The Best Surprises of Free Press Summer Fest 2014

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ANOTHER RUN Sunday, Jupiter stage

I could hear Another Run from outside the festival, and I followed their sound all the way from the gates to the stage, where I stood impressed for the remainder of their show. You guys who know about them know how good they are, but somehow they've flown completely under my radar. One of the good things about festivals is that you get a bunch of chances to find a new band to fall for in between seeing the bands you already love. Those are the best surprises. CORY GARCIA

The New Layout The biggest surprise for me at this year's event was the new layout of the festival. While there were still a few traffic problems, especially whenever someone big was playing the Neptune stage, this was by far the best layout in FPSF history. The addition of Sam Houston Park and the removal of the major Allen Parkway and Gillette bottleneck of years past made this stage setup easier to traverse than ever before.

It also made the festival much prettier and added so many new shade elements that it was easy to stay cool while enjoying the gorgeous downtown parks and bayou at the same time. Hidden pockets made it easy to relax away from the hordes of kids trekking through the grounds, and the new stage setup made it easy to see any of your favorite acts as close up or far away as you wanted to. JIM BRICKER

FLATBUSH ZOMBIES Sunday, Jupiter stage

I knew these guys would have a crowd and I knew that things might get a bit crazy, but what really surprised me about their set was just how mature they are as performers. When some technical difficulties arose mid-set, right after they asked the crowd to get closer to the stage so things could get turned up, they managed to keep the crowd hanging on by going a cappella for a bit before getting things wild again. Respect to these guys for making the best out of what could have been a sorry situation. CORY GARCIA

MS. LAURYN HILL Sunday, Mars stage

Going to see Lauryn Hill, I was equally excited and terrified. Like many other women my age, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is like a sacrament to me, and I was petrified I was going to be let down by something I love so much. Her show gave me two excellent surprises: 1) She killed it and sounded amazing; and 2) She did a different spin on every single song than it was originally produced, and it worked for every song.

Typically when you see an artist perform, he or she might put some kind of unique twist on one or two songs of their set, but Hill and her crew made an entire show of new music out of old music. "Killing Me Softly" was slow and super reggaed-out; "Everything is Everything" was a suddenly a rock song. "Zion" was the most straightforward, but still sounded completely unique. Everything about Hill's set surprised me in the best way possible. SELENA DIERINGER

ISHI Saturday, Mercury stage

Ishi announced themselves as our funky cousins from Dallas, but felt more like outer space. What else can explain front man John Mudd looking like an Aztec king in the middle of the sticky humidity? Or that the group's brand of electronic rock swayed more towards lean versions of N.E.R.D and Hot Chip? Ishi is a three-man outfit but hearing them lead a group around with boots caked in mud makes you wonder how they would do at a temple revival or something. BRANDO

That Amazing Sandwich Festival food is not typically one of the best surprises to report at the end of a weekend. Let's be honest, if a slice of pizza is satisfactory, we as a festival-going public are pretty happy. But the food trucks absolutely dominated the festival fare this year at FPSF (sorry, booth food). After interviewing the ever-pleasant Angie of Les Báget Vietnamese Food Truck on Saturday and having a less-than-edible sandwich from a booth that shall go unnamed, Sunday I decided to trek back by the Saturn stage and grab some grub from my new acquaintance.

I cannot sing enough praises about the deliciousness that was my lemongrass pork sandwich with truffle oil. This was not only the best food I've ever eaten at any festival ever, but one of the best things I've eaten in the past few months, period. (And for the record, I really like food.) For a foodie city, FPSF really brings it with the local flavor at their fest. Way to represent your town! SELENA DIERINGER

LIZZO Saturday, Jupiter stage

After the rain delay Saturday, Lizzo is just what the festival needed to jump off. The former Houstonian told us it was "surreal" to be performing at FPSF, which she'd hoped to play back when she was an upstart living in Alief. She showed love to Frenchy's, S.U.C., The Galleria and then rolled into "Luv It," which rhymes on all those H-town wonders and more. She's personable and energetic, so it was fun to be up close at the Jupiter Stage. Best examples of her rhyming prowess were "Paris," "Be Still" and the crowd-mover "W.E.R.K. Pt. II."

