Coverage by Waylon O’Day and Tiffany Neufeld
The second annual Fortress Festival began on Saturday, April 28th at the Will Rogers Memorial Center. Touting a diverse line up of 23 bands, the music experience appealed to hip hop, rock, electric and folk fans. Some festival-goers came simply to pass the time outside on an idyllic Saturday where others traveled from other parts of Texas to see specific bands. The fans were as diverse as the lineup, categorized by their motivations and their age. Raven, a recent University of Texas graduate, came from Austin solely to see The Voidz. She, along with other Voidz fans, Ashley and Rachel, arrived early to set up camp in front of the Wildcatters Network Stage, where they stayed for the entire day. Ashley and Rachel did leave the line to enter the festival early to catch Beardo at a bar for his autograph. They returned, triumphant, and joined Raven, whom they did not know prior to this day, in front of the stage. Typical of the easygoing, friendly nature of the attendants of Fortress Festival, she greeted them warmly. Janet, an older woman from the Fort Worth area, came to see TuNe-YaRdZ. She lamented that she missed Run the Jewels a year prior at the inaugural Fortress Festival and vowed she would not make the same mistake for 2018.
Bedouine was the herald and usher for the musical goodness to come during Fortress Festival. The first act of Day 1, performing on the Wildcatters Network Stage, she began by saying, “I have the honor and privilege of welcoming you to this festival.” It was her intention to “ease” everyone into the jubilee. She thought her schtick would be her attempt to keep her glasses on. However, it was her class and grace as she dealt with sound issues. “You Kill Me” opened her set. With lyrics such as, “I’ll let the road be the honey in my tea” combined with the bubbling acoustics of her guitar, she opened the door to a world of indie, folk, classic country music. Her recorded sound is more reminiscent of Skeeter Davis’ 1962 “The End of the World”. Removed from shakers, strings and drums, her live sound reminds listeners more of Patsy Cline. The speakers began making a popping sound in the second song. By the third track, “Nice and Quiet,” it was unbearable to the point Bedouine stopped while the technicians addressed the “popping of the popcorn next door”. Undeterred from the interruption, she resumed “Nice and Quiet.” Spectators could identify with the lyrics “I don’t want to run. I don’t want to try and fight it” and leaned into Bedouine’s downy, light melodic voice. Bedouine had an easy, natural rapport with the crowd. This was witnessed early in the show with her introduction and seamless handling of the popping, but again when she encouraged the crowd to give her suggestions for a song title of the song subsequent to “Nice and Quiet”. Suggestions were “Tonight,” “After Hours,” “Lazy Baby,” and “I’d Still Like to Get You Tonight”. “Solitary Daughter” was another stand out song of the performance. She ended with her single “One of These Days,” which feels like sipping on sweet tea in a rocking chair on a southern porch with the fragrance of magnolias and gardenias in the air. Bedouine, who is on tour with fellow Fortress Festival artists Waxahatchee and Hurray for the Riff Raff, satisfied her goal of easing festival goers into a day of music. Her performance was pleasant, easy and a gentle primer for the day.
I’m not a huge fan of the whole “bedroom-pop” label that is reaching chill-wave circa 2012 levels. I feel like the label sort of paints the artists that are saddled with the misnomer as amateur, and without real substance. In the cases of artists like Cuco and Clairo, I can see why their music is boxed up in this genre, but Jay Som? No way is that project in any sort of way bedroom-pop. I’ll give you a few reasons why. I have seen a lot of these so-called bedroom-pop artists live, and all of those shows tend to be lethargic sets consisting of a lot of slow hip-shaking, a Jay Som show is not like that it all. It’s got some meat on it’s bones, it’s aggressive, it’s exciting, and most of all, it’s fun. Had my favorite label, Polyvinyl, (give a job as an AR guy, please), not pushed her debut album for the label, Everybody Works, I and many other people like me may have never been introduced to the sappy, gooeyness that is encompassed by songs like “Baybee,” and “The Bus Song,” both of which were performed during the group’s thirty-minute set at the Wildcatters Network Stage. Lead-singer, Melina Duterte was quietly hilarious in between songs, making subtle digs like “This song is about transportation,” before playing one of the aforementioned tracks, I’ll let you figure out which one. I sort of expected a really dry show, but what I got was a pleasant surprise, as more lethargic songs, like the 2016 single, “I Think You’re Alright,” were revamped for a live setting, creating an element of surprise for someone like me, that had never seen Jay Som’s live show before. Overall, this was an enjoyable set, but definitely different than the rest that I would see on Saturday, a day in which I was in old-school hip-hop heaven. Judging by the performance of new singles, “Pirouette,” and “O.K., Meet Me Underwater,” there is a lot of upside for Jay Som, and I can’t wait to catch another set once the new album is released.
