Coverage by Waylon O’Day and Tiffany Neufeld
Wow, I don’t know why I had never heard of this festival prior to this year, and I’m not sure why it doesn’t get more attention than it does. The festival is built for music fans; the lack of overlapping set-times, the small grounds, and just generally the atmosphere is perfect or a relaxing music festival experience, three words I would normally never put into the same sentence. It was a pleasure to get to experience this festival, and it has definitely changed the way that I think about music festivals and how they should operate. Day 2 of this festival was blessed with great weather, cooler than the day before, and in my humble opinion, better musicians scheduled to perform. I really enjoyed this day, and this weekend, and will most assuredly be making another trip up to Fort Worth for this festival next year.
The Dallas-based glam-rock band, formerly known as Siamese, Midnight Opera started day two off with a bang at the CG Northern main stage. Judging by the presence of so many DFW-based bands that performed at the festival, they’ve got the Houston music scene beat by a mile, and anybody that knows me, knows how hard that is for me to say. With that out of the way, I have to say that Midnight Opera is easily my favorite out of the bunch.
Although I wasn’t particularly familiar with the bands music, they won me over with their performances of songs like “Older Hands Prevail,” and “Chromatose.” High energy was the name of the game for the band as it seemed like they were on a mission to impress the small crowd that made it out early in the day to catch the set. Despite not being the biggest draw, their performance should’ve been one of the most highly attended. Truly technical performers, I couldn’t notice and missteps in their set-list, despite sound issues that leaked over from the previous day. If you get a chance, check them out, so when they start blowing up you can be that person that says “I saw them before they got popular.” Side note: I have never been, and never will be that person. Who am I kidding? I do it all the time. I will need the Chad’s and Brad’s of the world to relinquish their fandom of Mac Demarco and Tame Impala, please and thank you.
Pearl Earl kicked off the Wildcatters Network Stage on Sunday, April 29th for Day 2 of Fortress Festival. The all-girl band native to the DFW area contains lead vocalist and guitarist Ariel Hartley, bassist Stefanie Lazcano, drummer Bailey K Chapman, and keyboardist Chelsey Danielle. All of the girls participate in vocals. The band and Hartley had a memorable weekend. Saturday, April 28th, they played at Levitation Fest followed by Fortress Festival on this day. It was also Hartley’s birthday weekend. The girls describe their sound as “a psychedelic cornucopia of the glitter and sparkle of glam rock, the space and cosmic intervention of prog, the angst and grit of punk, and the synth pop of the times of neon jumpsuits and disco balls.” At this time, there are not many all-girl groups experimenting with this unique marriage of genres. Their style and sound are more typical of the 1960s. Listening to Pearl Earl feels like a ride in a yellow subma-time-machine to a festival featuring Jefferson Airplane and early Pink Floyd. The crowd enjoyed it, as demonstrated by their dancing and enthusiasm throughout the performance. It could also be said that there was too much going on and that the tracks slipped into one another, similar to when one paints and gets too many colors in one area on the canvas. The result is a muddied brown, abstract painting whose meaning is difficult to discern. “Malibu Barbie Bike” and “Cosmic Queen” were stand out tracks in this bass heavy, electric, gritty, experimental set.
Ronnie Heart followed on the CG Northern Stage, continuing to represent the Metroplex area. Dressed in all white, Heart twirled, bopped, jumped and skipped from one side of the stage to the other. Heart played the guitar as well. His talent is not limited to dancing. He could really shred that thing. His sound was 80’s-tastic with a surprise (to the Ronnie Heart newb) flute. Never has anyone seen a flautist that lit. Heart describes his sound as “cosmic funk”. He has tracks titled “Smoovie” and “Groovitate,” whose names are certainly out of this world funky. The tunes were light hearted and infectious. In “Smoovie,” Heart asks, “How can I? How can I move you, baby?” Well, he found the answer. Looking into the crowd, there was almost not one person who was not moving or did not have their dancing face on. Think pursed lips, crunk faces and under bites. Heart dedicated his set to his nephew in the crowd, telling him, “Te quiero mucho.”
