Russel Gardin
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Houston Open Air: Less Metal Than Software Development

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Tom Araya from Slayer. Photos: Russel Gardin

 

Recently, out-of-town promoters Danny Wimmer Presents were set to host a two-day festival of metal, alcohol, and a “gourmet man food experience,” though I’m not entirely sure what that would entail. While I was not fond of most of most of the lineup, I was pretty interested in seeing bands like Slayer, Anthrax (cancelled), Ghost (cancelled), Baroness (cancelled), and the Deftones (also cancelled). To be straightforward with you, I was disappointed with this event. As a disclaimer, I was given two media passes and a photo pass to give a rundown of my weekend, so I did not necessarily want to just comment my opinion on Facebook, much like many of the other 25,000 attendees, though I found it understandable: two-day General Admission tickets at the door were $125, excluding taxes and fees.

 

 

Note: On Wednesday, September 28, Danny Wimmer Presents released a press statement regarding refunding information, saying:

Saturday Only Ticket— 50% refund of your ticket price.
Sunday Only Ticket—100% refund of your ticket price.
Two-day Ticket — 75% refund of your ticket price (I.e. 50% refund of the Saturday portion of the ticket price and 100% refund of the Sunday portion of the ticket price.
The above refunds apply to all GA and VIP tickets at each applicable price level.
For those of you who purchased via Front Gate Tickets via internet or phone, please email info@frontgatetickets.com or call 888-512-7469 to request your refund. All refunds must be requested by Thursday, December 1st, 2016.
If you purchased tickets via a third party such as Groupon, Songkick, or Street Team, please contact that company directly.

 

Around 3pm, my guest and I arrived at the NRG lot where Houston Open Air took place, sort of, and to no surprise, the festival had been delayed for an indefinite period of time. The same lot was used for FPSF 2015 and 2016. Trying to avoid paying the $12 parking fee, I set out on a voyage to find the lot where media (hopefully) had complimentary parking. This may not have been accurate though, and we just decided to pay the fee and park near the NRG Center because of a free technology conference that we went to check out. Not knowing what to expect at all, we walked around, surely looking out of place. I found this event to be miniature SXSW, but strictly tech. In the field of business cards and Apple Watches, there was an abundance of Anthrax shirt-wearing visitors, who I doubt were there to network and discuss the future of Artificial Intelligence, but who knows. Despite not having the slightest clue about the future of tech, I felt like this event ran as smoothly as possible, and it was much more enjoyable than waiting in the rain sun for the festival/meteorologist to deem the grounds “safe.” The Slayer moshpit was more dangerous than the weather over the course of the week — and the pit was weak.

 

Skip to an hour and a half later when I saw rumors via Facebook that gates were set to reopen, so I dashed to my car, got my camera, and walked a mile or so to the event, only to wait outside for another thirty minutes. At this point, I had no idea what to expect once were finally able to enter the venue. Finally, after I picked up my tickets and proceeded to the media entrance, my friend and I were in. I made a B-line to the media tent, which was in the same spot as the tent at FPSF, though it was Open Air’s VIP zone. Now, this is just my opinion, but I’m not sure how “worth it” it would be to spend the additional $140 on top of the charge of the GA pass. From what I could see, the VIP lounge was nothing extra out-of-the-ordinary. Included was a bar, an exclusive merch booth and a few food trucks — which featured a food truck that served $7 donuts — as well as private portable restrooms. I do believe there might have been VIP viewing, though I could be wrong.

 

Taylor Hawkins of Chevy Metal

 

When I was ready to venture out to see the first show I was excited for, Buckcherry — they’re alright, OK? — I found out that they would not run on schedule; rather, Chevy Metal, the brainchild of Foo Fighters Taylor Hawkins, was to perform next. I am pretty vocal about not being a fan of anything Foo Fighters, or maybe anything Dave Grohl, so I figured this set would either make me rush home to listen to Foo Fighters’ entire discography or prove my point even further that the whole gang is overrated. It turned out to be the latter. Though I was in the photo pit for the first three songs — I saw the majority of their set — the band was strictly doing covers. They ranged from a songs such “The Wizard” by Black Sabbath to “early Rod Stewart.” Chevy Metal had fun performing, and so did the crowd, so that’s all that really matters. However, I was not impressed at all; I was hoping this festival had more to show than a cover band. Later, I found out that Buckcherry did, in fact, take the stage, at least I think so, due to the fact that I heard the song “Crazy Bitch” — although it could’ve been the closer to Chevy Metal.

 

To be honest with you, after this, I was mostly in the media lounge. I saw a minute or so of Ministry’s set until I realized I was equally unimpressed with them. At this point on Saturday I was waiting for Slayer to take the stage to salvage any “metal” left in this festival. I was in the photo pit for The Cult, the predecessor to Slayer, which was alright. The Cult and Alice In Chains were the two bands at this event that had stipulations on the photographers, in this case we had to be in front of the soundboard. This was unfortunate for me because, unlike the other photographer’s multi-thousand dollar lens, my small Canon lens was not going to be able to zoom in that far, but it was a cool experience — my first shoot from the far back. Regardless, I was excited to finally see the bands I was interested in. Not so much The Cult, but I didn’t mind. This brings me to the cringy moment before the set: the fact that the 94.5 The Buzz spokesman Rod Ryan took the stage. While I have nothing against Ryan, I actually think he’s a decent radio host, the “hypeman” has no real necessity to make everyone sit through what they want to say; that’s what his station is for. Not even counting Buzzfest, the station’s hosts, namely Ryan and Theresa “Rockface,” so often make speeches before shows. I’ve seen it at shows like Muse and many others. I am not aware of any other station, at least not in town, that depends so heavily on appearing on stage before an act people are excited for, just to let them know what big fans they personally are. I believe that little things like that even further upset the fans who were quite mad that more than half — I believe it was 63 percent — of the bands were cancelled. On the bright side, Slayer was very loud, fast, and sounded great. For being over 30 — closer to 40 — years old, Slayer had the sounds of a newer band like Ghost. It sounded to me like Tom Araya and Company still love playing. I mean, even the photo pit during this set resembled some mosh pits I’ve seen at shows throughout the years. Following Slayer was Alice In Chains, though I left before their set. I am more of an AIC fan via earbuds; they are not a band I would wait to see live, because I don’t see them as Alice In Chains, rather the original drummer and guitarists plus other musicians.

 

Gary Holt of Slayer

 

Sunday swiftly approached and I was planning arriving to the grounds just in time to catch Ghost’s set, followed Baroness and the Deftones, though as you’re already aware, I arrived to swift disappointment. I was bummed not just for myself, but rather my guest, the plethora of fans that were already there, the bands, and yes, even Danny Wimmer Presents. I don’t believe that Wimmer is to blame at this. I mean I’m not aware of any promoter that would have the mindset of “we got their money, now let’s cancel!” and laughs villainously. Perhaps the blame should go towards the insurance company? Maybe the blame should go towards the meteorologists in charge of the decision? Maybe the blame should go towards no one. That’s your decision to make, not mine. While I am not entirely sure of Houston Open Air, especially the Houston part, I wish these people well and hope they that realize that there is a market for a metal festival in Houston, because there is not a huge, authentic one to compete with. Although I might’ve sounded a bit harsh, I have no ill will towards anyone associated with this event. In closing, I would like to thank the venues around town that worked as hard as they could to have pop up shows. White Oak Music Hall, Walter’s, Warehouse Live, and Scout Bar realized that people wanted to see some shows, and although not all of them were successful, they certainly tried.