Coverage by: Trent Lira and Tiffany Valdez
Hot and sticky but full of relentless energy, the first day at Free Press Summer Fest was exactly the epic summer party it promised to be. Although the festival was relocated from it’s original spot on the banks of Buffalo Bayou, NRG Park provided much of the same liveliness (with slightly more concrete).
When the gates opened at eleven, throngs of people poured into the NRG’s yellow lot. As far as the eye could see, walkways were packed with colorful crowds of concert goers, food vendors and all kinds of pleasant surprises. From NRG sponsored 3D light shows to free tacos (courtesy of Taco Bell) there was plenty offered to the audience to ensure a fun, comfortable and memorable experience.
The first show I covered Saturday was one that I hadn’t quite exactly planned to attend. Lured in by very familiar Cumbia and reggae beats mixed with very tasteful electronic sounds, Gio Chamba rallied up quite a crowd at the somewhat smaller Mercury stage. With a lively backup dancer and rhythmic beats, people gravitated to Gio’s set completely entranced by his digital Cumbia songs, a genre of music originating from South America, particularly Argentina. A blend of folkloric music and urban sounds, Gio’s music provided very engaging performance. If Free Press promises any kind of musical discovery, Gio Chamba’s set was one treasure many concertgoers happily came upon.
Portugal, The Man
A few hours later, Portugal, The Man graced the Saturn stage. The Alaskan quartet played a fun, upbeat concert, showcasing their signature psychedelic rock sound. Devout fans pressed against the rails, singing and clapping along to songs like “Hip Hop Kids” and “Automatic Man.”
I hit up the Neptune stage afterwards to catch RL Grime, the all-American electronic and trap music producer. The crowd was highly engaged in his set, dancing and jumping up and down to every beat.
Welcome to Houston
Shortly thereafter the Saturn stage prepared to feature FPSF’s highly anticipated rap and hip-hop event. Welcome to Houston was perhaps one of the most interesting and hyped performances that showcased Houston rap legends such as Lil Flip, Slim Thug, Bun B and The Sufferers, who sang backup for much of the acts. This well received homage to Houston was met with much enthusiasm from the audience who hopped along to classic rap songs that have graced our music scene for years such as Mike Jone’s timeless hit, “Mr. Jones.”
After leaving that rap parade, I hurried over to the Mars stage to catch Band of Horses, who had their audience enraptured, transporting everyone into a mellow, thoughtful atmosphere with their lullaby-esque rock melodies such as “No One’s Gonna Love You.” They wrapped up their show with the crowd favorite “The Funeral,” in what was a passionate, raw and authentic sounding performance.
Chance the Rapper graced the Mars stage about an hour or two later, rallying perhaps one of the biggest crowds of the day. Decked out in jean overalls, the Chicago rapper put on quite a show. From as far as the eye could see, people jammed out to Chance’s set that included crowd favorites such as “Cocoa Butter Kisses.”
The crowd was anxiously awaiting the performance by these 80s synth-pop legends at the Neptune stage. The fans were hungry for their classic tunes, and the boys did not disappoint. Their show began with a more than appropriate intro song; the Lorde cover of their iconic hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Once they had taken the stage they launched in to that very song, and the audience went nuts! After that, they fired on all cylinders blazing through hit after hit from across their eclectic career. The setlist included “Head Over Heels,” “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” “Mad World,” and their closer “Shout.” Although they only had about an hour, they not only fit in all these hits but covers as well. They did a cover of Arcade Fire’s anthemic “Ready to Start” and Radiohead’s classic “Creep.” Overall, rest assured that no one can say that just because they are up in years doesn’t mean they can appeal to a younger crowd our keep up with these younger musicians. Actually, most of those “young musicians” were watching from the side stage. I spotted Portugal the Man, Sarah Jaffe, and half the members of Mastodon watching and singing along. Just goes to show how much they’ve influenced this generation of musicians and since they’re still playing at such a high capacity, I think they will continue to influence plenty of even younger musicians.
I had the honor of watching this show from stage left of the Saturn stage, right next to the photo pit. So I not only got to be yards away from Annie Clark herself, but I got to witness the full reaction of the audience right in front of me. With that being said, St. Vincent did not disappoint the restless crowd when most of the day she was the talk of the festival. Two of the musicians I interviewed even told me they were going to check out her set! She’s been performing from her self-titled 2014 record for more than a year and it shows. Her band was tight and played with finesse and ease that only aided her already impressive technical prowess and showmanship. She started the set off strong with crowd favorites like “Marrow,” “Digital Witness” and “Rattlesnake.” She did take a pause after these first few prime cuts to address her fellow Texans and have a moment to honor the Lone Star State. Although she grew up in the Dallas suburbs, she mentioned that she had a great love for Houston and loved coming to the city anytime she could. She went on to say that everyone here can relate to the times when Texas storms come through, and the things you grabbed as a kid were “your DJ Screw mix-tape, a VHS of ‘Dazed and Confused,’ and a signed headshot of 18 year old Beyoncè.” The crowd of course went berserk over the mention of Beyoncè and DJ Screw, and rightfully so. After this tender hometown glory moment, she continued with her set and delighted the crowd with her robotic modern stage movement, frantic guitar playing and eccentric vocal stylings showcased in her best songs such as “Cheerleader,” “Huey Newton” and “Birth in Reverse.” She even paid homage to the band that went right before her Tears for Fears by adding a line from “Shout” into “Every Tear Disappears.” She ended triumphantly with “Bad Believer,” a track that was featured on the deluxe edition re-issue of her self-title album. The audience was left energized and wanting more, as they should, after such an enthralling set.
R. Kelly has become a controversial figure in his career, so most people were skeptical about this performance. Were they skeptical for reasons having nothing to do with him as an artist? After seeing his performance, my answer would be yes. His set at the Mars stage was everything I’d always assumed would happen at an R. Kelly concert. Since he was the headliner of the night, people definitely came to see him regardless of their opinions of him. He started off the set ready to get the crowd excited by breaking out jams like “Ignition (Remix),” “Gigolo,” and “Bump N’ Grind.” He fired through a lot of hits very quickly toward the beginning part of his set, and once those songs passed, things got interesting. He would sing random lines a capella all of a sudden for no real reason. Even though it was strange, it just proved that he still had that iconic voice. He offered a girl in the front row the chance to wipe his face with a towel, and trust me, she jumped at the opportunity. After his sweat had been dried, he continued firing through his hits, spreading them out between the old slow jams and radio bangers like “Flirt” and “This is My Story.” His set also included a slow-jam session towards the end, including hits like “Strip for You” and an a capella verse of “Bump N Grind.” Finally, he closed with the all-time favorite anthem for all of the millennials in the audience, “I Believe I Can Fly.” With his full church choir in tow, he led the crowd in a sing-a-long of the chorus and he was moved with respect and admiration for the Free Press audience. Truthfully, he was a lot more interactive than I originally presumed, and I think that people got a lot from his set. Whether or not they had prior thoughts on what R. Kelly might be like, the audience left knowing exactly who R. Kelly is as an artist, for sure.