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Mud Kisses & Music

Mud kisses & music: Rejuvenated Lauryn Hill, Jack White and drones send Summer Fest out in style

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Lauren Hill at Free Press Summer Fest June 2014
Lauryn Hill looked like a fashion model. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Crowd at Free Press Summer Fest Day Two June 2014
Big crowds and nice weather marked the second and last day of Summer Fest. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Drone at Free Press Summer Fest June 2014
Drones were everywhere. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Jack White at Free Press Summer Fest June 2014
Jack White closed the festival. Photo by Marco Torres
Shakey Graves on the Venus stage at Free Press Summer Fest June 2014
Shakey Graves performed on the Venus Stage. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Lauren Hill at Free Press Summer Fest June 2014
Crowd at Free Press Summer Fest Day Two June 2014
Drone at Free Press Summer Fest June 2014
Jack White at Free Press Summer Fest June 2014
Shakey Graves on the Venus stage at Free Press Summer Fest June 2014
Reid Schroder_column mug

A perfectly good mud pit went to waste Sunday afternoon at Eleanor Tinsley Park, and I'm left wondering if that's good news or bad news for the reputation of Free Press Summer Fest, now in it's sixth year.

To be fair, this patch of mud down the sloping grounds near the front of the Mars stage was the only one I spent any real time near. There may have been massive mud orgies elsewhere along the bayou and I just missed them. However, this particular pit was a messy memory of Saturday's deluge and it would have been quite a thing to see all of that sloppy earth being unceremoniously abused by reckless festival goers.

Despite the liberties the small tribe of mud people took with what nature gave us on Sunday, I left the festival wondering what it would have taken to get more people in the mud during Jack White's set. 

Instead, the gooey ground created a nice open space to get close to the Mars stage for anyone who didn't care about clean ankles and also gave the few dedicated (or more likely, inebriated) Free Presstonians a chance to cover each other in mud kisses to the tune of Jack White's playful ditty "We're Going to Be Friends."

Yep. That display really did happen, and it was just as precious as it sounds in print. 

Despite the liberties the small tribe of mud people took with what nature gave us on Sunday, I left the festival wondering what it would have taken to get more people in the mud during Jack White's set to celebrate the end of the most eventful Free Press Summer Fest since its early years.

A winning baseball team might have worked. Then, when White mentioned to the audience that he had gone to an Astros game with his kids on Saturday night, he would have been greeted not with boos but with unanimous cheers followed by hundreds of fans lining up to do victory slides across the mud while White's band triumphantly performed "Seven Nation Army" underneath a sky lit up with fireworks. 

Instead, as White implied with his tongue-in-cheek response to a sea of people booing their own baseball team, the lack of any significant activity in the mud, drugs, and rock and roll department paints an accurate picture of the collective personality of this festival.

People more or less behave themselves, they don't break any real social contracts, and it is the music, not the antics, that brings in the revenue.

How else would you explain a throng of first-timers and Austinites that toughed out the 100-percent unshaded Venus Stage to hear Austin local Shakey Graves do things with an acoustic guitar that would make Led Zeppelin's III jealous?

Or the overcrowded space in front of Neptune Stage where the gang waited out an extra long sound check before hearing Wu-Tang deliver a set full of some of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time?

And how would you explain multiple generations chanting in unison to nearly two-decade old Fugees songs with Ms. Lauryn Hill? At 39 years old and many years removed from any new hip-hop conversations, her performance at Mars stage needed to be tight, energizing, and relevant in order to go against the garage punk of The Kills and the neo-Americana of Drew Holcolmb and the Neighbors at that 5 p.m. time slot. Hill brought it with all the bravado and confidence required of the veteran diva that she is, and in doing so, successfully won a large percentage of Sunday's attendees to her stage. 

Yes, what this festival lacks in spontaneity and low inhibition is going to be a good thing as long as the lineups continue to cater to such a broad audience. I can live with being one of the only ones out of umpteen thousand who cares to get his toes muddy during a Jack White set. 

File Under Brilliant Ideas For This Year's Festival.....

METRO threw the non-Fancy Pants ticket holders a huge bone in the form of a parked bus along the Allen Parkway feeder road. As far as I could tell, this bus's sole purpose was to give anyone who hopped on it a place to sit in an air-conditioned, windowed environment. Though I had Fancy Pants access, I was on that bus as much as I could be between stage-trotting. The people-watching from the ergonomically sound seats of a METRO bus is unrivaled.

Saint Arnold brought White Noise to the festival for the second year in a row, made it accessible to everyone, and never ran out. Though Belgian Whites aren't everyone's style year-round, that blend of coriander and orange is just what the doctor ordered on a hot summer's day. I was looking forward to having enough to last me through a blistering Drive-By Truckers set, and Saint Arnold did not disappoint.

The grand re-model of the festival grounds gets huge kudos, especially with the inclusion of beautiful, tranquil Sam Houston Park. There was more shade than ever due to some of these tweaks, and plenty of opportunities to showcase Buffalo Bayou and downtown Houston amongst the stages. 

Aaaand The Low Point of the Festival Goes To...

An eagle-eyed festival-goer near me during Hill's set spotted a drone skirting across the sky from stage to stage. It was in that moment that I wept a little bit for music festivals around the world. 

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