tucson vocal trio Soulfruit, whose bouncy, relentlessly positive music ensured that the event ended on a high note. Think of the Black Eyed Peas, stripped of everything you hate about the Black Eyed Peas.

In addition to their impressive pipes, Soulfruit also showed off some tight choreography. The gospel-inflected group's major-league energy helped bring the event to a dramatic conclusion.

So was Springboard South a success? Well, the organizers lined up sponsors, brought a bunch of artists together to play and learn, donated some money to the Houston Food Bank and managed to pull off a music festival at a venue where it had never been done before. Not too shabby.

Are the suburban parents and curious shoppers that made up most of the crowd likely to support local live music in the future? Highly dubious. But there were sure a lot of kids around. And they grow up so fast these days...

Personal Bias: First time at CityCentre. I ain't rushin' to go back.

The Crowd: Young parents and really young kids mixed in with your typical mall/casual-dining crowd.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Mommy, I want to paint!"

Random Notebook Dump: Something about the way CityCentre was constructed makes for incredibly strong breezes through the plaza. Felt great, actually.

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