David Garrick
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After FPSF: Things Have Definitely Changed

After FPSF: Things Have Definitely Changed
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Saturn Stage at FPSF. Photo: Jason Smith

 

The one thing I look forward to every year is covering the annual Free Press Summer Fest. In fact, the festival itself was one of the deciding factors when applying to write for Free Press Houston three years ago.  No matter what was happening at music festivals around the country, Houston had its own music festival in FPSF and the beauty of it was that it felt like it was ours. By that I don’t mean that it belonged to those of us who work for Free Press Houston, but it felt like it was made for us by two guys from Houston who love the city.  A passion for music curated a small festival into a large scale festival, and even up until last year, the festival still felt like something that was “a Houston thing.” That has changed. Gone is the feeling that this festival was made for Houston by Houstonians; now it feels a music festival hosted by people who don’t listen to music.  It’s a little heartbreaking that the experiences we had in 2012, 2013, and so on will be just a memory of a festival that’s now just a shadow of its former self.

 

Before delving into the few highlights from each day of the festival, let’s look at the particulars. For starters, my media pass experience as far as being accepted to cover the festival, receiving my passes, and the way the media was typically handled was all top notch.  It should be noted that I received free passes as a part of the media from the festival organizers, and everything including updates to schedules went great.  

 

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Crowds at FPSF. Photo: Mark Armes

 

The weather, the fact that the festival had to move locations and the fact that Father John Misty cancelled can’t be blamed on anyone involved with the festival.  I know plenty of people who work on this festival and it’s a pretty thankless job that requires tons of work hours.  If they could control the weather or that an artist does or does not show, they certainly would.  The same employees can’t control budget cuts to favorite attractions, and that shouldn’t be put on them either.  These weather things happen here on the Gulf Coast and as someone who has covered plenty of festivals, there’s nearly always one artist who cancels for whatever reason.

 

Those two points being made, however, are the only lenience I feel okay with giving.  Music — whether it’s at an outdoor festival, an indoor basketball stadium or a small club — is meant to be a wonderful experience.  You might think that I’ve seen too much music, or that I’ve become numb to what I experience; but I can say that I went to three more shows around town after the festival and all of them were more enjoyable than what I experienced at the festival.  Gone is the ability to move freely if you’re media, where this year we were relegated to the media lounge or designated areas, and in all honesty, that’s potentially understandable as well.  However, being treated like a child by staff who insist on rules that don’t help anyone, and staff that talk down to you because they have to enforce these unimportant rules, all of this is uncalled for.  Pretty much everyone I spoke to in the media had a story to tell about how they were treated like children by some form of festival staff, and I had my experiences, too.  I don’t want a festival without rules, nor do I want to have free reign, but it would be cool if the festival felt like the spirit of a music festival and not an internment camp where my presence at the festival is simply to make ‘merchandise’ for someone later through coverage.  Speaking of festival merchandise, the best designs I saw were from years past when a local artists created the designs.  Now it looks like some buyers from Urban Outfitters decided what the shirts would look like.  While that’s not really important, it should be noted that your ability to buy them was plastered across every screen following nearly every set instead of notifying audiences of who would perform next.  It was the little things that were missing.  The little personal touches and moments of tongue in cheek humor that were removed.  It almost felt like the festival higher ups were ready to plaster Big Brother-type messages like “YOU WILL HAVE FUN,” or “WE DEMAND THAT YOU ENJOY YOURSELF” across the screens as an order rather than an organic reflex.  A bonus for drinkers was the ability to grab a drink without incidence due to short lines, but that mostly had to do with the fact that the average age of festival goers was closer to under 18 than 21 and up.  For the first time in the history of this festival, it appeared that there were more underage attendees than those that are of-age.  At most festivals I’ve attended, I have to go around huge lines where alcohol is being served, but I didn’t see a single line at the bars that extended more than about seven people.  

 

There were other changes, including the fact that there was a dearth of art placed around the festival grounds, and when art was present, it often had a corporate logo in the corner. This might sound insane, but it’s totally true.  Over by the Budweiser burger truck, there were what appeared to be some form of art that said “FPSF,” as well as a Budweiser logo in the top right corner.  Houston artist Patrick Renner created the swirling colorful displays at the front gates of the festival, but unless a local artist painted the art piece that some wine company had displayed, it was the only truly local art at the festival.  One of the elements to this festival has always been that there has been a focus on local art, but again, things have changed.  They might have had it in the Fancy Pants tents, but unlike previous years, media wasn’t allowed inside so I can’t tell you if that was the case or not.  The corporate vibe to the look and feel of the festival almost made me wonder why I didn’t see art installations that said something like “Art Presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods.”