"I used to wanna play this festival so bad. As far as I'm concerned this is the main stage," she said. The talent and drive are there, so we just need luck to do its share to get Lizzo to the true main stage, where she's showing she belongs. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

A New Stage? I was surprised to discover on Sunday that somebody had stuck an entire stage inside Sam Houston Park. If I hadn't been told, I'd have never known. I managed to trek over to catch some of the Kills. Not a bad spot for some live music, as it turned out, with plentiful live oaks to shade sweaty picnickers. Hopefully they'll get all the trash out of there before the next couple shows up to take wedding photos. NATHAN SMITH

No Single-Day Options? So word on the street is that FPSF offered single-day passes the first year and hasn't since. (I'm sure someone out there will correct me if that is not 100 percent accurate.) But I'm curious: why wouldn't that be an option? I can think of many reasons why it should be, but here are a few:

Many people work weekends and aren't able to take an entire weekend off, and would wind up buying what amounted to a very expensive one-day pass; it would help to keep the lineup evenly balanced and desirable over both days; if someone really just did not want to see one day's music, he or she would still be motivated to attend the other day; and people on a stricter budget could still enjoy the awesomeness that FPSF is curating. SELENA DIERINGER

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NEW YORK CITY QUEENS Sunday, Neptune stage

A while back someone emailed me asking why we never cover New York City Queens, who have become a fairly popular Houston band in the years following their 2012 LP, Burn Out Like Roman Candles. Nothing against them, certainly -- for one reason or another, some bands just escape our radar. But if pressed, I'd say they always seemed a little mainstream for my tastes. (For the record, the Chronicle loves them.)

So I'm happy to report that although the Queens' songs sounded a little thin the couple of times I listened to Candles, they turned out to be a fine festival band that mixes energetic, Strokes-y garage-pop with chilled-out New Wave keyboards, and fast-paced tunes with more thoughtful songs ("Roman Candle") that make good use of their multiple vocalists. They also drew a pretty decent crowd to the Neptune stage before noon, and people were already smoking weed; never a bad sign. So hopefully this will bury that hatchet. CHRIS GRAY

Vampire Weekend's Small(ish) Crowd Vampire Weekend played a stunning set featuring their best songs from all three of their albums, and their newest songs from Modern Vampires of the City were played with such finesse that I thought I might melt into the ground. Their show brought out the absolute best in me as a festival goer: I was having the most friendly and free-flowing conversations with fans around me, dancing, and singing. Jesus, we were all singing.

But despite being one of the clear headliners of 2014, they drew a crowd that was smaller than I expected. Certainly some of this was because the Mars stage was structured differently than last year, but I mostly think it was because Erza and the gang were posted up directly against Zedd and his Top 40 phenom "Clarity." I have not made it a secret that I don't like "Clarity," but I do like EDM. What I see here is that the situation was more of a commentary on the state of music festivals than of a reflection of musical quality.

What Zedd brings is a digestible form of today's mainstream music and Vampire Weekend, despite having a large and rabid and fan base, is still unique enough that not everyone was compelled to their stage. Overall this wasn't such a bad thing, because the people who were there for the set truly wanted to be. SELENA DIERINGER

WHITE SEA Sunday, Jupiter stage

I looked at the line up for the festival dozens of times since it was announced. I went over the schedule multiple times in the days leading up to it. Still, I somehow managed to overlook the fact that White Sea was playing until about 30 minutes or so before they took the stage. Sadly because I don't know how to read a schedule correctly I missed most of their set, but what I caught was pretty damn spectacular. Morgan Kibby (right) has an amazing voice and a really good stage presence. Definitely hoping to catch more of them next time they're around. CORY GARCIA

The Weather We lucked out. Straight up. Save for a spot of rain on Saturday afternoon that ended up being a whole lot better than it could've been, we were spared both severe heat or torrential storms throughout the entire weekend. It still got hot, at points real hot, but not "what is this hell that surrounds me" hot.

With so many trees and shady areas, whenever it did reach into the higher 80s, it was easy to get away from it. The only thing bad about the weather was the extreme humidity that caused everyone in the festival to have a nice layer of face-sweat from open to close. JIM BRICKER

YING YANG TWINS Saturday, Mercury Stage

A family friend tried to quash my enthusiasm following Ying Yang Twins' berserk set. She said they played a Texas State University function while she was in school there, so maybe I should tone down the rhetoric. But that's precisely why it was fantastic. It felt like a throwback to college days, filled with filled cups and the promise of casual promiscuity.

The crowd was 'bout it, especially during "Ms. New Booty" and, of course, "Get Low." When the familiar chorus morphed into a few bars of "Turn Down For What," it was like Ying Yang passing the party-anthem torch. It was also too much for one young, nubile girl ahead of us to resist the urge to booty-grind all up on my wife, who was standing right behind her. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.


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