This was my first time attending Free Press Summer Fest and was my first (of many I’m sure) adventures in Houston as well. Houston is expansive and diverse, with about twenty percent of the metropolitan area population being born outside the United States, primarily coming from the south of the United States—Mexican border. Free Press Summer Fest is a unique blend of underground, local, and mainstream artists with a venue littered with instillation art, decorated cars, large inflatable ice cream cone trucks, and wooden and metal art even in a novice finger painter could appreciate. Sponsors such as Bud Light and Monster provided a plethora of drinking and dining trucks and helped develop several of the six stages. The mix of nature, cityscape, art, and music make this a truly unique and entertaining festival right in the heart of Texas.
The festival took place at NRG Park near downtown, a new location since the previous one was damaged by recent flooding. Feeling generous? You can donate to the flood relief fund here. The variety of culture in Houston attracts a lot of young people and the festival seemed to invite a slightly younger crowd overall. The general population ranged between ages 16-25 but all ages were splattered throughout and enjoyed the festival equally. The weather was hot and sticky and crowds were sprinkled with bikinis, crop tops, and short shorts. Camelbacks were allowed and many water stations were located throughout to fight off the heat.
The surfeit amount of food and drink options was overwhelming (almost.) Rows of food stands lined the back of each stage with all types of cuisines with an emphasis on the eminent home-cooked flavor and style of the south. From falafels, roasted corn, mac n cheese with kale, to sausage sticks and a range of burgers, if you didn’t find something you liked, you just weren’t trying. While you noshed, you could simultaneously check out the different hangout installments produced by Bud Light and Monster. One of the installments was a massive eighteen-wheeler that folded out into an eating and drinking area for guests. Diplo performed a private set in the “Fancy Pants” tent, which was basically a VIP section that included lots of air-conditioned tents.
All the performers seemed super amped to be there and the crowd around every performance was beautiful and vibe-ful. Stand out acts were R.Kelly, Steve Angello, Major Lazer, Skrillex, and Tove Lo. Tove Lo gave the crowd much more than they asked for when she flashed the crowd mid performance. Two live drummers accompanied the poppy synths, which played over loud speakers, and a keyboard player that performed along with the melodies. Tove Lo demonstrated that she’s not just a radio gal by just staying true to herself and singing her music and not overdoing it with a crazy stage performance and over-the-top outfits. Peaches performance on the other hand…was something to write home about.
The crazy girl sings, DJs, and performs antics entirely by herself. She came onto the stage in a see-through mesh outfit with sequined hands cover her lady parts. Oh, and she had giant inflatable boobs strapped to her shoulders. By the end of her performance, she had stripped down to an almost unrecognizable version of her beginning-of-the-show self. This performance almost doubled as a circus act, but damn was it entertaining.
Several local bands also got the opportunity to grace the stages, such as Moji, a 3-piece band with Moji the lead African American powerhouse singer. I spoke with her for a bit and she was an absolute pleasure and her vocals blew me away. During their set, their typical three-piece band expanded to seven with a piano, backup singers, and accompanying trumpets. The band has only been together for a year but are picking up speed fast, appearing on The David Letterman Show and have a pretty hefty tour planned, tackling several festivals in the meantime.
I got to interview the Suffers, a ten-piece band with a dynamo singer named Cam. Most of the members hail from Houston and played high school band together, and consider themselves more of geeks than rock stars. The R&B, jazz, and rock ensemble formed organically a few years back and are now doing a nationwide tour with plans to go to Europe next year to promote their new album.
A throwback band that many people seemed to be excited about was Tears for Fears. Nostalgia lingered as fans sang along and cheered during their set. They played a cover of the song Creep by Radiohead, which I think every voice in the crowd could be heard singing. Listen to the cover here.
Major Lazer was accompanied by the usual crew of Diplo, Jillionaire, and Walshy Fire in addition to the sexy Major Lazer dancers. The sun was mid-set behind the stage during the bulk of the performance and created the perfect amount of stage from the otherwise beaming sun.
Skrillex closed the show just as the sky faded to black. A wall of neon lights vibrated against the sky and even the crowd that extended furthest away from the stage could be seen bobbing their heads to the music. The only thing that could have been crazier than Major Lazer back-to-back Skrillex show would have been if Jack U, Skrillex and Diplo’s newest collab, had hopped on the decks after.
Free Press Summer Fest was more than worth the trip to Houston. Houston had a bunch of great accommodation options, an array of hotels, restaurants, and nightlife. Between the art instillations, various vendors, and delicious food stands, the festival remained entertaining all the way to the last performance. The humid weather didn’t stop festival-goers from dancing and celebrating the music in the dynamic and growing city of Houston.
Written by FestPop Staff Writer
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