 

refused1DJ

Refused. Photo: Daniel Jackson

 

Aside from the fact that there were still a few locals booked for the festival again, the lineup this year left a lot to be desired.  It made me think that someone booked the festival off of numbers rather than by experience or performance level.  In years past, FPSF had surprise performances from acts that were getting a buzz, but this year they had acts that were good for ticket sales when they played on their regular tours.  While that’s not abnormal, the ticket sales the bands could garner was about the only appealing factor to them.  There were a handful of acts worth catching, which is who I planned to focus on.  Due to getting to the festival grounds later than I originally planned, I missed the day’s locals and Chicano Batman.  I started off with Built To Spill, who honestly looked like they could care less as to whether they were performing or not.  However, they always kind of look that way and the three songs I watched were on par with how they typically sound.  I then trekked across the festival grounds to catch one of the few acts I was actually excited to see, Thee Oh Sees.  These guys didn’t disappoint by any means as they tore through their set with ferocity and energy like they were playing for their lives.  I followed that with a set from Zola Jesus, who was captivating, but not as strong as when I saw her at Fitzgerald’s last year.  Another act I had looked forward to catching, Refused, blew me away with their high energy set.  Mic stand in the air, their singer throwing the mic at all heights and dancing to every track, their set was one of the three best I saw all day.  After hiding in the media tent to avoid the rain, I stopped off to watch a few rather boring songs from Zeds Dead before venturing over to watch a pretty amazing set by Tiger Army.  While Tiger Army isn’t as popular as Zeds Dead, at least they didn’t drop a bunch of other people’s songs during their performance.  The psychobilly band has definitely grown up, but they also weren’t tame by any means, which was refreshing.  After waiting for White Denim to come onstage until I was too bored to wait any longer, I went back across the festival grounds in hopes to catch an electrifying set from Matt & Kim.  These two were a huge highlight when they played FPSF in 2013, however this time was pretty mediocre and thus I only made through a couple songs.  Even with another stand-out appearance from Kim, the whole performance felt put on, or at least like they were attempting to relive a moment that’s locked in time and while they were still energetic.  In the media tent, I decided that I didn’t want to punish myself with a set from Modest Mouse, as their last album was just too bad to listen to in person, and I honestly didn’t care about Collegrove enough to catch them perform.  I made the decision that to see Jamie XX  as my last set of the first day.  Jamie XX felt like the best act to end a day that was filled with disappointment and I was right in thinking so.  He started strong, got things turnt up, and ended just as strong too.  He ripped through jams from his tracks while making me wonder why he wasn’t the closer for the day.  His set was another of my favorites of day one and he’s an act I’d encourage you catch if he returns to Houston anytime soon.

 

BridgesCambriaHarkley

Leon Bridges. Photo: Cambria Harkey

 

On day two, I had planned to get there early to catch BØRNS and Trampled By Turtles, but the traffic to get to the parking lots was more congested than it was on Saturday, so the first act I ended up seeing was Houston’s Trae Tha Truth.  Trae has always been a strong performer, and since there was no “Welcome To Houston” on the lineup this year, his set would have to feed my crave for H-Town hip hop.  As always, he was on point from start to finish while he dropped a mix of old and new songs like miniature flames.  Due to rain repeatedly coming and going, I found myself catching a glimpse of Mac DeMarco, who I still can’t seem to find the energy to care about.  I did however catch a set from one of the few acts that I was really excited to see on day two, Dallas’ Leon Bridges.  Bridges might be as close to artists like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, and while he soulfully and gracefully performed tracks from last year’s Coming Home. His set was one of the better sets I’ve seen at any music festival and it really felt like an FPSF of yore due to his inclusion in the lineup.  I skipped a couple of acts so I could watch punk rockers Against Me! and they played the set as if it was their last one ever.  Highly energetic and full of fan favorites, their set was one of the few the highlights of the day for me. Though I had planned to catch sets from 3Lau, Violent Femmes, Young The Giant, and deadmau5, the festival grounds were evacuated due to weather concerns.  The same thing happened in 2014 and we were allowed to stay in the media tents, but this year was different. We were very briskly told to leave and sit to wait for word on when we could come back.  After going through the day’s rain, but not getting really wet, I then had to venture to my car in the pouring rain alongside many others, where I then decided to end my FPSF 2016 experience on the grounds of NRG Park.  Yes, I had an extra shirt, a small towel, and an extra pair of socks and shoes in my trunk, but in reality, I felt I had seen enough and didn’t even feel up to making the effort to watch the last four acts I had planned to see.  

