UPDATED: Founders Hope New 1836 Fest Is a Texas-Size Hit

UPDATE UPDATE (Friday, 3 p.m.): Although dogs are normally allowed at the Cottonwood, 1836 is a no-dog festival.

This sounds like a joke, but we'll find out soon enough whether it is or not. Did you hear the one about the three lawyers who started a music festival?

Well, they did, and this Saturday Mikey Bernick, James Brown and Bryce Duke will find out just how smooth or bumpy the transition from music fan to promoter can be. According to Bernick, none of the three has any kind of experience producing live-music events.

"None," he laughs. "We just went and did it."

But the three law-school buddies were looking for something they could channel their energies into outside of litigation, and Bernick says that, since they'd always enjoyed going to concerts together, music was the first thing that came to mind.

"We wanted a creative outlet outside of work -- we're always looking for that," he says. "James called us up on night and said, 'Hey, what do you guys think about putting a music festival together in Houston?'"

That was last May or June, Bernick recalls, and the time from then to Saturday's 1836 Festival at Rice Military restaurant/bar Cottonwood has been filled with details. Lots of them, even for guys who sift through details for a living.

"Getting all the legal aspects was challenging, as far as all the permitting and insurance; navigating those areas was difficult," admits Bernick. "Thankfully the TABC was very helpful to us, and we found some great people to help us out with the insurance and stuff, but even as practicing attorneys it was very difficult for us to figure out what was going on sometimes, there are so many regulations and everything."

Luckily, after going to the Cottonwood several times, they started discussing their ideas with manager Charles Bishop, who told them he had already been thinking about doing such an event at his place, which opened in October 2012. Bernick describes Bishop as a live-music fan -- "one of those Widespread Panic guys" -- whose 25 years of hospitality experience has been invaluable in helping the partners negotiate the logistics of the festival.

"He's just a wealth of knowledge," Bernick says. "I'll come to a meeting sometimes and say, 'We should do it this way' and everybody else will say, 'We should do it this way' and Charles will say, 'You guys are way off.'"

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The other big issue Bernick et al. had to decide was exactly who they wanted to come to this festival, although they did know they wanted it to have a heavy "Texas-pride" theme. ("Alamo," Bernick notes, is the Spanish word for "cottonwood.") The target demographic they came up with does not sound like it would be terribly difficult to rustle up on a springtime Houston Saturday afternoon; Bernick calls them the "day-drinking crowd."

"Their definition of a Saturday is sitting on a porch or patio somewhere with their friends, maybe have their dogs around," he says. Although dogs are usually welcome at Cottonwood, they're prohibited from the festival, but Bernick hopes a casual vibe will still be the order of the day.

"We're not really [after] a specific age group, just people who really enjoy relaxing out on the weekend," he says.

As far as the music goes, Bernick says he, Brown and Duke wanted 1836 to be more inclusive than the partners' own personal tastes, but the 1836 lineup still follows a pretty even curve between Americana, outlaw country and Southern rock. Austin roots-rockers Band of Heathens are certainly no stranger to these parts, and Houstonians will be happy to see reggae-soul warriors the Suffers and jazz iconoclasts Free Radicals doing a New Orleans second-line set.

The rest of the lineup -- Austin's Sons of Fathers and Sour Bridges; Dallas' Room Sounds, Shotgun Friday and J. Charles & the Trainrobbers -- has been highly touted in other parts of Texas, and Bernick hopes 1836 Fest will help these relative strangers make some inroads into Houston. He says many of the bands will do informal pickin' parties on the festival's second stage, to go with other attractions like Shotgun Friday singer Tony Drury's lecture on craft beer, Lone Star paraphernalia from Six Flags Over Texas on display, and even a Davy Crockett costume contest. Bernick says he'll count the day a success if people come away thinking, "Man, that was awesome" or "That was way different than I thought it was going to be."

"Music festivals can kind of be a beating sometimes," he says. "I love going to them, but you've got to be in that mindset. We want it to be a music festival that people can go to and enjoy themselves, but not leave and be completely drained on Sunday."

1836 Fest is Saturday, March 8 at Cottonwood, 3422 N. Shepherd; for info see 1836fest.com. Gates open at 12:45 p.m.


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