Cure for Paranoia
One great thing about attending festivals is that the bill usually contains young, budding artists that are apart from the mainstream music scene as well as larger headlining acts. Cure for Paranoia is one of those groups (for now anyway). Fortress Festival was structured in a way that allowed festival-goers to see every single act if they so chose. There was no overlap. Without the draw of another more well-known group, this provided the perfect opportunity to be dosed with some Cure for Paranoia. A typical thought at an event is, “What is going on over here?” This was the exact thought when walking over to the CG Northern Stage, but it quickly transitioned to, “What is going on over here?” Rapper and vocalist Cameron McCloud was wearing black jeans, a white tank affixed with a cobalt blue silhouette of a man, similar to that on a bathroom sign, topped with a cobalt blue fishnet overlay, complete with a mustard yellow tiger striped jacket. If you were lucky enough to catch McCloud after his set, you would see up close that he was also wearing T-Rex earrings. Vocal artist Stanley Francisko rocked aquamarine and blond curly hair similar to Tomahawk Jonez’, who is one of the beat artists and emcees for the group. McCloud addressed his unique style when sharing the catalyst for their uncommon group name. Cameron McCloud was diagnosed with bipolar paranoid schizophrenia two years prior. He began making music and found that it was more therapeutic for him than medication. In allowing the audience to be a part of this intimate knowledge, he said that essentially no one was probably surprised because, “Yea, we know. Look at how you [are] dressed.” Their appearance simply drew attention, but their bumping beats, interesting lyrics and enigmatic, charming, humorous stage presence kept it. Cure for Paranoia is injected with soul, R&B and lives within the hip hop genre. The beats are produced by Tomahawk Jonez and JayAnalog. Francisko is of slight build, but within him are some gigantic pipes that propel a silky smooth, spell binding voice. McCloud slays with his raps. At one point, it felt as if Big Boi was behind the mic. Notable tracks consist of “Wired,” “Normal Person,” “Got It Good” and “Crocodile Tears.” The group is formed out of Dallas. This was their second time performing at Fortress Festival. And if Bedouine eased concert goers into the festival, Cure for Paranoia eased them into the idea that the Metroplex area is the place to be for good music. They were the first, but not last, group native to Dallas to perform. Additionally, they introduced the first, but certainly not the last, political note into the two-day music experience, when McCloud briefly addressed Kanye’s recent endorsements of Trump.
Rapsody took the CG Northern Stage at 4:15pm. Political by nature, with lyrics like
“The world is bigger than your street and mine
And that colour and this
And every shade of our skin is rich
Knowing your future depends on our involvement
So, block boys, block boys
It’s in our hands more than Parliament
The gun can kill or the gun can save,”
It was no surprise to those familiar with Rapsody that she carried the political note into her set. She told festival-goers that she would “talk about things that are going on in the world.” She said she would and she did, letting everyone know she, “ain’t with 45. [She] don’t even say his name.” She put her hand up for Mike Brown and Flint, Michigan.
