Great live music, sweaty people, and the smell of substances in the air. What does this describe? Obviously, this describes Free Press Summer Fest, which took place this past weekend in Eleanor Tinsley Park and Sam Houston Park in downtown. Free Press Summer Fest was one huge party from start to finish, beginning around 11:30 Saturday morning and ending with the incredible explosion of rock n’ roll from Jack White and a seizure of EDM from Above & Beyond late Sunday evening.
Free Press wasn’t all smooth sailing, however. Weekend forecasts for the festival weekend predicted a 40% to 80% chance of rain, so at about 2 o’clock Saturday afternoon, festival goers were not surprised when clouds overhead darkened and the rain kicked up. The crowds were surprised, however, to get a notification on their FPSF 2014 app asking them to evacuate the festival grounds because of storm warnings. Stages shut down, displaying signs asking for a swift evacuation. Social media exploded with backlash towards the evacuation. When the FPSF tickets had arrived in the mail in the previous month, each envelope had contained a slip of paper with general rules and regulations of Free Press, including the “Rain or Shine” policy. People were outraged the hypocrisy, especially since many concerts were shortened, with a few even being cut out of the lineup altogether. The worst of it is, the storm was ultimately little more than a summer shower, with medium drizzle and a few rumbles of thunder. Luckily, the festival ground re-opened at around 4:30 and people rushed towards the gates to get back into the festival groove.
Although it had not rained heavily, what little rain had fallen had made huge mud pits along the roadside, through the park, but most drastically in the area where the main Mars Stage was located. The Mars Stage was located in a lower elevation than the road, creating a pit of sorts between Allen Parkway and the bayou. The hill side extending along the left side of the Mars Stage was basically a mud slip ‘n slide. In order to reach the front of the crowd, one had to somehow coast down the slick muddy hill, then face the muddy field that sprawled directly in front of the stage. Those too cowardly to try and master the hill lined the edge of the crest as the brave tried their darndest to reach the bottom of the hill safely without tumbling. Most of the brave people, sadly but hilariously, failed. The crowds on top of the hill cheered the brave hill-sliders on, as they delicately tried to move down the hill only to take a tumble all the way down in the mud pit at the bottom. The funniest attempts to watch were probably those of the people of the more intoxicated persuasion, who confidently walked down the hill only to land on their behind covered from head to toe in mud as the crowds applauded their lack of coordination. The mud problem was more or less solved, thankfully, when groundskeepers laid down some mulch over the mud to keep everyone’s shoes from becoming part of the ground.
On Sunday, after the mud fiasco had been fixed, I had the privilege of the seeing the very talented band The Oh Hello’s, who reminded me of a more folk and less fanatic Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s (who I also saw later that day). For a complete review of the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s performance, check out the Rhino Press’ review by Rowan Mueller here.
The Oh Hello’s, with over 13 people to their name, played a lively set that lifted the audience’s dampened spirits. Later that day, as a group of friends and I waited for Jack White to take the stage, we spotted one of the members of the Oh Hello’s on the hill. We all excitedly charged up the still slightly muddy hill and greeted him, grateful that we hadn’t fallen down the hill right in front of a musician. We had spotted Chris McLeod, the bassist for the Oh Hello’s, who was jubilant that we had recognized him from his concert earlier. He mentioned that no one ever notices the band in public and that it meant the world to him that anyone would notice him. He invited us to the Oh Hello’s next concert in Houston occurring in September at the Bayou Music Center. We, of course, took an obligatory selfie with McLeod, and will all most likely be attending the Oh Hello’s concert in September.
After meeting McLeod and getting some outrageously expensive Chinese food, we got good spots in front of the Mars Stage and prepared ourselves for Jack White. Not only did he rejuvenate the crowd’s faith in modern rock n’ roll, but he also woke up most of the Midtown area with his screeching guitar riffs and soulful rhythms. Jack White, one of the two members of the famous White Stripes, is one of the busiest men in the music business, having been in three bands, owning a record label, and a critically acclaimed solo career of his own — in the past fifteen years alone. Jack White played a wide variety of songs, ranging from a few classic White Stripes cuts to a Raconteurs hit. White also managed to play two of his new singles from his upcoming sophomore solo album, Lazaretto, expected to be released this summer, as well as many songs from his first album, Blunderbuss. Jack White lit up the night with a fireworks extravaganza during the classic White Stripes song “Seven Nation Army,” which had the crowds jumping furiously to the unforgettable opening guitar riffs that the song is known for. All in all, Jack White was one of the best concerts I have ever been to, and definitely one of the most memorable at this year’s Free Press Summer Fest. Did I mention that his haircut made him look a bit like Edward Scissorhands?