There is an elevated walkway above Allen Parkway near the east entrance of Free Press Summer Fest that, in my mind, has always served as an unofficial gateway to the annual festival. The festival is in its fourth year, and in each of those years, you may find assorted banners, slogans, advertisements, and folk art strewn haphazardly across that walkway, punctuating the festival’s patchwork concept.
I’ve always loved this festival for how much it mimics Houston’s unzoned spirit. No matter how you strategize to experience your day, or even if you don’t approach the festival with any sort of strategy in mind and just let the music come to you, there’s never a risk of digesting too much of any one sound.
With each performances on Saturday, one current ran throughout Eleanor Tinsley Park; the feeling that we’re all in this thing together to listen to music.
This concept is something that Summer Fest prides itself on trying to maintain, but I don’t think that a festival in Houston could be anything but diverse.
Within three hours Saturday, I heard one of the funkiest sets of my life while watching Morris Day and the Time beckon the crowd in front of the main stage to “get naked," I shared a banana with fellow fans that was handed to me by a belly dancing performer during Tyagaraja's set at Stage 6, and rode a time machine back to both 1999 and 1973 as The Flaming Lips, one of my favorite bands in high school, performed an immaculate version of Pink Floyd’s seminal album, The Dark Side of the Moon.
Though Afrojack headlined at the Main Stage, I ended up capping off my night with The Flaming Lips’ performance on Stage 2. Part of this was due to their set being delayed by one of the most meticulous (and longest) sound-checks I think I’ll ever witness (the band managed to set the audience’s patience at ease with teases of some of their songs and random shout-outs to Harris and Fort Bend Counties), but part of it was the fact that there’s really no better way I can think of to wrap up a day of great music than with the sound and image of a pulsing heart.
Recreating Pink Floyd’s 1973 album is such a perfect choice for The Flaming Lips, a band that many consider to be the heirs of The Floyd's style of experimental acid-rock. Frontman Wayne Coyne has always had a penchant for colorful imagery and stage props, but it wasn’t until The Lips closed out their pre-DSOTM set with “Do You Realize??,” one of their fan favorites, that I understood how much Pink Floyd’s existential lyrics have influenced Coyne’s own songwriting. Lines like “Realize that life goes fast/it’s hard to make the good things last” segued perfectly into the heady songwriting that Pink Floyd has made a career out of
As much as anyone in the crowd hated to admit, Coyne’s falsetto isn’t what it used to be. However, most of the songs sung on The Dark Side Of The Moon call for a softer pitch that Coyne was able to deliver perfectly. Where the set called for it, Lizzie Allen of the Denver band Vitamins was able to keen like no other, faithfully replicating Clare Torry’s emotive voice on “Great Gig In The Sky.”
Tyagaraja described the festival atmosphere in a great way: “The depravity is always a part of festivals like these, but I’m happy that I can offer an alternative to that through my music.”
With each performances on Saturday, one current ran throughout Eleanor Tinsley Park; the feeling that we’re all in this thing together to listen to music. Things can get very annoying, very fast if you put umpteen-thousand people in a small space, ask them to wait in long lines during June heat in Houston, and make them choose between showstoppers like Snoop Dogg and Erykah Badu, but none of it would be worth it if FPSF didn’t constantly offer such good vibrations on its eight stages.
I kept all of this in mind while I had a chance to speak shortly with local musician Tyagaraja before his set, and he described the festival atmosphere in a great way: “The depravity is always a part of festivals like these, but I’m happy that I can offer an alternative to that through my music.”
Though his set full of eastern-influenced, jammy rock was Saturday afternoon, the Houston native plans to continue to spread the festival spirit all day long on Sunday. Look for him rallying passers-by to participate in Yoga near stage 6, as well as quiet acoustic performances near his booth, “The Tyaga Tent.”
All in all, a great day in Eleanor Tinsley Park. This festival is quickly growing into something much bigger than a musical lineup, and I'm happy to be able to witness it's evolution. Sunday’s to-do list consists mainly of drinking much more water, checking out the rumored Anvil Bar & Refuge cocktail booth, and continuing to let the music come to me in any way, shape, or form.
But mostly to drink more water.