Dressed in a camouflage jacket and black beret, Rapsody was dressed for war and was fighting for everyone at Fortress Festival. It was made clear that she was there not only for a “supreme love and passion for hip hop” but for the women too. Her battle cry was that anyone can do anything to which they put their mind. She shout out to the artists, telling them to “Believe in yourself before anyone else believe[s] in you….Keep giving it your all and it will all fall into place.” With tracks like “Power” and “Crown,” Rapsody engaged in lyrical warfare and her beats moved the crowd to dancing and head bobbing like good musical soldiers. For those disinterested in politics, she still delivered the fun. A mix of “Pay Up” put a bend in most knees as booties dropped with a shake and shoulders leaned left to right with snaps of fingers. The crowd chanted along with, “Make money, money. Make money, money. Money!” and “Take money, money. Take money, money. Money!” To circle back to the assertion that most of the crowd was friendly and easy going, it was around this time that a woman I had never met before tapped me on the arm to tell me I was getting red and handed me sunscreen. Where else do they do that?
If anyone thought that Rapsody would leave out the men in the crowd, they were wrong. Rapsody advised, “I like to have fun with the fellows.” Mike, in a Chicano Batman shirt, was brought on stage and they danced to a mix with “A Rollercoaster Jam Called Love” off of Laila’s Wisdom. “OooWee”, too from Laila’s Wisdom, was another fun track. Of course, she included Grammy nominated “Complexion (A Zulu Love)”. Rapsody killed her set. She brought a strong message, strong beats and strong performance that was a bull horn for action and a call to dance.
Hurray for the Riff Raff
Hurray for the Riff Raff was the seventh band of the day and the fourth to take on the Wildcatters Network Stage. Elaborating on the diversity of the artists on the festival’s bill, Hurray for the Riff Raff is an Americana folk-blues, almost punk sounding band formed in Louisiana. Alynda Segarra, front woman, Jordan Hyde, guitarist, Charlie Ferguson, drummer, and Sarah Goldstone, keyboardist, make up the group. While waiting for HFTRR to take the stage, concert goers, Rachel and Monce, both of Fort Worth, but originally from Louisiana and New York respectively, gave this writer some background on the band. They learned of HFTRR at the Trans-Pecos Festival in Marfa, Texas in September. The high energy and passionate performance of the band, inspired Rachel and Monce to see them again at Fortress Festival. They promised that the show would be amazing and intense. It was. Their performance illuminated why one would ensure not to miss the next. The set opened with “The Navigator,” the track title of their 2017 album. “The Navigator” has a sexy, bossanova feel. The drums and keyboard, of course along with Segarra’s vocals, shine in this track. Segarra introduced the next song by saying that it was about “staying alive, which can be hard sometimes.” Her segues into each song aided in connecting with the crowd. “Hungry Ghost,” the third track, was “for all the queers.” Hungry for the Riff Raff “love[s] you.” The riffs in this song are rousing. Hyde did an amazing job shredding and moving the crowd. It was very difficult to stand still during this performance. Off to the side of the stage, Beardo of The Voidz was watching intently. One mark of a promising band is when other artists take time from their days to catch their sets. And Hungry for the Riff Raff is definitely a promising band. They debuted a new song based off of the Langston Hughes poem “Kids Who Die”. Segarra jumped around like a firey, rock sprite as she sang about students who will die in schools, but will get no monuments. She promised to memorialize them in their songs and their poems. The lyrics were combative and aggressive, but delivered in a savory way buckets full of energy and passion. “Rican Beach” was another combative song, written for Segarra’s people of Puerto Rico. Hurray for the Riff Raff rounded off their electrifying set with “Pa’lanate” for Segarra’s “ancestors and thinking about the future and working together”. With a fist in the air, Segarra shouted that this was for “immigrant power,” “refugee power” and “black power” to name a few. The song was divisive and stirring. At some points Monce “teared up,” while another concert goer who came “just to come, but kind of [knew] Chromeo” felt left out by the message.