 

To be fair, the evacuation isn’t the fault of anyone tied to the festival and it’s a safety measure that’s good to have in place.  Even though I’d later hear about attendees returning to the grounds after being sequestered to the NRG Convention Center, once I got home and showered, the only memories I had of FPSF 2016 were bad ones.  The attention to detail that every year prior had been regarded for, from lineup to overall experience, were now replaced by a feeling of emotions crafted by people who don’t care about music.  The elements that made this festival fun, alongside what made it individualistic and something that Houstonians could be proud of, have since been obliterated and replaced with things that someone in their fifties thinks music lovers want. The beauty of being a music journalist is that it’s never felt like a job to me.  The downfall of covering Free Press Summer Festival this year is that for the first time, it did feel like a job.  The lineup and overall experience were so plain and unimpressive that you could have had this festival in any other city and no one would have noticed.  Hopefully in 2017, FPSF will feel a little closer to a festival made for Houston by people who care about the city instead of what it felt like this year: a festival made by someone else who’s calculated that this is what Houston would want.

  • Howard

    2 years in a row in the parking lot made FPSF an eyesore. Also the attendees were a bunch 15 yr old kids high on molly and acting too-school-for-school.

  • Greg Manuel

    Jesus, does anyone edit this shit? How did you get this job? Sure, the festival had some problems, but this article is complete garbage. Between the bitching about lack of special treatment to the opinions pushed on the reader as fact, just complete, utter rubbish. I could go on for hours, but I already feel like this article has been given significantly more of my attention than it ever deserved.

  • OmegaPoint

    Sort of difficult to put on an outdoor music festival 1)in Houston 2) In early June 3) in an El Nino year. I think they should look for a different time of year. Maybe just before or after ACL?

  • Yosem

    keep whining spoiled lil biatch

  • Kim Lee-Yuk

    Sounds like you picked shitty stages as well. Hopefully you caught Allen Stone, Wild Child, David Ramirez, Oxymoron or The Heavy. A music festival is suppose to open you up to new music and new artist. etc If not, you could just listen to the radio in your car.
    No one forced you to attend the EDM sets. If you thought Matt and Kim was being generic, walk off and see something else.

    I’ve attended a lot of music festivals and I had fun in FP.
    “Things have definitely change” and that is what music does; it evolves. You think our parents like what we listened to? 🙂 EDM might not have been your scene but It has a strong following. I was impressed that they had a decent selection of music.
    I’m not a fan of Deadmau5 but the 17 yr old high school kid from Louis the Child who create the song/ beat, “It’s strange”, blew me away.
    I learnt what a Contrabass Saxophone is on Sunday? Mission for FP 2016 : Accomplished.

    P.S Always remember, ” One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” - Don’t get caught up in the hype.

  • Jonathan Richie

    Was never as fun after they quit having the paint slip n slide…

  • Harbeer

    One thing that hasn’t changed is that your tl;dr bloviating prose still stinks. “the festival itself was one of the deciding factors when applying to write for Free Press Houston” <- That sentence lacks a subject. "A passion for music curated a small festival into a large scale festival" — "passion" cannot "curate." etc.

    • John

      What would compel someone to write something like this in a public comment section? I smell a grumpy, manque writer with no calling or gigs.

      • Harbeer

        What is a manque?

        • Harbeer

          Ah, ok, so you know me, but you choose to hide behind a pseudonym. Ok, I’ll answer your question. What would compel me to write this in public is sadness — sadness that my friends at FPH think the festival business is a zero-sum game, that by making FPSF look bad they make Day For Night look good, that people who once worked together like family are now being petty and squabbling (in public) like family, and that a paper whose editorial standard I helped raise has now, once again, lowered its standards.

          So, what compels you to write these things about me in a public comment section?

          • John

            But why not take it up privately with the author, or the current editor, or the publisher-as opposed to having a public meltdown? Am I to believe that you no longer have any of their contact info, as a former editor? That’s just plain decency.

            I commented because it bugs me on a moral level that there are supposedly highly educated people (like yourself) who think they should be permitted to act this way.

          • Harbeer

            Hm. You wrote and deleted another comment, but I got it in my email. So again, why do this publicly? Well, if I’m not mistaken, my public comment is in the comment thread of a publicly available article in which David Garrick unfairly trashes FPSF — and the article is not just viewable on the site but was also promoted in an email blast. As for discussing it in private — you don’t know what discussions I’ve had offline with the author or the current editor, do you? You’re presuming a whole hell of a lot, and you don’t even have the decency to identify yourself.

  • Paige Christine Harrington

    Modest Mouse tore it up. Your loss.

  • Mansgame

    Much like the GOP and Trump, this is the beast you created. Enjoy its demise. Few people over the age of 22 enjoy EDM as much as you think they do. Time to shut it down.

