Informal consensus was that Day 2 of the Free Press Summer Fest wouldn’t likely draw as big a crowd as the first day. Folks shouldn’t underestimate the pulling power of Willie Nelson, who clearly will never, ever be taken for granted by the outdoor concert-going set in Texas. There was perhaps more ping-ponging between the two main stages on the second day, but the two bowls were still well populated with concert-goers braving clear skies that did little to soften the effects of the sun. And the music, again, made a case for a day of migration from stage to stage.
Here were a few of the second day’s highlights…
There were, indeed, pretty lights during Derek Vincent Smith’s Summerfest closing set, a high-energy goodbye for thousands of tired, drunk, burnt, dirty and dancing Houstonians. Spotlights and LEDs flashed from the stage. Extra-large glowsticks reached into the sky. Beach balls bounced atop heads. Smith – who goes by the moniker Pretty Lights – wasn’t as aggressive behind the tables as Afrojack, who hit feverish frequencies late Saturday night. But Pretty Lights was equally enthusiastic, doling out a funk-soul mashup with nods to hip-hop and disco. (A Beastie Boys hits package preceded his arrival and pumped the crowd up considerably.) He frequently addressed the audience, urging them to throw fists in the air, make some noise, insert oft-repeated performer command. They all obliged, and there was more goofy movement here than I’d seen all weekend. Arms flailed. Heads bobbed. Hips tried to swivel. --Joey Guerra
Cultishly adored trio Primus deployed their one-of-a-kind brand of sing-songy, syncopated swamp-funk to the teeming masses gathered in front of the Budweiser stage, just as the sun began to set after a long, hot, crazy Summer Fest afternoon. Singer/bassist/"South Park" theme song composer Les Claypool naturally dominated the proceedings, both in terms of personality and sonics: the thick sound mix gave his bass plenty of low-end rumble, but left room for his funky rubber-band thumb slaps to pierce through. Tech-wizard guitarist Larry LaLonde's father was in the audience, prompting a fun little monologue from Claypool ("My dad told me 'son, you can't sing for $#!+, but you can sure play the bass'") and a wild, tech-wizard solo from LaLonde. Both a consummate showman and a bass nerd's Platonic ideal, Claypool pulled out all the stops: I counted what appeared to be an electric dobro bass and a bowed, bodyless standup bass (during "Mr. Krinkle," which required the donning of a very-creepy animal mask) alongside more standard four-to-six string affairs in his menagerie of equipment. Indeed, the sprawling crowd seemed full of bass nerds; enthusiastic throughout the whole set, they absolutely exploded during 90's hits and near-misses like "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver" and "My Name is Mud." One of the unlikeliest alt-rock success stories from that weird, nebulous mid-90's era when pretty much every rock band on the radio was an unlikely success story (see also: fellow Summer Fest all-stars The Flaming Lips), Primus acquitted themselves quite nicely for 2012. - Joe Mathlete
It's amazing, really -- though not surprising -- that Willie Nelson can get the Summer Fest crowd to groove along with rowdy country covers, sappy crossover ballads and gospel classics. But that's exactly what he did during a brisk hourlong set. Dressed head-to-toe in black, Nelson kicked off with 'Whiskey River,' then zipped through 'Beer for My Horses' and 'Good Hearted Woman.' His voice is increasingly fragile, but it gave a wistful glow to 'Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.' Sister Bobby, as always, sat in on piano. And Nelson treated fans to a mini-set of Hank Williams' tunes, including 'Jambalaya,' 'Hey Good Lookin' and 'Move it on Over.' He quipped through a bit of 'To All the Girls I've Loved Before,' offered a standout 'Georgia on My Mind' and closed with 'I Saw the Light.' It was a feel-good, foot-stomping finale that incited dancing from the foot of the stage to the top of the hill. – Joey Guerra
The Avett Brothers don’t seem a natural festival band on paper – what with the acoustic instruments and all -- but the energy generated by the four players and their seemingly quiet instruments has a joyous and engaging effect on a crowd. Early on they leaned on their earlier independent recordings (“Love Like the Movies,” “Go to Sleep”) before drawing more heavily from most recent album “I and Love and You,” which carried a more widespread appeal. Only a few minutes earlier punk legends the Descendents blasted through a set of short, pulverizing songs like “Everything Sucks” that churned up one of the festival’s busiest mosh pits. –Andrew Dansby
Detroit rapper Danny Brown was one of my favorite sets of the weekend. Brown’s flow comes across as borderline unhinged, but his rhymes – which touched on pop culture totems and the recording industry – seemed too plugged in to be as out there as his nasal delivery. Also great on the hip-hop front was Jon Black, who had an undesirable slot at noon on Stage 6, but delivered bright rhymes in a voice that carried a faint resemblance to Q-Tip. He also carried a live drummer with him, giving the songs an added punch. – Andrew Dansby
