William Michael Smith: At my age, it's like being a ball in a pinball machine attending a large event like Summer Fest. Avoiding head-on collisions while taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells can be a bit discombobulating at something as jam packed as this year's festival.
And talk about living right: With boiling thunderheads weeping drops of water, something we haven't seen in these parts in a coon's age, the third annual Summer Fest skated on the brink of a muddy disaster for most of the afternoon Sunday.
Yet, with lightning striking just to the west and north, the festival plowed ahead toward another happy ending with the big Weezer finale and a send off of Fourth of July-ish fireworks, which I watched from the porch of a Midtown bar.
An afternoon that began with sweltering, heat-stroke-inducing temperatures was cooled significantly by a brief shower and an easterly breeze that brought cheers from the massive crowd gathered at the Main Stage to hear Brooklyn pop sensation Yeasayer. With the sun beating directly onto the stage and hammering the sprawling crowd - front man Chris Keating joked that the band and the crowd should all go to a pool party - when the clouds finally began to spit some moisture no one moved or even paid much mind and the band worked its way toward a rousing finish that brought one of the biggest roars of the afternoon.
My death march had begun with returning local hero Hayes Carll, whose band added to the scorching weather with a set as hot as the 2 p.m. sun that was broiling the 1,000 or so early comers. After Carll, I drifted west, hoping to catch local bad boys Black Congress, who proved to be the only no-show of the afternoon. [Ed. Note: Medical issues, we heard Saturday.] But local punks Born Again Virgins took up the slack, pelting a small, enthusiastic crowd with a blistering torrent of rhythm and chin-out attitude.
I've always loved the name - Commie Hilfiger - but my westward drift finally put us in the right place at the right time to see them in their ridiculous glory. Dressed in woolen WWII Soviet army costumes, the comedic punk-rock/performance-art ensemble carried off one of the day's best pieces of theater with their dramatic march through the throng to the stage that had photographers scurrying for the best angles.
From there, my drift back to the east began as we caught a strong opening by Kylesa, whose two drummers pushed the heat index to new heights. But the first truly massive crowd of the day gathering for Yeasayer at the Main Stage grabbed my attention and I moved on. By the time I got to the area, the crowd was so large I took up position under a weathered oak and ended up watching the show through a fork in the tree, where wood ants were greedily devouring a slice of lime someone had deposited. It was a scenario Salvador Dali might have appreciated.
After Yeasayer, I found myself where our original picks for last week's preview blog indicated I would be, at the 29-95 Stage where West Coast jazz/funk ensemble The Memorials played to a tiny crowd of maybe 70 people. Maria Taylor followed with her sweet, poppy love songs as a substantially larger audience gathered.
But it was an absolutely scorching set by Muscle Shoals-based Jason Isbell and his band 400 Unit that proved to be the musical high point of my afternoon. While Chromeo drew a huge crowd at the Main Stage, Isbell worked out in front of a small enthusiastic crowd that seemed to include half the music journalists and 75 percent of all the music photographers in the Bayou City. And the former Drive-By Trucker, did not disappoint. From my vantage point, I could also look down upon the Super Happy Fun Land stage and be dazzled by the dances of Serum Fantis.
My overall impression of the festival, which can be deemed nothing less than another success for the Summer Fest management team, was that there actually was something for everyone, that virtually all the bases had been covered and covered well, sound issues at some of the stages aside.
It had to be a monumentally complex effort to make this thing happen, but it was so well put together it seemed to be on autopilot.
Some random notebook dumps:
Three Best T-shirts:
- FUCK YALL - I'm From Houston
- SUPPORT THE MUSIC SCENE - Fuck Me!
- Keep Austin 170 Miles From Here
Best Overheard Line of the Day: "I love getting high in the middle of Allen Parkway."
Best Food Item: Moon Tower "Ghetto Dog" with Feta cheese and jalapenos.
Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.