Free Press Summer Fest has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 2009, with this year's seventh annual festival drawing some of the most exciting names in music. With six stages, dozens of impressive artists and thousands of Houstonians in attendance, the first day proved that the city's favorite music festival is ever-evolving and continues to bring summertime fun.
Last-minute Venue Change
The epic flood that recently shook Houston definitely threw a wrench in the works for Summer Fest organizers after the event's usual grounds at Eleanor Tinsley Park were submerged in more than 30 feet of water. With hardly any time to find a new location, the Mayor's Office of Special Events stepped in and helped relocate the massive festival to the Yellow Lot at NRG Park.
Even during the most brutally hot parts of the day, attendees managed to tough it out and spirits stayed high throughout the entire day of incredible performances.
Virtually everyone I spoke with had their reservations about the move, most significantly with the fact that most of the festival would be situated on asphalt in the midst of sweltering summer weather.
Yes, it was hot. Very hot. Thankfully, though, the blistering sun was shrouded by clouds for much of the day, providing a level of relative comfort for which all were thankful. Even during the most brutally hot parts of the day, attendees managed to tough it out and spirits stayed high throughout the entire day of incredible performances.
At only 24 years old, Los Angeles-born RL Grime has already made his mark as one of the top electronic music producers in the world. His set on the Neptune Stage drew a crowd that extended far past the stage's boundaries and proved to be one of the most memorable performances of the day.
Rapid-fire beats and hip-hop production are hallmarks of Grime's style, leading frenzied fans to dance incessantly in spite of the oppressive afternoon heat. Performances of stand-out tracks like "Tell Me," "Scylla" and "Infinite Daps" (which he co-produced with up-and-coming producer Baauer) perfectly showcased the musical stylings that have quickly propelled him to fame.
Canadian-born Peaches showcased her unique combination of often hyper-sexualized lyrics and incredibly high-powered electronic beats in her performance on one of the smaller stages, which ultimately allowed for a more intimate feel to the set, unlike many others at the festival. The 46-year-old artist bounded across the stage, performing hits like "Boys Wanna Be Her," "I Feel Cream" and "Mommy Complex" in front of a crowd that seemed to know every lyric.
During the intense hour-long set, Peaches sprayed champagne on the audience, changed costumes a half dozen times and even walked on top of the frenetic crowd, providing a concert experience that few will ever forget.
Singer-songstress St. Vincent — also known as Annie Clark — wowed crowds on Saturday night with an incredible performance that truly showcased her incredible range and impressive talent. The combination of her powerful lyrics, arresting vocals and complex rhythms along with Clark's diminutive stature and unassuming femininity served as a reminder as to why she's one of the most interesting and respected artists of her time.
The huge audience assembled in front of the Mars Stage was rapt with attention with every strum of Clark's guitar during her high-powered performance, which included numerous songs from her 2014 self-titled release — one that reached No. 12 on the Billboard Top 200 — including the hauntingly beautiful "Birth in Reverse" and the darkly upbeat ballad "Digital Witness."
In the wake of a petition to remove him from this year's Summer Fest lineup due to accusations that he was sexually involved with underage girls, R. Kelly maintains the dubious honor of being the most controversial artist to appear at the annual festival. In spite of pressure to cancel his performance, organizers kept the "King of R&B" as one of the event's headliners.
Kelly arguably drew the largest crowd of the day to one of Saturday night's two final performances, one which got everyone dancing from the jump when he started with the chart-topping hit "Ignition (Remix)." Whether he performed slower R&B jams ("My Story," "Bump N' Grind") or bass heavy dance tracks ("Fiesta Fiesta"), the entire crowd was palpably ecstatic throughout the entire set.