On the main stage, Grandfather Child unleashed a furious mix of soul, rock, country and blues. The crowd seemed legitimately blown away by the searing vocals of Lucas Gorham, who wailed on 'New Orleans' and bouncy new track 'Magical Words.' Austin outfit Suite 709 offered impressively polished pop vocals and lyrics. It was like Maroon 5 -- minus the douchebaggery. I'm definitely checking these guys out. The Wild Moccasins literally bounced across the stage, guided masterfully by Zahira Gutierrez. She's blossomed into an even more engaging vocalist and stage performer. I couldn't take my eyes off her. The songs were dreamy and sweet (of course) but also packed a punch. The whole thing lasted less than an hour but could have gone on twice as long. Afterwards, a pink-haired Gutierrez and Cody Swann set up shop with a folding chair and a purple suitcase, selling albums to, and taking photos with, a small mob of young fans. It was adorable. – Joey Guerra
Fitz and the Tantrums hung onto “Moneygrabber” until the end, but the band’s retro soulful vibe was a spirited way to power through early afternoon heat. The band also offered up a sneak peek of its next album with two new songs due later this year. Earlier on the main stage, Robert Ellis, guitarist Kelly Doyle and pedal steel player Wil Van Horn traded solo licks like a hot potato. – Andrew Dansby
A big -- really, really huge -- crowd assembled for Young the Giant's epic, atmospheric songs on one of the main stages. Sameer Gadhia has the big, booming voice to match, and the entire band was (smartly) dressed in shorts. Every riff, every verse had an urgent energy that snaked up and down the hill. By the time YTG got to 'Cough Syrup,' everyone in the vicinity seemed to be singing along. – Joey Guerra
Houston rapper Fat Tony killed it on a 360-stage, showcasing his unique brand of Htown hip-hop with a few guests. It was a nice primer for his new album. Elsewhere, a pink Power Ranger. Shouty dude dressed like Jesus. Welcome to Sunday at Summerfest. The crucifixed performer, known as Black Magic Marker, shouted words of doom to a small, bewildered audience. Any effect was lost as he unsuccessfully juggled a wooden cross, stakes and a crown of thorns, which often fell over his eyes. It was like an 'SNL' skit -- Performance Art Jesus! -- gone wrong. – Joey Guerra
THE JOYS OF DISCOVERY
One of the greatest joys of a gargantuan music event like Summer Fest is stumbling across bands you weren’t aware of and coming away much the better for it. I made my way across the festival grounds to catch Fat Tony’s set only to realize I had ended up on the complete wrong side of Eleanor Tinsley Park. Lucky for me it turned out, as I was able to catch the end of out-of-town indie kids Schmillion’s set. The band looked to be barely out of high school, but they played their driving, tuneful songs tighter than most groups twice their age. The lightning-quick instrument swap between bassist and drummer was a highlight, as was the “phew!” look on the bassist’s face after they pulled it off.
Afterward I made my way back to catch part of Fat Tony, playing inside the weird geodesic dome thingy that is Stage 3. The ever-genial emcee (now living in Los Angeles but still a lifetime Houstonian as far as most fans are concerned) was a bit relaxed during what I caught of his set, but there are few working rappers today who can connect with a crowd the way Fat Tony does. I left feeling glad I made the trek.
I walked over to the Super Happy Fun Land stage to find it running about 45 minutes behind, so I made my way back to the Buckminister Fuller Stage to see LIMB, the brainchild of By The End of Tonight alum James Templeton. Wiring a drumkit to a series of trigger-activated synthesizers and sequencers, Templeton wails away at his kit with wild fury and laser precision, each hit fusing percussion with melody. It’s a sight to behold and a real marvel of engineering – I’m still not sure how his setup works – but more importantly he’s got a fantastic ear for texture and dynamics, blurring 30 years of electronic music into a Keith Moon blender. LIMB was in rare form today, high energy and showing few if any signs he was playing in Houston’s afternoon sun.
I made it back to the Super Happy Fun Land stage to find I had missed local legend John Muzak, but thankfully Demonic Hen was up next. Demonic Hen is a six-piece self-described “vegetable hardcore” group; their members dress in elaborate vegetable themed costumes and answer to Avocado, Beet, etc. They write loud, heavy, chaotic songs about eating healthy food. They were just about the weirdest band you could hope to see at Summer Fest, and this is counting the Flaming Lips. They were also immensely entertaining, whipping the crowd into an immediate frenzy. No word on how many in the audience converted to veganism, or if the guy in the pizza costume filming the band was part of their entourage or just one of those Super Happy Fun Land coincidences.
– Joe Mathlete
Read: Day 1 recap here.