    By the way, you call your self a writer, but you might want to mix in a few paragraphs here or there.

  • Courtney

    Anyone else have issues with the facilities? Saturday afternoon the front porta potties had overflowed…they had trucks in to clean them, which was much appreciated. What was not appreciated was the 45 minute wait to use a bathroom! The restroom set up was a nightmare and they did not have near enough bathrooms for everyone.

    • lalabaw

      I have been to two festivals in my festival lifetime that had adequate bathroom facilities. The rest were just like you described. That’s festivals for you.

  • JL

    ► Best: Gogol Bordello Wow! What a great show! I truly enjoy listening to them!

    ► Worst: Trying to listen to Logic with a bunch of teenage girls speaking the whole fucking time behind us. The wholeeeeeeeee fcking time yapping in their phones and talking among themselves. What the mother fck?!!! Why go to a concert if all you are going to do is fcking talk?

    What can be done better? You know what can be done: Arrange for this festival to happen at a better time not during rainy season and fucking hurricane season FFS.We got lucky this time and it wasn’t 100 degrees but promoters need to really consider all these factors. Also, get a better place for the festival. It was a shit show mud fest on Saturday. This might not be a popular one but maybe raise the entry to +18 and over. I saw so many young kids completely shitface and trippin’. Completely ruins the vibe and environment. Also, I realize that this was planned last minute but a lot of the bands were bleeding in between eachother making it difficult to enjoy whatever show you were watching. Arrange for a better band layout.

    Really, if the FPSF promoters/organizers are trying to build a good rep for this festival they need to improve a lot of things otherwise it’s nothing but a sh*tty festival and will never be more than that.

    • l0rez

      I endorse the 18+ years old admission requirement. I thought it was great that moms and dads brought their little ones, though. If you are under 18 you should be with a parent, maybe? And hopefully they can tell their kids to STFU.

  • fenderprecision

    I think to honestly comment on the points David makes, you need to have gone to at least five FPSF’s. If you have been to most of them you feel a kinship with the festival and you think “it’s not what I would have wanted to see FPSF turn into.” Other than that, I had a great time and really opened myself up to new music I wouldn’t have otherwise seen live. I didn’t even mind the parking lot and smellet - ha! Lastly, I would have loved 2 more stages for Texas bands.

  • Chris Hill

    I was a vendor at the festival. Had a great experience, and every customer we had said they were having a great time. I think you’re perspective may be different from an attendee because you were there working, judging everything instead of just enjoying yourself. There were positives and negatives about FPSF2016 but hey that’s life. I’ll be back next year, and it’s still definitely a Houston thing to me.

    • Roshan C. Bhatt

      I was a vendor this year, was press every other year, but I’m a fan first. This festival’s importance to Houston and music in general is extremely overblown and overrated. Useless festival with no cultural influence or relevance.

      I’m a born and bred Houstonian too.

  • Sam

    If you got there just in time to see Trae on Sunday and left during the evacuation what were you there for less than three hours? That’s really lame and I think disqualifies you from writing an article as if you actually experienced the festival. Sounds like you didn’t really make an effort. Should have left earlier, I had no trouble getting there in time for borns and trampled by turtles. I had a blast at the festival and I don’t think you even wanted to enjoy it.

  • Key Wii

    Damn, sounds like someone didn’t enjoy themselves.
    I mean, it makes sense since being treated like a child by staff and getting rained out of a giant parking lot were things I hated too, but I had a fun time with my posse.
    Now if someone asked me if the Fancy Pants tickets I bought to have said fun was worth it.. mehh..eh.
    But, I enjoyed the performances and the people.
    (I do wish they would consider another date so we can enjoy the park at least once more. I would pray for next year, but I see where this is going.)

  • Santiago Ramos

    I must say that the writer of this article is probably right about some of the un-genuine nature of the festival, but this happens to most festivals that need to keep their lineup interesting for young concert goers. I live in Austin, so perhaps I’m a bit biased (this place knows how to throw a fest); but I think the general negative impression this writer has is not really necessary. There are always going to be big ticket names on the bill that will eat up revenue for booking better acts. Honestly, booking Deadmau5 was likely a waste of money considering how much money the EDM acts are asking these days (Bubble will pop eventually, if not already). Either way, I know people who had a great time at the festival, because they made the best of it. Having a good time is a choice made by an open mind.

  • David

    Missing Frank Turner on Saturday was quite possibly your biggest mistake. At least you took in Against Me! on Sunday.

    • Dave Meek

      Both Frank Turner and Gogol Bordello put on the best and most genuinely energetic shows of the weekend as they always do.

