The 12 Best Acts of iFest's First Weekend

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The Apple Scruffs Performing as "The Down Under Band" for the day, The Apple Scruffs took an inspiring break from their usual gig as a Beatles cover band to cover music from Australian musicians, in homage to this year's spotlight country. This quartet was so good, it inspired thoughts about what their original material might sound like. The best part of their set, however, was when they unintentionally performed Men at Work's single "Down Under" at the same time as Travis Caudle across the courtyard. ALYSSA DUPREE

Travis Caudle Saturday afternoon, the Australian native Travis Caudle gave Houston a taste of what the country has to offer in the singer-songwriter department. And he didn't disappoint either. At the Down Under Pub Stage, Caudle flaunted his vocal chops and songwriting prowess for an hour, much to the delight of a small but enthusiastic crowd that was relaxing in the shade of the on-site canopy. He performed plenty of original songs and even incorporated a cover of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army."

Caudle has played with the Black Crowes and performed at SXSW in the past, and his stock in Houston inched up some Saturday afternoon. I didn't catch either of his supplemental performances, but his act continued into the evening at the GenuWine Tasting Room in the Woodlands, and again at iFest Sunday. He may not be coming back to Houston any time soon, but his music can be found on iTunes and Spotify. MATTHEW KEEVER

Conjunto X As I arrived to the festival on a warm Sunday afternoon, the cool sounds of a tejano accordion greeted me in the shadow of City Hall. In front of the stage, a trio of couples danced to Conjunto X, a lively and energetic group whose lead singer and accordion player provided both superb instrumental mastery of his squeezebox and a bit of comic relief.

They ended their set with a medley of classic songs that paid tribute to la paloma (the dove) with "El Palomito" and "Como Te Llamas Paloma." Don Antonio, a short, happy-go-lucky gentleman in the audience, took the opportunity to dance and sing to his heart's content. "Me gusta el baile" he told me. (I love to dance). You've come to the right place, sir. MARCO TORRES

Endurance By far, my favorite act so far at iFest has been Endurance. The San Francisco-based vocal quartet lifted spirits and got the crowd dancing Sunday afternoon, sweeping through songs about a mother's love and the generosity of our maker. Fans raised their hands high, humming and singing along after being taught the choruses. And during "Ain't God Good," the singers even walked into the crowd, shaking hands and giving out hugs while continuing to sing. They may be from the Bay area, but if that ain't Southern hospitality I just don't know what is. MATTHEW KEEVER

Steve Krase To say that Steve Krase loves his harmonica is an understatement, but whether you're a fan of blues-infused rock or not, his conviction will turn you into a fan. But though Krase's stage presence lights up the set, his music wouldn't have the same allure without his band, which brought just as much joy as he did. Hiis guitarist in particular put me in mind of a young Ozzy Osbourne and helped bring Krase's humorous lyrics to life when he brooded over "Put the Cocaine Down." ALYSSA DUPREE

Omid Aski Laridjani We had no idea who was on stage at Coopers Pub Sunday afternoon, just that we had to go check it out considering that seemingly half the people at iFest were gathered underneath the small tent. They even spilled out into the grassy area surrounding it, so obviously there was something worth taking in. That was Omid Aski Laridjani, a native of Oz who was chatting about his homeland in between playing the digeridoo.

After watching him for a few minutes, it made sense why he was garnering so much attention. He chatted away about the origins of the instrument's name and told hilarious anecdotes about Oz, while wearing little more than body paint. Not sure how he pulls it off, but there was something artistic and mesmerizing about him, while not feeling forced or cheesy. Not to mention the digeridoo looks ridiculously hard to play -- at least to play well -- and doing so while sporting underwear and paint makes it all the more impressive. ANGELICA LEICHT

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La Santa Cecilia With a sweet innocence, somewhere in between the youthful and optimistic demeanor of a new group and the wise and traveled confidence of the Grammy-Award winners that they are, La Santa Cecilia de Los Angeles hit the stage at iFest on Saturday with every weapon in their musical arsenal. "We bring you all of our favorite styles of music so that you can dance with us" said La Marisoul, the band's ringleader and lead singer.

