As a painful introduction, we just learned and feel it vital to with with the news that a festival attendee, Megan Tilton, passed away after leaving the festival in medical transport. For the love of music and music lovers, we recommend donating to her family’s GoFundMe campaign here.
Considering that torrential rains forced FPSF to relocate to NRG Park from its usual picturesque grounds at Eleanor Tinsley Park, further rain sporadically threatened all weekend prompting one temporary evacuation, and prominently featured act Father John Misty cancelled the day before the event, the festival rose above tremendous tribulation to put on a great event for another year. Admittedly, trudging around in mud and puddles is less than desirable, for a camera carrying member of the media as much or more than any festivalgoer. And still, I enjoyed almost every act I saw over the course of the weekend, and I found the grounds to be organized and as well maintained as possible.
Each year (2016 marked my fifth), I’m impressed with FPSF’s ability to book artists who have strong fan followings and great live shows but aren’t on every festival bill across the country. The festival seems to stay small to mid-sized by choice while focusing on a diverse bill. It may not be as niche or revered as Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest (the fate of which remains in question), but FPSF recalls FFF’s sensibilities while leaning more toward the hip-hop and dance scenes Houston favors. This year’s biggest names Lil’ Wayne and 2 Chainz, who played as Collegrove, didn’t fail to induce an all out dance party to a crowd totally losing its mind.
Likewise, Asap Ferg and Tory Lanez acted as sleeper hits of the weekend, drawing an enormous crowd who weren’t disappointed. In the first song, Lanez climbed down from the stage and straight out into the crowd, walking over hands and crowdsurfing. Both Lanez and Asap Ferg brought undeniable intensity to the stage.
In a perfect merging of danceable indie rock and veteran hip-hop, Big Grams, a collaboration between Outkast’s Big Boi and Phantogram, had to be the weekend’s undisputed champs. Near the end of their set, after I had walked over to catch the beginning of The Chainsmokers, a large group of teenagers gazed awe-struck in the direction of the Big Grams’ bone-rattling bass emanating from the main stage before asking me who was playing over there. Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel’s airy voice floats over beats that move between deep grooves and up-tempo electronica while Big Boi drops Southern rap rhymes. It’s everything a Houstonian could want.
FPSF’s indie and punk acts this year couldn’t have been more on point, with Swedish hardcore act Refused emerging as the most impressive among a slew of outstanding bands. Frontman Dennis Lyxzèn gazed out at the festival crowd with a bemused smirk before the band tore into the first song and Lyxzèn exploded into jumps off of monitors and high kicks. Between bouts of screaming, he swung the mic in huge circles before launching it soaring to the air and catching it as it descended. After a couple of songs, Lyxzèn climbed out into the crowd and marched through the audience. The entire set was blistering and furious—easily one of the best performances of the weekend.
Thee Oh Sees and Against Me! Put on similarly frenetic performances, and underscore FPSF’s careful attention to booking bands with the utmost cred. Though there’s no shortage of garage, punk and hardcore acts, these three stand out as some of their respective subgenres most respected. Thee Oh Sees’ two drummers lent the set a continually propulsive rhythm for the band’s gritty rock, while Against Me!’s melodic punk rock were the perfect soundtrack to bassist Inge Johansson’s stage jumps and Laura Grace’s directive for the audience to clap along.
In other threads of indie rock, Matt and Kim got the crowd shaking their asses as only that duo can, White Denim cranked out retro rock with unmatched musical prowess, The Black Angels got psychedelically austere, and Mac Demarco grinned through one of his expectedly hilarious slacker rock sets.
Which brings us to the weekends indie rock royalty headliners: Modest Mouse and The National, who headlined the fest’s second largest stage on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Perhaps unsurprisingly in a city that love its dirty hip-hop and neon-flavored EDM, these two sad white boy band’s didn’t draw the crowds the opposing main stage did each night, but as a historically sad white boy, I have to admit that I thought both sets were great. In the late 90s and early 2000s, Modest Mouse defined themselves with a rumbling, punchy style of indie rock they still do incredibly well today. Isaac Brock and co. seemed a little cranky onstage, which can be a turn-off, but I was too into the songs to care.
Despite the fact that the National can be almost comically sad, with the Dessner twins stoically (albeit often epically, statuesquely) strumming guitars and singer Matt Berninger stalking the stage morosely like he’s trying to recall the name of every former lover, they sound fucking great. The band is brooding and moody and emotive, and they just sound phenomenal. Keep it coming, boys.
The Chainsmokers represented exactly what I thought a festival’s EDM act should be. I’m admittedly biased as someone who isn’t a fan of the genre, but it just seems like if you’re paying for Deadmau5 or Skrillex, you’re paying too much. Up and comers The Chainsmokers had the crowd equally as explosive, and easily drew more people to the smaller stage on which they played than any other act over the course of the weekend. Make no mistake, finessing a quality DJ set, building tension and dropping the beat at the right moment, takes true talent, but The Chainsmokers appear to be able to hang with the best of them in my estimation.
As parting odds and ends: Zola Jesus’ artful, eerie electronic pop was great, but the early afternoon slot rendered it less effective than it is in a dark, foggy nightclub. Leon Bridges delivered unadulterated soul, repping Dallas with style. Everyone continues to marvel at the young wunderkind who has taken the music industry by storm in the last couple of years, and with his smooth dance moves and golden voice, the fans will keep pouring in. I finally saw one of my first indie rock loves, Violent Femmes to end the festival weekend—yet another act that evidences FPSF’s commitment to tried and true underground artists.
One surprise worth a little complaining was the dearth of Houston acts on this year’s bill, although local rapper Trae the Truth (whose set I regrettably missed) garnered praise for an outstanding performance from a variety of media outlets. It seemed that with The Black Angels, White Denim, Walker Lukens, Wild Child, Blue Healer, and Matthew Logan Vasquez, Austin acts represented a sizable part of the lineup—a source of pride for this small time, freelance journalist. All said, Houston should be proud of this little festival that could. Changes are on the horizon for the event, which was recently sold to C3 Presents. Here’s hoping that next year’s weather fares better and that FPSF returns just as strong as it has been for the past eight years.
All photographs © Bryan C. Parker & Pop Press International; all rights reserved. Click any image to open set in slideshow viewer.