I’m gonna need you to get down! All the way,” yells Aaron Pauley.
The crowd takes a few steps back, then begin to follow suit.
“When I say jump, we’re all gonna lose out s***!”
Muscles tense in anticipation. Some put their cell phones away for safekeeping. Others take them out to film the madness.
“Are you ready?” Pauley turns to look at the rest of Of Mice and Men, then turns back to the audience.
“Okay…jump, jump, JUMP!”
A void has been left in the Houston summer festival scene since Warped Tour called it quits, and a plethora of smaller festivals have sprouted up to fill the void. First up to bat was So What?, and it certainly set the bar high.
Let’s be real; over 50 bands is a lot to cover. So we’re mostly going to stick to headliners and standouts, starting with Saturday.
Doors opened at 1 p.m., once the sun was already nice and toasty. The first few bands played inside on a smaller stage, but this soon changed. As the crowds got bigger later into the day, the main stage became the center of attention.
Hands Like Houses
By the time Hands Like Houses took the stage, the sun wasn’t nearly as aggressive, and the crowd had swelled substantially. The Australian post-hardcore quintet drew all eyes to their place on stage left. People jumped and danced during “Monster” and other songs off their setlist.
The one drawback to festivals like this was the short length of the setlist. Watching the outskirts, people who’d never heard of the band passed and stood listening, eventually warming up and openly enjoying the music. Just when they’re hooked in, the set ended.
But there wasn’t enough time to be disappointed. Within minutes, Wage War took the right side of the stage as their own. The Florida band lives up to the standard other bands of the sunshine state have set. Their shows are known to get heavy, and anyone that knew this acted accordingly.
Within the first few notes, some dove for the sides of the crowd, while others shouldered their way to the center. “Alive” haven’t even reached the chorus before two pits had opened up.
By now, the crowd was dense enough for crowd surfers to risk their necks on the waves of arms throwing fists and devil’s horns in the air. When a kid in a snapback tapped me and a few others, we turned to look. Although we couldn’t hear what he was saying, his gestures cued us in that he wanted to surf. Six people grabbed him, and the excess force tossed him a few rows ahead.
Limbs flailing, he landed poorly on a couple of heads. In retaliation, they threw him like a rag doll further still. He made it to barrier in that fashion before being swooped away by security. As menacing as the trip looked, it was enticing enough for others to make their way in the same fashion risk it too.
They concluded with “Stitch,” their usual closer, then headed out.
By then, the sun had already sunk below the horizon, and the grounds were only illuminated by weak red rays.
Crown The Empire
Crown The Empire took the stage next, matching the cooling temperature with blue stage lights and smoke machines. The Dallas natives were quick to shower their fans with Texas love every chance they got, and it was reciprocated every time.
Andy Velazquez’ charisma shone through, gaining more screams and responses then anyone else had that night. After “Zero,” he demanded the crowd get as messed up as he intended to, then launched into “Hologram.”
He received what he asked for, with every word of the song being screamed back by the fans. It was hard to find a single person standing still during the set.
Of Mice & Men
The show flew by, seeming to end seconds after it began. Of Mice & Men were set to take the stage following a longer than usual pause between bands. By now, the sky was pitch black with the Houston skyline being the only thing on the horizon. The lawn was packed as well, and the restrooms were deserted. No one wanted to miss the start.
A collective scream arose from the lawn when they took the stage. No one waited for a call to action to lose their minds, going straight into a mosh pit from the start.
During “Warzone,” Pauley called for a circle pit. Houston did not disappoint, pushing everyone who didn’t want to be involved to the very edges of the lawn. A circle opened up unlike any White Oak has seen before, with concert-goers running at a full sprint clockwise.
And then the drop came.
Some turned clockwise to crash into those running forward. Others ran for the eye of the pit. Regardless, the circle descended into chaos before coming back to the rest of the lawn’s level. Even then, there was no rest.
The band drew the larges reaction with “O.G. Loko,” an older song written by Austin Carlile, the original vocalist. In between jumping and screaming the lyrics, the audience was asked to part down the middle.
Once people caught on, most made a huge effort to book it. No one want to be caught in a wall of death unprepared, trust me.
At the drop, more people than expected ran forward from either side of the lawn. Any screams of pain from the front lines were drowned out by the sound of Valentino Arteaga crashing down on the drums.
The band closed to much applause and some calls for an encore. Most people, however, took this time to sit down or run for water. As heavy as the set was, there was still another to go.
Beartooth arrived after a 20 minute pause, and people surged forward as soon as the lights went up.
Usually, the welcome is one of the highest points of a set. But “Beaten In Lips” took the cake during the closing act. The song is one of the singles off Disgusting, and a fan favorite that has stood the test of time.
“Body Bag” was also a highlight. It was the type of atmosphere where you’re actually most likely to get hurt if you stand still.
The effect of seeing everyone jump in unison was well worth it. The music was more unpredictable in terms of effect. Small moshes would break out everywhere, uncalled for. During the last song, an influx of crowd surfers took to the skies, cashing in the last ride of the night.
The show ended to much applause, but the crowd did not disperse. Some called for an encore, while others hung by concessions and merch. After 30 minutes, all who remained made their way into the Emo Nite afterparty, leaving the poor staff to try and make heads or tails out of the mess left behind.
Sunday night was similar to Saturday in structure, but the theme was a little varied. It was even heavier (if you can imagine that) and there were fewer bands. The audience reflected it, too. The demographic was older and tougher, but not by too much.
Fit For A King
During drops, people shook out and threw water bottles. While some expressed displeasure, others relished in the cool sprays of water.
After The Burial
After The Burial took the left side of the stage soon after FFAK exited. They brought a powerful, interactive performance…as well as high school flashbacks for us all.
Nonetheless, the energy was still there, proven by the giant circle pit that broke out during “We Hold The Crown.”
The sun had barely just gone down by the time Killswitch Engage took the stage. The festivities were set to end earlier than the day prior, but this only meant people had more energy to finish the night out with.
The band opened with “This Fire,” much to the approval of fans in attendance. They moshed more aggressively than they did for the earlier bands, causing the less passionate to lose interest in being shoved to the ground.
“Strength of Mind” was among the best received by the fans. After the cheers subsided, Jesse Leach thanked the crowd fo the fun time, then segued into Dio’s “Holy Diver” as the closer.
Since it’s a classic, even those on the sides sung along, raising their fists in the air in unison with the drums’ beats.
The break between headliners was supposed to last 20 minutes, but those at barrier kept themselves entertained. Someone in a Deadpool morphsuit led his section in a sing-along of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Even the security and photographers joined in, none immune to the power of Queen.
Parkway Drive began the final set of the night from within heavy fog and bright white lights, contrasting beautifully with their all-black outfits.
Winston McCall kept up the energy he had during “Wishing Wells” all night. The frontman has a distinct presence, retreating into the lyrics of the songs, seeming to relieve the often heavy emotions each one entails.
The show called for a different type of mosh, one that involved plenty of shoving and elbowing all through the grass. Yet looking around, there wasn’t a single face not holding a grin.
During “Bottom Feeder,” a fan in a wheelchair was lifted into the air. Somehow, he crowd surfed to the front in one of the most epic moments in White Oak history, thus concluding So What?’s inaugural year.
So What? had an incredible run in Dallas before coming to an end. As one of the largest cities in the U.S., Houston is the one with the market for a festival of this caliber. After seeing the success of this past weekend, I’m sure it’ll be back for many years to come.