Houston’s inaugural In Bloom Festival at Eleanor Tinsley Park was a smash, thanks to gorgeous weather, and a diverse line-up that brought out music fans of all types.
Other than an overcast Saturday, March 24 that cleared way to a sunny late afternoon and bright Sunday, March 25, there wasn’t a rain cloud in sight, no sets were canceled and everything ran like clockwork. The temperature was hot enough to bare some skin and get a decent tan, but not too much to make it unbearable. The humidity did make it a bit sweaty, but that was allayed by a nice breeze and cooler evening temperatures.
It was a testament to organizers who made the smart move of hosting a festival a few months before the volatile summer months.
One small downside was the distance between stages, which were a small hike. The huge Bud Light stage on the far west end of the festival nestled along Buffalo Bayou, yet it also allowed attendees to travel past a huge assortment of bars, gourmet food trucks and vendors, and gave curious fans a chance to see what was happening at the Ostara Stage, where an assortment of bands and electronic artists played among the trees, before arriving to the Flora and Fauna stages.
It all wouldn’t have been as successful if it weren’t for the music quality. The weekend didn’t really feature a bad performance. The mixture of rock, hip-hop and dance acts made it something for everyone to enjoy and the local and regional bands earlier in the day gave early-birds a chance to discover some new sounds.
One of those new finds came in the mesmerizing harmonies of Houston duo Say Girl Say, otherwise known as Brigette Yawn and Suzan Zaghmouth, as the two faced each other while they sang and played, decked out in black and white outfits that made them look like symbiotic yin-yang twins. The two are heading to the studio to record their second album next month, a group to watch for when it’s released this summer.
Speaking of yin-yang, hip-hop duo Ying Yang Twins drew a good-sized crowd at the same time on the Bud Light Stage, leading to first big dance party of the weekend.
Later that afternoon at the Fauna Stage, U.K. alt-rock quartet Wolf Alice proved why they are one of the fastest rising bands across the pond with one of the best sets of the weekend. Ripping through choice cuts off their two albums, My Love Is Cool and Visions of a Life, front-woman Ellie Roswell sung, screamed and snarled her way through an electric set that recalled the peak '90s alt-rock. The far-too-quick 50-minute slot left the crowd hoping they'll return to Houston very soon for an extended show.
That evening at the Flora Stage, Toronto super-collective Broken Social Scene reminded us why they are one of the greatest indie rock bands ever, 10 musicians on stage giving the In Bloom crowd a bunch of classics, including opener "KC Accidental" and "Cause = Time" from the influential You Forgot It In People, "7/4 (Shoreline)" and "Fire Eye’d Boy" from 2005’s self-titled album (both sung by Stars’ Amy Millan). Lead singer Kevin Drew dedicated a song to the March For Our Lives protest that took place only blocks away earlier in the day, telling the crowd, "We’re from Canada – we are your neighbors, we are with you, we know you’ll make it out of this."
If there was any performance that fell flat at In Bloom, it came during Cigarettes After Sex at the Fauna Stage. It’s not a knock on the band – the group’s mysterious, introspective film noir tunes of romance gone sour were good – but the crowd seemed more interested in lounging in the grass, talking through most of the mellow set.
Meanwhile, co-headliners Beck and Incubus went above and beyond anything expected. The former put on one hell of a dance party, attracting a huge audience at the Bud Light Stage, his funkiest tunes brought to life by an amazing backing band. The best of the bunch was the quietest, "Lost Cause," from the beloved album Sea Change.
Known to many as that band that "Drive" song that was played way too much back in the late-'90s/early-2000s, Incubus eschewed any softer touches for the heavier stuff and the crowd thanked them for it, the standout being a ferocious version of "Megalomaniac," with lead singer Brandon Boyd’s timely "step down, step down" plea.
Sunday brought a much younger crowd, most likely because if the line-up of popular hip-hop and EDM acts. The kids turned up in force to see Durham, North Carolina duo Sylvan Esso ply their wonderful indie-folk-electronic mix in the warm, late-afternoon sun, one of the most fun sets of the weekend. The superbly great singer Amelia Meath took a moment between songs to peek around the stage, asking, "Do they have jumbotrons? The one day I don’t wear a sports bra, they have jumbotrons. You’re going to get a lot of t*ts."
Over on the Fauna Stage, the criminally underrated George Lewis, Jr. vehicle, Twin Shadow, played to a small but appreciative crowd, showcasing several new songs from the upcoming album Caer. The romantic new wave synth sounds were counter-balanced by Lewis' guitar heroics and his Morrissey-like croon. Count on that being the smallest crowd Twin Shadow plays to all year based on how good the new songs sound.
A sunset slot by Explosions in the Sky, also on the Fauna Stage, brought a much bigger draw to see the Austin-based group (that contributed the soundtrack to one of the best TV shows ever, Friday Night Lights). The quiet-loud, lyric-less dynamics had many in the audience lighting up their favorite special cigarettes to get lost in the expansive soundscapes.
The biggest discovery of the weekend came over on the Ostara Stage, where Brooklyn DJ and producer Gramatik laid down the big beats mixed with blues and funk riffs, provided by his excellent live guitarist. A psychedelic light show had the packed crowd dancing to a set that included a remix of Stevie Wonder’s "Superstition" and four-to-the-floor rhythms laced with old-time jazz.
Headliner Queens of the Stone Age almost immediately responded to the controversy surrounding lead singer Josh Homme over on the Flora Stage, when he noticed a few people holding "Kick Me in the Face" signs. "Why would I do that?" Homme told the sign-bearers. "You’re already brother and sister and you’re f**king. But it's all good because you're related." What Homme lacked in tact was made up by the band’s earth shattering alt-rock riffs, including the best drum solo of the festival during a furious "No One Knows."
Walking out of the venue, Danish DJ Martin Garrix had the kids in a frenzy with his EDM pop, made even bigger with a fireworks show high above the Bud Light stage.
Overall, it was a fun weekend in the heart of the Bayou City, attracting some of the bigger names in music as well as buzz-worthy newcomers. Like the first few years of Day For Night festival, In Bloom shows great potential moving forward. We’re already looking forward to next year's edition.