Lee Fields & the Expressions
Lee Fields and The Expressions took the CG Northern Stage at 3:45pm. Fields comes from North Carolina, much like his predecessor on the stage the day prior, Rapsody. Their weather must be good for the soul, because both artists have it by the gallons. At the first note, Fields dumped his soul all over Fortress Festival. Later in the set, he did ask if the “good looking people” to the left, the right and all the way to the back had soul. One of The Expressions said, “They are very good looking. Yeah, they got soul.” If not, Fields had plenty to share. The Expressions also were energetic and talented. The horns in particular were impressive. They added a pop to the performance and each song, that is sorely missed in more contemporary music. Fields began his musical career in 1969 and still has that Motown presence. The set opened with “I’m Coming Home” off of his latest album Special Night. “Talk to Somebody,” “Work to Do,” “Faithful Man,” and “Special Night” were other notable songs. Fields had the crowd talking back during “Talk to Somebody,” when they repeated “Talk, talk, talk, talk” and “Walk, walk, walk, walk.” Fields was more optimistic about the state of politics than those who voiced their views on Day 1 of Fortress Festival. He said that he is, “very optimistic about the future” and that we “can make the world better”. He also shared the sentiment that time is finite and to “spend it wisely. You don’t wanna lose somebody you love.” When one considers this wisdom along with the lyrics in “Faithful Man” and in “Work to Do” that read specifically:
“I’ve got work to do
For me and you
I’ve got work to do baby baby
I never realized how I hurt the people close to me
And caused so much pain heartaches and misery
Now I think it’s time for me to take some responsibility,”
One must consider that everything had to happen exactly the way it did for Fields to be on the stage that day. His wisdom and musical experience is seasoned to perfection largely by the life he has lived, which allows him to craft and share the music that he so soulfully does. His set was moving both physically and emotionally.
TuNe-YaRdS performed at 5:15pm. Songs such as “Honesty,” “ABC 123,” “Water Fountain,” ”Powa,” “Colonizer,” “Gangsta,” and “Heart Attack” filled their set. Their recorded music implies that there might be multiple singers. Instead, and it is remarkable to watch, Garbus samples parts of her voice, snippets that she creates in the moment, and allows that recorded voice to reverberate live in the song as she sings other parts, plays the ukulele or simply allows the physical sensations of the music fill her body. The same process is also repeated with different electronic beats. She builds loops, live in the moment in front of the audience. Aside from this extraordinary ability, Garbus is endowed with a beautiful, powerful, loud voice. She can inhale and turn that breath into a powerful invisible smoke of beautiful noise that she breathes back out over the crowd like a musical fire breather at a renaissance festival. Additionally, she can daintily hit an astonishing high note with ease. A TUnE-YaRdS “show” is as much an experience as it is a performance. This crowd was indeed involved and experiencing everything Garbus and company were supplying. A “yaaaas” shot out at the beginning of “Powa”. Lots of cheers and yes’s rose from the crowd at the first hint of the drums in “Gangsta”. The dancing during “Heart Attack” was a sight to see. TuNe-YaRdS have attracted a loyal, involved fan base who loved this show.
The year is 2014, I am a senior in high school, I’m perusing Spotify, like I still do to this day. I click on a song called “Avant Gardener,” I’ll be honest and say that the title drew me in. As soon as I hear those hazy guitar chords slinking their way through the smoke, but when I hear the lyrics, “I sleep in late, another day. Oh what a wonder, oh what a waste,” I fall in love. One of my ex-girlfriends will tell you the reason we went separate ways is because I was just obsessed with that song, as well as the whole A Sea of Split Peas release. Literally would not stop listening to it for at least a year or so after I first heard it. Oddly enough, I had never had the chance to see her perform live, one of the few musical acts that I call a favorite that I can say that for. The closest I came was the one and only year Sound on Sound Fest happened, and the second day got half-rained out, although Barnett performed later that day, I had already been soaked and was already getting sick, so I had to skip it. Finally the day came when I’d get to see Ms. Barnett live and in-person, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
The thirteen-song set included the live premier of five songs, all coming from her forthcoming album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, which will be released later this month, on May 18th, best believe I’ve already pre-ordered a record, in-fact I did so during the set. Of the new songs she played were “City Looks Pretty,” which opened the set, as well as “Nameless, Faceless,” “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your B***h,” “Sunday Roast,” and closer “Need a Little Time,” the latter two were particularly exceptional in a live setting. “Small Poppies,” and “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York,” both from 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit… were played early in the set. As much as I enjoy both of those songs, I felt like something was missing, in particular, Courtney’s voice. I had noticed when I was shooting photos that no sound was coming out of the monitor in front of her, and so I guess she was over-compensating for the lack of her monitor sound, thinking she wasn’t turned up enough. “Don’t Apply Compression Gently,” another song that defined my early fandom of Barnett was played earlier in the set, but the best portion of the set was the mid-to-late set when all of my favorite songs went off without a hitch. Starting with “Pedestrian at Best,” then the song that started it all “Avant Gardener,” followed by another classic “History Eraser,” then my favorite song off her last album, “Elevator Operator,” closing off the stretch with the song that makes me smile and cry all under five minutes, “Depreston.”
