Each summer, Free Press Summer Fest is one of the most talked about events in Houston. As a native of the city, I’ve heard crazy stories, seen awesome pictures and helped friends coordinate perfect outfits in past years, but this go-around I decided to take part in the action for the first time. It was slightly frowned upon to be seen at FPSF as a high-school freshman so, airing on the side of caution, I waited a couple of years later until I was sure my parents would let me go and I wouldn't face social disdain from anyone I knew.
I had a few expectations going into the festival: It would be hot, I would be exhausted by the end, I would probably leave with a bad sunburn, and I would have a lot of fun. It was pretty much all that — and a whole lot more.
The Food: Cookie Heaven and Waffle Burgers
Lined up in multiple places throughout the grounds, food trucks selling waffles, burgers, hot dogs, and basically anything else you can imagine tempted hungry festival goers. I didn’t expect the food to be so varied or so delicious and was pleasantly surprised.
Singing as loud as I could to each song and dancing as much as the space between me and the stranger next to me allowed for, I definitely worked up an appetite. So, when I stumbled upon Smoosh Cookies I thought I was in heaven. Choosing from the wide assortment of cookies, toppings, and ice cream was extremely difficult but I when I finally decided on an ice cream sandwich and took my first bite, it was pure bliss.
I also had an amazing grilled cheese from The Golden Grill and a Tiger's Blood snow cone from Friohana that rescued me from the mid-afternoon heat. My favorite had to be the many types of waffle sandwiches offered by The Waffle Bus. A waffle burger is the perfect way to end the last day at FPSF.
The Performers: Fireworks on Stage
Just looking at the lineup in February, I figured I would enjoy all the concerts, but I had no idea what to expect from the performers themselves. From the fireworks and laser lights of Skrillex’s performance to the energy of the Welcome to Houston rappers, I was impressed. With upbeat and exciting music from artists like Flogging Molly and St. Vincent, I was on my feet dancing the whole day. My personal favorite, Flume, played popular songs like “You and Me” that had the entire crowd yelling the lyrics back.
The crowd went crazy each time smoke and streamers billowed out of machines near the stage during the Skrillex performance and his shout-outs to fans got everyone excited.
The massive screens surrounding each stage displayed views of the crowds and bright designs that moved along to the music and danced across the screens. The crowd went crazy each time smoke and streamers billowed out of machines near the stage during the Skrillex performance and his shout-outs to fans thrilled everyone.
I also had fun wandering around and ending up at one of the smaller stages listening to upbeat music from Moon Taxi or in front of performers, like Mastodon, playing heavy metal. The impressive light designs and overall excitement from each performer was a standout.
The Heat: Sweaty Together
The only thing more talked about than the performances each year is the hot early summer weather at FPSF. As a first timer, one of my greatest concerns was that I might get dehydrated or way too sweaty. The hype around the change of venue had me thinking the asphalt at NRG park would melt the shoes off my feet. Even though I can't compare it to the festival when it was at Eleanor Tinsley Park, I can say that the mostly treeless landscape was not as bad as I expected. Although it was hot, water was available almost everywhere with people handing it out for free and cooling stations spraying water from the top to cool your body down.
There were also shaded areas for those who wanted to nap (myself included), with people lounging on blankets in between concerts.
Day one was fairly cloudy, so the sun didn’t bother me much and day two had a breeze that definitely helped keep things more cool. And when it was really hot, I discovered that everyone in the crowd was hot and sweaty together. As long as I reapplied sunscreen a lot and drank as much water as I could I didn't mind the heat. And I didn't get sunburned.
The People: New Friends
Living in Houston, I am used to being around a lot of people I don't know. I went into FPSF expecting it to be crowded, but I didn't realize just how many people that would be. The crowds were massive, moving in huge waves when a concert was ending or about to start. Lines to get food, use the bathroom or get water never seemed to end.
By the second day, I learned how to time it better by going to get food near concerts I knew a lot of people would attend, in hopes that they would ignore the food in favor of the music. But this plan only lessened the wait slightly.
I definitely felt lost at times being surrounded by so many people and having to wait in such long lines. But it was exciting making so many new friends — the couple standing next to me whose favorite song by St. Vincent is my favorite song or the guy from the snow cone line who also loves Tove Lo's voice.
The Outfits: A Little Bit of Everything
Even having never previously been to the festival, I know that one of the most important things to do before attending FPSF is to pick the perfect outfit for both days. The search can go on for weeks in advance to find the right hat, swimsuit, or shirt. Of course I had seen pictures from past years, but I was excited to see for myself what everyone was wearing this year.
There were people wearing long pants (which looked way too hot) and others wearing nothing but tape and bathing suit bottoms. I saw a man on stilts, a girl wearing lots of rainbow colored fur, and jelly-bean printed hats. American flags and tie-die print were in abundance throughout the crowd.
The Verdict: Can't Wait 'Til Next Year
Free Press Summer Fest was a total success. I enjoyed listening to some of my favorite artists and discovering musicians I had never heard before. And the people watching was the best. I am already looking forward to going back next year — and figuring out what to wear.
CultureMap intern Sarah Bass attends The Kinkaid School.