Last weekend I photographed the 2010 Free Press Houston Summerfest at Eleanor Tinsley Park here in downtown Houston, Texas. Last year was the festival’s inaugural year and I remember feeling really excited and proud of my city for finally hosting a legit music festival as I watched Broken Social Scene, Of Montreal, Explosions in the Sky and others take the stage in the park just blocks from my place. I have been involved in the live music scene for years, whether playing or photographing and for most of that time our neighbors to the west in Austin have held the torch for the best live music scene, and even though that is still the case, the Free Press Houston Summerfest is a testament to just how much Houston can give Austin a run for its money.
This year’s festival was even bigger and better with a larger main stage, more sponsors, and bigger headliners. The festival (both this year’s and last) creatively blends a wide-range of musical genres from hip-hop and metal to indie and jazz. The main draws this year were Girl Talk, Slim Thug and Bun-B, and The Flaming Lips. For the punk/hardcore audience, Cro-Mags and Municipal Waste graced the side stage. In total there were over 70 bands, national and local.
Temperatures were sweltering on day 1, Saturday. I was able to walk to the venue with a small backpack to carry the camera essentials. There was a lot more activities and vendors compared to last year, but after a trip or two around the grounds I settled at the main stage to photograph RaRaRiot. For most of the first day I remained near the main stage photographing the handful of bands that would take the stage throughout the afternoon.
Popular mash-up artist Gregg Gillis aka Girl Talk headlined day 1. I had never seen him perform live, but was introduced to him and his jams back when I worked in Baltimore in 2008. I always knew his live shows were a party, but I was not ready for the craziness that ensued. Balloons, toilet paper, dirty dancing, and everything else seemed to be happening on and off stage during the lengthy set. Towards the finale of the set, Gregg leaped up onto the on-stage desk that held his only instruments; a laptop, a mouse and a mouse-pad, (complete with puppy dogs) held his hands in the air and in almost perfect synchronization, an elaborate fireworks display went off in the background. It was a perfect ending to the first of two long days of live music.
It wasn’t until I had already started walking through the gates of the festival when I looked up and saw some threatening clouds. As I leisurely made my way down the natural embankment to the main stage, raindrops started to fall on my head. Within a few minutes of my arrival, several other photographers, a few crew members and I were huddled underneath a tent backstage, watching as a torrential downpour threw a meteorological wrench into the plans of hundreds of fellow music lovers. Last year severe thunderstorms made a muddy mess of the festival grounds, but were thoughtful enough to cease just prior to the opening of the gates. This year mother nature had waited until the fans were settled into their hillside spots and onto their colorful blankets before she showed her teeth.
I have to admit it. From under the (relative) safety of my tent, I had to give it to my fellow Houstonians. There was no mass exodus as the rains continued to come down. Of course there were several groups of spectators that called it a day or at least decided to wait it out elsewhere, but the majority of fans took it in stride. They held their spots on the muddy hillside and continued to enjoy the music. Some even decided dive in head first (literally) into a new event that had spawned as a result of the rains, sliding down the muddy hillside into a puddle of muddy rainwater that had gathered below. After watching a few minutes of this intriguing event from underneath my tent, I too decided to throw caution to the wind and not join them, but photograph them. In the process I think a few of my lenses and cameras paid the price, but some interesting images were made.
After a while the rain cleared and the show went on as planned. The rest of the day’s acts went off without a hitch, but like day 1, I was not prepared for the headliner.
The Flaming Lips were set to finish off the weekend of music. I had never seen them live, and although I knew a bit about their live performances, I admit I did not quite expect the sheer craziness that ensued. In a similar fashion to Girl Talk’s set the night before, there were streamers, balloons, confetti, costumed dancers, elaborate lighting, elaborate set design and of course frontman, Wayne Coyne’s signature bubble.
We were only given access to photograph the first song of the set, but after that song I moved back and enjoyed the rest of the set from the rear. As I watched the final songs of this year’s Summerfest I realized how many more people were in attendance compared to last year. I only hope that this festival sticks around, continues to grow (in the best way possible) and draws even larger crowds in years to come.
Check out the slideshow of images below and if you like what you see, please retweet!