A celebration of all things Houston peaked on the eve of Super Bowl LI with massive crowds at Super Bowl LIVE, the free festival at Discovery Green featuring musicians and bands from across the state. Concerts drew thousands of people over the last week in what will go down as one of the best attended events in Houston history.
Super Bowl LIVE dominated Saturday, drawing the biggest crowds of the week — something not thought possible after Thursday's Solange show. The spectacle of so much humanity proved forced event organizers to stop letting people in before the headlining ZZ Top set Saturday night in order to better deal with the thousands who had entered the grounds at several locations between the stage and the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Hometown Texans fans showed their colors as they walked through the space, alongside many Patriots and Falcons supporters in town to cheer their team on. Early on in the day, the festival served as a meeting point for families to enjoy the many different gourmet food truck options, a DJ pumping out hip-hop and event hosts giving away souvenirs. The day might have been a tad chilly and overcast, but everyone seemed to be happy to be out, a city brought together for its love of football.
Houston's eight-piece The Suffers kicked off the live music portion, incorporating soul, reggae and ska. Frontwoman Kam Franklin channeled Tina Turner and got the crowd rockin', despite facing some technical difficulties. It was the personality of the band that won out, as Frankin recalled quitting her job at a downtown investment bank just blocks away to pursue music full-time two years ago.
A highlight of the set came when the band brought out Houston rap legend Bun B for three songs, including a cover of Jay Z's "Big Pimpin'." By the time the band played the excellent "Make Some Room," a song about "making sandwiches for those you care about," we were all fans.
Austin's Gary Clark Jr. served up hot Texas blues next with the best guitar shredding many of those in the audience had ever seen. Playing songs from the album The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, Clark's three-piece band was loose but poised, letting nothing get in the way of the many killer guitar solos throughout the set. Clark paid homage to one of Houston's greatest blues artists, Louis Bo Collins, with a fiery cover of "If Trouble Was Money."
Hometown heroes ZZ Top closed out the night, ripping through the hits many of us remembered when we were growing up on a steady diet of MTV videos. The band, introduced by Mayor Sylvester Turner, stuck to it's more bluesy-rock numbers, but still indulged us with recognizable radio staples, "Give Me All Your Lovin'," "Tush," and "Got Me Under Pressure." It was apparent that the H-town trio still had a lot left in the tank with deft guitar licks, choreographed dance moves and the still-best beards in rock 'n roll.
Overall, the Super Bowl Host Committee deserves a lot a credit for it's programming throughout the week. Each night catered to a different audience — alternative rock one night, R&B another, Texas blues rock and country well represented — while showcasing the best artists Texas has to offer. Those visiting the city got a taste of the amazing variety of top notch acts coming out of the Lone Star State and those from here were reminded of how much talent we have to enjoy in our backyard.
Friday Night LIVE
The affable Americana troubadour from Lake Jackson, Robert Ellis opened Friday's Super Bowl LIVE event to a small, but appreciative crowd. Clad in a sweet, blue sequined, NASA-inspired suit adorned with astronauts, Ellis ripped through songs from his 2016 self-titled album and 2015 Lights from the Chemical Plant, the highlight coming in the ode to his hometown, "Houston." At one point, backed by excellent players, Ellis' rootsy country rock veered into a Santana-esque jam session, Clear Lake being name-checked along the way.
Fort Worth's Leon Bridges closed the night with his brand of throwback R&B and soul, attracting a big audience as the NFL Experience cleared out for the evening and people headed over to the performance space nestled next to the Toyota Center. Bridges and his six-piece band including a backup singer and baritone sax player, ran through a handful of tunes from his latest, Coming Home, including "Brown Skin Girl," "River," and "Smooth Sailin,'" Bridges' performance came as close to a '60s soul review as many had ever seen.
Mid Main Super Fest
Downtown only served as the epicenter of the celebrations as other smaller events dotted the city, offering a lot of variety for different types of music fans. Perhaps the hidden jewel of Super Bowl events in Houston belonged to the Mid Main Super Fest. Nestled among the soon-to-open Mid Main Lofts, shops and clubs of Main Street in Midtown, the Super Fest offered exciting indie groups along with a VIP party sponsored by Deep Eddy vodka and Oasis craft beer. Shows took place Friday and continued Saturday night, a welcome respite from the downtown throngs.
Friday night featured Dallas electro-pop eccentric Ishi, best described as a biker who one night walked into the wrong club and accidentally discovered the joys of The Pet Shop Boys and ecstasy. Songs from his latest, Juno, brought to mind Cut Copy and Depeche Mode, and the performance included several costume changes. The Tontons, fresh off an appearance at Super Bowl LIVE last weekend, once again showcased why the four-piece is the best band in Houston with another electric set and commanding presence from lead singer Asli Omar. It left many of us wondering when we'd hear new music from this dynamic group.
While Friday made it a bit easier to travel from show to show, the crowds on Saturday made it nearly impossible to sneak away to other parts of downtown and surrounding neighborhoods to check out parties that seemed to be taking place every few blocks.