Everything old is new again
For a limited time only (but what I hope jump starts more to come), Discovery Green was overrun Friday night for The Big Dance Concert Series. (It runs Friday through Sunday, with different sponsors each evening.)
I'm not doing the skepticism-I-feel justice, but trust me when I say I had no idea how any of this was going to go off without a hitch.
Slapping the insanity label on downtown before the event would be an understatement. It was a chaotic maze of closed roads, cars circling past $20 parking for the bargain lot or the elusive curbside spot, police officers in fluorescent bibs corralling vehicles with, "No!" at every attempted turn, and sidewalks overloaded with bodies as if downtown transformed into New York City overnight. OK, maybe Boston.
With the scene outside the gates pure madness, I dreaded what I'd find within the confines of Discovery-Green-turned-major-music-venue.
If downtown was the hurricane, then the AT&T NCAA Fan Zone at Discovery Green was the eye of the storm. Early on, spectators calmly milled about, half-heartedly listening to the happenings on stage. Hipsters, hip-hopsters, hippies, parents, preppies, grunge kids and children created a diverse mix of young and old in the unnervingly mellow scene on the lawn.
The crowd was sparse throughout the energetic Los Skarnales show, spilling into the Naismith Pre-Game Show. Helmed by the delicious former NBA player Wally Szczerbiak (who played college ball in my home state of Ohio), the smattering of fans was somewhat placated by entertaining interviews with NCAA stars Jimmer Fredette of BYU and Nolan Smith of Duke. Both chose UConn to run away with the championship, and Jimmer admitted he needed to be taught how to Jimmer.
But the massive stage seemed to dwarf the diminuitive audience, which only became animated at the mention of Sublime with Rome, the headlining act that would close out the evening.
I was baffled. Did these people not realize the lead singer had died of a heroin overdose in 1996? Didn't everyone stop listening to the band when they broke up 15 years ago? I was confused, but determined to solve this mystery.
In the meantime, one of the most talented indie rock groups took the stage — The Hold Steady. Truthfully, I was worried. Being one of my favorite bands, I wondered how the crowd, which was still dribbling in, would react to frontman Craig Finn's trademark pointing, snarling, and pontificating. I feared there was still too much daylight, and without cover of darkness to soften Finn's blunt, mocking storytelling, I didn't know how a Sublime-loyal crowd would receive these talented guys.
In the end, I was sort of right. Mixed in with the furrowed brows of confusion, polite applause and scattered whoops greeted The Hold Steady's enthusiastic set. But Finn and Co. didn't seem to slow their roll any. He was having as much fun with us as ever, even if the audience had no idea what to do with it.
It even took halfway through the show to get a good whiff of pot. I know, I know — Hold Steady fans everywhere are shaking their heads in disgrace.
It was then that my disbelief turned into, well, belief. Could this crowd really be here for Sublime?
The answer was yes.
As soon as The Hold Steady exited stage left, the crowd pushed toward the front like a tidal wave. The camera pans of the crowd weren't a wide angle lens trick any longer — the audience had magically quadrupled.
If it's possible for people to multiply like wet mogwai (hey, we're talking about a band from the '90s here; I can comfortably resort to '80s pop culture references, thank you), that's what happened at Discovery Green before Sublime with Rome took the stage. Those patches of grass I'd seen during The Hold Steady show had suddenly filled with swaying, pot-smoking bodies.
By the time the interim games on stage had ended, there was nowhere to walk on the lawn at Discovery Green. At all.
I had no idea that many people still cared about Sublime.
"It'll never be the same," said Caitlin Herrera, an avid fan "since, like, the sixth grade." "Eric and Bud stay true to who they are, though." She was referring to bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh, the original members of the ska-punk band that regrouped with singer Rome Ramirez in 2009.
"Whenever there's something original, that's always going to be what you think about," said Herrera, "But they're still good. I still jam to that."
With a set full of singable, recognizable songs from the Bradley Nowell days, vintage isn't just the rage in fashion in Houston these days — but in music, too.