RZA featuring Stone Mecca
If you know me, you know how I feel about Wu-Tang Clan. I think they are the best thing to ever have happen to hip-hop. The lyrical density and prowess of it’s members always amazed me, and there are few MCs outside of the group that I think can even hold a candle to the Wu. However, what I love the most about the Clan, is the production, which we can all thank RZA for. So needless to say, I was ecstatic to get to see RZA, although I had seen him once, long long ago at a little festival called Fun Fun Fun Fest, when he, GZA, Raekwon, and others made my 90’s East Coast hip-hop loving heart melt like a stick of cheap butter. Performing with the funk-soul band, Stone Mecca, RZA was absent for the first two songs as the backing band opened the set with “If Experience Was Money,” before moving into a cover of Nirvana’s immortal “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” to which the man, the myth, the legend, RZA made his way to the stage.
Opening his portion of the set with “Brooklyn Babies,” RZA instantly turned the energy up to eleven, as even I, who was in the photo pit at the time, couldn’t resist moving and grooving to the lyrical stylings of one of my most beloved musical heroes. Next was a trap that the kids of today would say “slaps,” the classic “We Pop,” which clearly influenced Houston’s own Lil’ Flip when he made “This is the Way We Ball.” “Grits,” from RZA’s 2003 solo effort, Birth of a Prince, was a nice breather for the band and the audience alike as both had been giving their all in the early part of the set. Whatever time there was to catch your breathe was quickly released as soon as the bassline to the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s classic “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” resonated through the CG Northern stage’s monitors. From there, RZA and Stone Mecca would pepper in a couple more of the former’s solo songs, before the dropping the ultimate Wu-Tang track, “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nunthing Ta F’ Wit,” as well as “Tearz,” both from the immaculate 1993 album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). RZA closed his set with probably the most appropriate closing track for a man of his stature, “You Can’t Stop Me Now.” The man has done everything, he produced some of the best hip-hop music in the history of the genre, he’s scored movies for some of the world’s best directors, he’s even directed his own movies, he’s collaborated with a variety of musicians across the musical spectrum. I could’ve stopped by just saying he’s RZA, but there’s no way you can stop me from talking about my admiration for him and his music, and there’s certainly no way you can stop him from doing whatever he desires to do.
If you don’t know Shabazz Palaces, you’ve probably been sleeping under a rock for the last decade. The first hip-hop group to be signed by Sub Pop, the home of artists like Nirvana, Frankie Cosmos, and fellow Fortress Festival performer, Father John Misty. However, the notoriety of the duo does not end there. De-facto leadman, Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, is also known for his work with the legendary, 90’s East coast hip-hop group, Digable Planets. Although the music is decidedly different from Butler’s earlier work with the group that made hits like “Where I’m From,” and “Black Ego,” Shabazz Palaces has always been three steps ahead of the rest of the hip-hop world. Listening to their music now, you may think their sound is unoriginal, but when the group first busted onto the scene, it was the most unique thing to happen to the genre since Run D.M.C. did “Walk this Way,” with Aerosmith. Now, you can find tons of artists that one would consider Shabazz Palaces, contemporaries, such as Run the Jewels, or even Death Grips.
I had seen the group about six months ago at last year’s Day for Night festival here in Houston, and it was a transcendent performance, and I promised myself that I would see them again. That I did on Saturday night, as Butler and Tendai Maraire, the other half of the duo put on yet another transcendent performance for the crowd that gathered at the Wildcatter Network stage, performing songs like my personal favorite “free press and curl,” “Swerve…the reeping of all that is worthwhile (Noir not withstanding),” and “Forerunner Foray.” Sound issues at the stage throughout the day frustrated fans and musicians alike, but being the consummate professionals that they are, Shabazz Palaces put on a great show, although you wouldn’t know it by looking at the faces on the crowd that seemed to be perplexed. I have to admit, that’s how I felt when I saw them at Day for Night. However, it’s hard to deny that some guys with a MPC, congas, and other various hardware, producing live loops, all while dropping layer after layer of dense verses are not entertaining, even if it’s somewhat confounding to what we as music fans are used to hearing from the increasingly eclectic hip-hop genre.