They seamlessly shifted from cumbia to son jarocho, tango to vallenato, and even provided their signature Latino twist to standards such as "One Love" and "Strawberry Fields Forever." During "La Morena," Marisoul took the opportunity during the song to push away the mike and sing a cappella into the crowd, projecting her strong and lovely voice all the way to the Houston Ship Channel. MARCO TORRES

Los Skarnales Every time Los Skarnales takes the stage, it's an insta-party. From the moment that the zillion-member band began their set, folks flocked toward them like moths to a sweet Latin flame. Little ones, moustachioed dudes, punks, and straight-edge first-timers all gathered by the Bud Light World Music Stage, dancing away as the ska-mambo-cumbia-reggae-punk fusion exploded around them. It's always cool to see an entire crowd get into a show, and that's exactly what happened with the folks on the grassy hill.

Even the toddlers were dancing around atop shoulders and underfoot, with Skarnales giving them shoutouts in between songs. Ain't no party like a Los Skarnales party, no matter what the age. It's good to see parents feeding their kids a healthy diet of rad music, especially when it hails from Houston. ANGELICA LEICHT

Anne McCue Like Jimmy Page, Anne McCue understands that the blues don't have to be electric to be heavy. Coaxing an incandescent tone out of a 12-string acoustic guitar the Australian singer-guitarist spun a taut, drone-ish web of chords and arpeggios around lyrics that touched on grinding more than just coffee. Punctuating the songs every so often with a swift kick to her stomp petal, McCue sounded like an army. That was even before she broke out an electric guitar for a methodical version of Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), and even with the Hustlers Brass Band going full-bore across the Hermann Square reflecting pool. CHRIS GRAY

Kyra Noons, the Neutral Sister Unfortunately the audience was a little on the light side at Kyra Noon's mid-afternoon set Sunday, but the Houston reggae singer known as the Neutral Sister projected the kind of authority that routinely moves much bigger crowds on a regular basis. Preaching brotherhood and respect for Jah, every so often she would pause in place and begin swaying to the firm but rubbery bass foundation supplied by her Shepherd Band, allowing the good vibes to swell from the stage in slow, rippling waves. Her cover of Bob Marley's "Exodus" was certainly planted in sacred ground, too. CHRIS GRAY

Paul Ramirez Band Versatile Houston blues-rockers the Paul Ramirez Band's set Sunday was mellow enough for a lazy late afternoon, which it happened to be, but pocked with heavier, Cream-like moments of pure jam and a cover of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In the Wall, Part 2" that headed straight to the planetarium. "Gypsy Woman" and new songs"Am I the One" and "Same Old Song" (Ramirez is working on a followup to 2012 debut Sex With a Dragon) all balanced a keyboard-heavy Latin-jazz groove with Ramirez's probing guitar solos, touching lightly on the great Carlos' "Oye Como Va" in the bargain.

In the middle of the set, Ramirez invited up-and-coming local blues diva Annika Chambers onstage for three songs that grew from slow and sexy to a classic house-rocker in the T-Bone Walker tradition, Teeny Tucker's "Old Man Magnet." No idea if this is a regular occurrence or not, but maybe it should be: their pairing had a whiff of the same kind of chemistry that crackles between Jimmie Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton. CHRIS GRAY

Young Girls Houston trio Young Girls lit up the Heart of Texas Stage Saturday afternoon, sharing their upbeat and infectious indie-rock with a new audience. Looking around the crowd, I saw a few familiar faces but was pleased to see so many new ones bobbing their heads and tapping their feet to the music.

Described by Nylon magazine as "indie rock for people who kinda' secretly love pop," Young Girls are as accessible and cheery as musicians come in our fair city. And who knows? Maybe these new fans will make it to a few more local shows in the future. MATTHEW KEEVER


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