Free Press Summer Festival
June 3rd-4th 2017
Eleanor Teasly Park
Free Press Summer Festival is a well-known summer staple and a Houston classic. This year’s fest took place on June 3 and 4, and is now in its 8th year running. This festival notoriety is prefaced by its melting pot of local talent and vendors, alongside nationwide big names. Albeit, despite its prestige, the festival just couldn’t shake the accursed Houston weather that has seemingly plagued the event intermittently for years in one fashion or another. As forthcoming and promising of an event that this has always been, for whatever reason the coordinators cannot seem to quite find balance in regards to planning just the right time to allow this festival to shine at its full potential.
With the foreboding promise of weekend rainstorms in the air, FPSF still manged to pack out the grounds of Eleanor Tinsley Park with a youthful congregation of bright-eyed students taking a load off for the beginning of summer. For Day 1 the sun started high in the sky, and it appeared as though the raindrops may have been kept at bay. Saturday kicked off to a phenomenal start, as fans were welcomed to a diverse array of local talent, including the mellow personage of Khruangbin and the hype enthusiasm of Trill Sammy. By mid afternoon a hoard of festival goers swarmed the festival grounds, with plenty more in line showing up in droves to catch the more well-known acts. Australian DJ Anna Lunoe, who is currently pregnant with her first born, put on a killer set before the weather set in. Ominous storm clouds slowly rolled in as the festivities went on, a hellish reminder that the day could be brought to a halt at any moment. Just after Jon Bellion’s lively performance on the Budweiser Stage, thick raindrops began pelting the foreheads of fans, and quickly escalated into an outright monsoon in a matter of minutes. We were in en route to cover Bishop Briggs performance just as we were advised to about face and exit the festival grounds and wait for an update.
However, the warning didn’t stop some of the soaked festival goers from bounding through the rain to catch Cashmere Cat’s remixes or jump around to the beat of Bishop Briggs’ “River.” Houstonians showed their resilience despite the elements, as fans slipped off their shoes, tied back their hair and carried onward. The rain actually didn’t seem to pose too much of a problem for the festival-goers, as they appeared almost perfectly content with proceeding to frolic in the mud and increasing downpour. At 5:50 p.m., however, officials began to more strictly enforce the necessity of evacuation of the festival, the consequent of which being the cutting short of some artists’ sets, and questions as to whether some artists would get to perform at all.
Admittedly, given that rain is no stranger to FPSF, we did expect the organizers preparation and response to the downpour to be a bit more perfected in the air of execution, specifically with a potential back-up plan. The sudden deterrence to the festivities generated more questions than answers. Evacuation implementations were sparse and hardly existent. Arguably, though, getting thousands of angsty fans to cooperate under one accord is no easy task. This, as one could imagine, led to organized chaos, with crowds of bone-soaked adolescents and young adults either aimlessly roaming around downtown Houston or milling about the entrances of the festival awaiting new details. At the time, organizers appeared to be primarily concerned with the liability of the attendees remaining in the park, as opposed to the safety of those immediately outside of the venue. With heavy rains continuing to fall, many contemplated the merits of waiting out the storm for the resumption of the festival, versus giving up and returning home or to their hotels.
Fortunately, at 8:30 p.m the festival gates reopened, with an updated schedule that reflected shortened sets for the remaining artists, including DVBBS, Grouplove, Post Malone and Carnage. G-Eazy and Cage The Elephant were to play the duration of their acts as scheduled with slightly later set times. Festival-goers were promptly notified of the park’s reopening via Twitter, later on Instagram, and finally with concrete modulations to the website. A mass of eager crowd-goers sloppily trudged their way through thick mud to get to the stages, with many slipping and sliding down the hills, and a few falling hard in thick vats of newly formed sludge on the ground. Sadly, some who had waited for hours at the forefront of barricades lost their spots due to the evacuation, and were pushed to the back of the crowds for their favorite artists’ sets. Post Malone, G-Eazy, and Cage The Element were the saving grace of the festival’s first night, re-instilling hope when all was thought to be lost. Cage The Elephant played for nearly 2 hours on a lower than usual stage, allowing for amplified crowd interaction during their intense set. Lead Singer Matthew Shultz even made into the crowd, and manged to crowd-surf while fans hoisted him up by his feet. This gave an air of optimistic expectancy that the next day would fare well despite the continuity of forsaken weather.