      • David

        I agree wholeheartedly. Gogol, Frank and against me all slayed. Those three shows made the whole festival worth it.

  • John Capell

    Sound like a snotty little entitled media brat to me. So you got to go for free to a show that people pay money to go to but then got pissed off because you had rules. Because you didn’t get full on axis like a celebrity that you’re not. I think it’s time for you to find a new job. So people don’t have to listen to you cry anymore about having to go to a music festival that wasn’t up to your standards, and didn’t treat you well enough

  • Roshan C. Bhatt

    I used to run a music website in Houston. Now that I no longer have this website and got in free through other means, I have a few beefs with this year’s festival, and I feel like I should share and voice some of them here.

    Also it’s cool that the author of this article has similar tastes as me (I also caught Refused, Tiger Army and Against Me!’s sets, all of which were the best).

    - My theory is that FPSF was always meant to be at NRG Park. Driving past Allen Parkway daily, there was no way that ET Park was going to be ready by this past weekend. I feel like they said that it would be at ET Park just to sell tickets, then about a week before, told everyone it would be at NRG, so as not to upset any ticket purchasers. The people behind the festival can say whatever they want to defend it, but I’m not buying it.

    - The lineup was fucking terrible. Too much EDM, a lot of recycled artists (Matt and Kim AGAIN? Big Boi AGAIN?) They spent their entire budget booking shitty ass deadmau5 that they forgot to book the middle few lines of the festival poster.

    - Can’t do anything about the weather, but you know — after like 6/8 FPSFs have had bad experiences with weather and rain, maybe we should move it out of June/rainiest Houston season?

    - The corporate sponsors were sickening. Might as well sell this shit to LiveNation and make it official.

    - They aren’t spending any money on marketing, because they’re recycling everything. The signage hasn’t changed from last year (I’ll be surprised if it was even unpacked from the NRG Park grounds) and the branding hasn’t even attempted to put new life into the festival.

    • Kevin

      This is my theory too. Being around Allen parkway and the construction and park revitalization there is no way the city was letting this festival ruin their new park enhancements. This festival will never be at Tinsley again and I’m certain this was a total location bait and switch

    • dingdong

      http://www.c3concerts.com/events/free-press-summer-festival-eleanor-tinsley-park-20160604-5517/ http://www.c3presents.com/ http://www.billboard.com/articles/business/6414053/live-nation-completes-deal-for-c3-presents C3 has the majority stake in FPSF, Live nation has a majority stake in C3, Live nation is a partner with Jay Z’s Roc Nation. Beyonce is from Houston. Jay-Z is trying to sabotage the city to get back at Bey for lemonade.

  • Christy

    The festival may not be able to control the weather, but they can control the notification of people that gates have reopened, which DID NOT happen.

  • 1irishdell

    From what I heard, there wasn’t anything in the “Fancy Pants” tents, much less art. What a shame.

    • Mary Fuqua-Castillo

      I had fancy pants tickets and it was sad as hell. Some busted old sofas, recycled Free Press Posters from previous years and shitty plastic mini tables. I felt like it was a waste of my money. What did I even get for my extra payment? The whole point was the AC, abs it was not even that cool in there… it was like they were having problems. I’ll never go to another free press again. Plus I thought they handled the weather evac issue extremely poorly. They had people going back, only to tell them to leave again, and none of the staff were on the same page, we could not get correct info. We were told to leave that it was cancelled abs their was not going to be another show, only to walk back to the car and read online that it was going on afterall. I wish I child get my money back!

      • Rick Armes

        Go to the day for night festival coming this winter. Everyone involved in putting that festival together is a class act, not like the losers that bought out Summerfest. You will get what you’re promised and pay for guaranteed. After all, without all you guys going to the festival there would be none. Thanks Omar , Mark Armes and all the rest of the people at Free Press Houston

        • Rick Armes

          Go to the day for night festival put on by Free Press Houston this winter. You will get what you pay for and more. Everyone connected with putting that festival together is a class act. Not like those losers that bought out Summerfest. Thanks Omar , Mark Armes and all the rest of the people at Free Press who work so hard to put on a quality festival.

  • maple_wood

    This article is a bit confusing. What is the “Free Press” in FPSF? If the Free Press folks are no longer managing festival, who is managing the festival?

    • 1irishdell

      Corporate overlords…..

    • T.C.

      The original Owner’s sold the festival a while back. They allowed them to keep the rights to the name.

      • maple_wood

        It would have been helpful to have this point explained in the article. It seems strange that the article would not explain that the festival is no longer being managed by the folks from Free Press / Pegstar (if that is the case).