A truly transcendent performance, the amount of energy Courtney Barnett and her band exhibited was unmatched by anyone at this festival, and anyone this missed this set played themselves in the same way that I did for missing opportunity after opportunity to see her live. I think this performance made me an even bigger fan that I was prior, which I didn’t think was possible. Now, I’m just waiting for May 18th, and it seems like it can’t get here soon enough.
The 22nd act of Fortress Festival and the closer of the Wildcatters Network Stage were the Texas Gentlemen. They were also the last showing of the Metroplex area talent, solidifying that DFW is full of diverse and awe-inspiring talent. This group consists of about seven guys. They wore their names on their shirts, which was really helpful. You know, because there are seven of them. Beau Bedford assembled the gentlemen. Bedford plays both the keyboards and the guitar and sings during their performance. As a matter of fact, both keyboardists sing and play guitar. All of these gentlemen have more talent than they do hair combined. That is a lot when you factor in both the hair on their heads and on their faces. Their sound is unique. They bounce between folk, country, folk rock and instrumental. This flux is handled in a matter in which the listener happily bounces right around with them. When they do country, you think Willie Nelson. When they do rock, you think Lynyrd Skynyrd. When they do instrumental, you think that they do not need lyrics because between the saxophone, keyboards, shredding and bass their music transcends communication. They have a song with lyrics that sing “quivers down my back, boy.” That is an accurate description of one of the sensations that the Texas Gentlemen elicit.
Father John Misty
Josh Tillman, J. Tillman, the former drummer of Fleet Foxes, whatever or whoever you know Father John Misty as, if you know who he is, then you know his music is great. Sure, he can come as egotistical, self-obsessed maniac, and music memes live to make fun of the man, but you can’t deny his ability to make emotionally honest music. I’ve loved this dude’s music since I first heard the title track from his 2015 album, I Love You Honeybear, which was actually the first piece of music I ever critiqued here at Coog Radio. I got the chance to see him at Austin City Limits Music Festival a couple years back, and he put on one hell of a show that was equal parts concert and stand-up gig. Needless to say, I was excited to see FJM once again.
Opening with the titular track from the aforementioned album, I couldn’t help but sing along as I snapped photos just feet from him. “Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All,” the lead single from his forthcoming album, God’s Favorite Customer, was the next song, and although I am not terribly familiar with the track, it made me excited for the new album. “Nancy From Now On,” from his first album under the FJM moniker, 2012’s Fear Fun, followed and once again I couldn’t stop singing from the photo pit. The sardonic “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” and the social media lambasting “True Affection” drew me back into his music as I remembered why I loved his live performance so much. The guy is a true performer, with a pair of pipes to die for, although I didn’t really like the fact that he had a stage-hand running him guitar after guitar in between songs. Another sardonic classic, “Mr. Tillman,” which is expected to be on the forthcoming album, which will be released on June 1st was next.
At this point, the set started to lean on some of his softer songs from his three-album deep discography, including “Total Entertainment Forever,” “Pure Comedy,” “Ballad of the Dying Man,” and “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain,” all from last year’s Pure Comedy were performed, but represented a low point for me, as I never gave the album a chance, with the exception of the title track. Father John threw it back with a few more songs from his debut album, including personal favorites “Only Son of a Ladiesman,” and “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” which sort of introduced me to FJM through the Kid Cudi song, “Young Lady,” which used a sample from the song. I’d have to say that the biggest highlight was “Real Love Baby,” a song that I’ve fallen in, wait for it, love with since I first heard it a year or so ago. The final two songs, “Holy S***t,” and “The Ideal Husband,” have always been considered deep-cuts in my opinion, but seeing them live defintitely changed my perception, especially for the latter track, which featured FJM going out of his gourd running around the stage, jumping up and down, and just being an overall madman, but it matched the feeling of the song, which is a frustration with one’s own mediocrity and trying to reconcile those feelings for someone you love.
Throughout the set, Father John would make some sort of witty remark, such as “I know it’s not a full moon tonight, but don’t make any rash decisions, just you know, be cool,” or others where he just made dry remarks about the city, music festival culture, and life in general. I didn’t realize it until I sat down and wrote this, but the one thing that could’ve made this set better was if “Bored in the U.S.A.” was performed, a song about the disillusionment we have with modern life couldn’t be more appropriate in the context that we are living in today, with Kanye being an absolute madman, and Donald Trump being the leader of the free-world. All I’m sayin’ is, if Father John Misty wants to run for President, he’s got my vote.
When talking about Fortress Festival, Claire festival-goer from the DFW area said that, “Fort Worth needs something likes this.” This festival provided an incredible, diverse lineup full of talent, wisdom, soul and grooves. It further drew attention to local talent demanding that Fort Worth be taken seriously. Other notable acts of Day 2 were Andy Pickett, Henry the Archer, and Vandoliers.