Much to the disappointment of the newly encouraged patrons, Sunday almost fully succumbed to the woeful clutches of Houston’s notorious summer storms. Only a few acts took the stage before the evacuation was executed just before 3 p.m. due to nearby lightning. Although FPSF’s social media handles assured fans that the event would not be cancelled, the event would suffer yet another deterrence to wait out the rain. Attendees were advised to take shelter in nearby parking garages, to which many of the youths obliged, but due to capacity were instructed to congregate elsewhere after awhile. Some festival-goers returned to their vehicles, and some huddled beneath awnings of nearby homes and establishments. It wasn’t until a little after 6 p.m. that FPSF informed everyone that the organizers, in agreement with the City of Houston, and the fire department, were cancelling the remainder of the festival. Acts such as Charli XCX, Portugal. The Man, Solange, and Lorde, subsequently did not perform, leaving a dismal motif for the rest of the day.
Out of the goodness of their hearts, Portugal. the Man, Amine and Deep Cuts all put on a free show at White Oak Music Hall for those with FPSF wristbands, much to the grateful delight of some. In addition, Jai Wolf, Jauz, and Party Favor put on a free show at Stereo Live to appease their downtrodden supports. Adhering to reason and compassion, FPSF organizers graciously promised a 50% refund to those who purchased tickets in advance, and those who bought tickets the day of were issued a full refund.
In light of the fact that unpredictable storms are now an idiosyncrasy of Houston at this time of the year, it is a bit perplexing that the happenstances of the weekend were not better prepared for. Things mulled over well at last year’s FPSF, which was proactively moved to NRG Stadium due to similar weather conditions, and this proved to be a suitable alternative over Eleanor Teasly. Of course, aesthetically, Teasly is the perfect site and expanded footprint for a festival of its caliber, however, for the time being it may be in the best interest to rely on the concrete foundations of somewhere like or comparable to NRG, given that this area is not especially susceptible to flooding. While it is perfectly reasonable to say that the weather is completely out of the organizers’ hands, proper preparation and communication can prove to make all of the difference in the future.
Despite the hiccups and mishaps, there is plenty to be said about what FPSF did very well. Admittedly, from the media aspect things went very smoothly, as all of the set times occurred as scheduled, aside from those effected by the weather. The overall layout was very well formulated, the vendors were all located at a centralized location, and the overall selection of artists for this year’s event was very well calculated and appealed to fans from all walks of life. Houston Eats and The Pass of Provisions offered some hometown pride and yummy festival treats. Taco Bell passed out free tacos on the first day. The festival a very classic feel that was absolutely everywhere, with kids playing corn-hole, snapping selfies, and running amok with their best buddies. One thing that stood out especially, was the availability of lockers. This proved to be a very beneficial idea, not only for media, but for fans, who were also accommodated with lockers for a fee of $35 for the entire weekend.
What we want our readers to take away from this is to understand that the weather isn’t something festival organizers can control whatsoever, and we assure you guys that they have no interest in evacuating a festival unless the occasion absolutely calls for it, as the safety of patrons is always the top priority. Weather is something that simply can’t be helped. In fact, despite the setbacks, this festival is slowly flourishing into everything Houston has ever wanted it to be. We are aware that had it not been for inclement weather, it would have been a weekend for the ages. Free Press Summer Festival is still shaping up into a big time large-scale festival, and our only suggestion is that a date change or variable location be considerate in order to help expedite its inevitable growth. We hope that in the future the weather can bear with Houston just long enough to allow FPSF another moment to fully shine as the true Texas gem that it is.