De La Soul
Don’t listen to what anyone tells you, De La Soul is not dead. The hip-hop trio that has been at it for nearly thirty years put on one of the best, and most exciting shows I’ve ever seen from anyone you could possible call their contemporary. Yes, the even made me forget about RZA for a second there, they were that good. Opening up with the equal parts uplifting and hard-hitting, “The Grind Date,” from the group’s 2004 album of the same name, you could tell that it was going to be a great set. Shortly after they cut the track, the group addressed the photographers who were gathered in the crowded photo pit, saying “There’s only three people up here working, so all you photographers, go ahead and put your cameras down. We know you’ve got a job too, but just dance with us one-time.” Being one of those photographers, I obliged as the group played “Oooh,” which has one of the coolest music videos in history, if you haven’t seen it, you’re playing yourself. Between songs, the group would do the typical “where my day one fans at,” and “I think this side is louder,” shticks, which suprisingly, didn’t diminish the momentum of the set.
“Dilla Plugged In,” which the group made with the late, great, J Dilla, was next, followed by “Much More,” from the group’s aforementioned 2004 album. The lyrically dense “Stakes Is High,” who’s message is just as pertinent today as it was when it was originally released more than twenty years ago, was next and preceded the hype-track that is “Oodles of O’s.” After another extended break that saw the group playing the crowd, the group descended into “Ego Trippin’ (Part 2), which features a sample from another hip-hop classic from Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, “They Reminisce Over You.” As the set was drawing to a close, the group took one more moment to talk to the crowd saying, “This next song, we are required by law to perform.” If you know De La Soul, then you know what song I’m talking about, the booty-shake inducing “Me, Myself, and I,” a moment that I have waited for nearly fifteen years. The group had one more song for the audience, closing their set with “Bionix,” a solid track, but no match to follow-up their biggest hit. Hip-hop is not a genre that provides it’s artists with a long shelf life, the window to remain relevant grows smaller everyday (see: Kanye West) but De La Soul has managed to do just that through an energetic live show, dope rhymes, and of course soul, De La that is.
The funk lords from Montreal, Canada brought the energy. Chromeo breathed life into everyone with their opener “Come Alive” (see what I did there). The next two songs, “Bonafied Lovin” and “Somethingood” followed. The trio of songs created the biggest dance party of the day. Around this time, 10:30 at night, the sun was down, the night was breezy and the dance moves flowed freely. There was a group of girls with light up hula hoops and they curated their own special light show to the music. The whole set was high vibe and high energy. The guys did not touch on anything political. It was solely about peace, love and high vibes. They thanked their fans who had been with them since the “Myspace” days. The crowd, like the duo being one-part Jewish and second part Arab, were incredibly diverse. In order to make a Myspace reference, there needs to be an audience who is capable of receiving said reference. That crowd was represented, but there was also a younger crowd still present – including children. The children were booty shaking too. Chromeo honored new fans with their latest single “Must’ve Been” and “Juice,” released in 2017. “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)” with its staccato, hard hitting electric beats was the second last song. During the pre-chorus when the beat would slow a bit, most of the crowd was slowly jumping side to side in a funky, large flash mob style, which foreshadowed the next song. Chromeo followed with“Fall Back 2U.” The dance party continued and when the music would pause, the crowd would pause. During the chorus everyone in the crowd was moving side to side. The set ended with a peace sign as a giant exclamation point, but only as a semi colon for Fortress Festival as Day 2 picked up on Sunday, April 29th where we see an even greater showing of Metroplex area talent, diversity and friendliness.
Thanks for reading! Keep checking the site for more coverage, photo galleries and more from Fortress Festival, as well as other music news, reviews, and opinion pieces. If you made it out to Fort Worth for this doozy of a festival, what’d you think? What was your favorite set? What set let you down? What’d you think of our reviews? Let us know in the comment section, and thanks again for reading.