The first verse of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” features the lyrics “Weather changes moods / Spring is here again,” and perhaps that’s what one of the founder behind Free Press Summer Fest were thinking when they decided to rebrand it as In Bloom 2018 and move it from June to March.
Weather issues had plagued the nearly ten-year run of FPSF, whether it was floods or immense heat. Houston native and FPSF founder Jagi Katial partnered with C3 Presents on In Bloom 2018, bringing it to the same Eleanor Tinsley Park that FPSF took place at.
I never attended FPSF, but the proximity to SXSW (it occurred just one weekend after SXSW 2018’s music week) and my having family in Houston made it an easy decision to extend my time in Texas to two weeks. While SXSW is certainly its own beast, In Bloom 2018 takes on the traditional city festival format, highlighting the metropolitan part of Houston with stages up against both tall buildings and what looked to be some sweet townhouses.
Beck, Queens of the Stone Age, Incubus, and Martin Garrix made up the quartet of top-billed acts, but there was a lot of greatness to be found in the undercard. Below I highlight the Best and Worst of In Bloom 2018.
BEST: Highlighting of local and nearby acts on undercard
Oftentimes, you see the same handful of acts at every major festival. The most unique aspects are usually on the deep undercard. In Bloom decided to highlight acts from Houston and other nearby areas with some of their earliest slots in the day, and I discovered a couple new favorites that way.
Say Girl Say is a female Houston indie pop duo along the lines of Marian Hill meets Oh Wonder, and their early Saturday set caught me off guard and was right in my wheelhouse musically. Also from Saturday, VODI was another Houston act that I thoroughly enjoyed that fit kind of a Dawes vibe. Galveston dream pop act El Lago helped kick things off with a chill set on Sunday.
BEST: Weather rewards the rebrand and move to spring
Weather can be so wonky and unpredictable when it comes to outdoor music festivals. Sometimes when festivals move dates in hopes of better weather, it doesn’t work out that way. But after years of weather issues plaguing their festival, FPSF became In Bloom and the roll of the dice paid off. The weather was as beautiful as you could hope for in Houston — sure, it was a little muggy for this California kid, but nothing I couldn’t handle.
Considering that I saw loads of people gulping down local IPAs and 11 percent alcohol jugs of fruit punch, it’s a good thing it worked out that way. The sky was cloudy early in the day, with the hottest point usually coming around 5 PM both Saturday and Sunday. A nice breeze blew through once it got dark and it was extremely enjoyable. Let’s hope the festival continues to run this good with weather in future years.
WORST: Where’s the BBQ?
In Bloom 2018 had a bunch of pretty cool local eats, but to my disdain I couldn’t locate any BBQ! It’s what the state of Texas is known for, and even though I ate BBQ three times during SXSW, I was ready for more. I settled for a slice of pizza one day and a delicious gyro sandwich from Abu Omar Halal the second day.
BEST: The ASL interpreters
A number of festivals feature ASL interpreters at their stages, but In Bloom 2018 had a special viewing section at the front of each stage for those with hearing issues, which was a nice touch. Sometimes, the joy with which these ASL interpreters performed took my attention more than the actual performers — Twin Shadow’s set comes to mind — and it was awesome to see someone enjoying their job so much.
Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme had his fun with his ASL interpreter. “Whatever I do, you have to say?” Homme asked. “That’s awesome, I need that wherever I go.” Homme then made jokes about smashing his dick with a hammer just to see if the ASL interpreter would translate it (she did).
BEST: Well-behaved teens
I get anxious anytime I attend a festival that features an overwhelming amount of teenagers compared to other demographics. I chalk up the PTSD to my experience at Governors Ball dealing with entitled trust-fund NYC teenagers who kept trying to get me to buy them booze and had no regard for others as they shoved their way to the front to see Chance the Rapper. But in Houston, it seemed like the teenagers had their shit together. I didn’t see any of them passing out, or being obnoxious assholes. It IS possible that I just avoided some of the shows that this could’ve gone down at — I didn’t see Martin Garrix, 21 Savage, or Lil Uzi Vert (but that’s more out of personal taste than fear of high schoolers). This gives me hope for our youth.
WORST: Small crowds early in the day made for lackluster performances
I really felt sad for Houston band Get A Life early in the day on Saturday. They played the Flora Stage at 1:40 PM and I counted five people standing up, with maybe a hundred or so people all sitting down. You could tell the lead singer was a bit frustrated by the lack of energy as most festival-goers paid half attention to their show while getting some sun. “Appreciate your energy,” he said after one song got some applause. The lack of big crowds made it easy to get to the front for basically any act you wanted to see, but I could see how it might make it tough on an early-day performer.
Five Favorite Sets
- Wolf Alice — I’ve seen these British rockers nearly a dozen times but oddly enough this was my first time seeing them since they dropped their epic sophomore record Visions of a Life (I was in Austin when they were at the Mayan last week). It was my favorite album of last year and I finally got to hear “Space and Time” live, the deep cut I’ve been playing on repeat lately. The band is firing on all cylinders, and it’s been awesome to see them grow since their first shows in Los Angeles. This is a battle-tested, festival-tested band that knows how to rip through their best 45 minutes to an hour. My only complaint is they dropped “Your Loves Whore” from their setlist.
- Sylvan Esso — Another festival-tested act, it was cool to see them switch up their set even just a little bit from a SXSW showcase they played the week before. Like Wolf Alice, even though they only have two albums under their belt, they already have a deep catalog of songs to pull from. They know how to ignite a crowd and also slow things down, the bass drop of “Hey Mami” and awesome build of set-closing “Radio” turned the main stage crowd into a massive dance party.
- Queens of the Stone Age — “It’s OK to clap, in fact, it’s totally fine,” QOTSA frontman Josh Homme said during “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now”. “It brings us together, which is nice.” QOTSA closed out the festival in style on the smaller stage while Martin Garrix and the teens were over at the main stage. A solid moshpit broke out during the show and the band proved they are pretty capable second-tier festival headliners with a rockin’ set. They’ll have the same opportunity at Shaky Knees in May.
- Explosions in the Sky — Who needs words? Words are overrated when you can make music as emotional and cinematic as Explosions in the Sky. It felt like one hour-long song for the most part, as they shifted gears from slow-building crescendos to thrashing guitars and drums. It was a perfect set for the golden-hour on Sunday and a great way to help wind things down for the weekend.
- Neil Frances — I had only discovered this Los Angeles group the week before at SXSW with a 1 AM set, but they wowed me enough to get me to show up for their early-afternoon main stage show Saturday. There’s a certain groove that makes their music sound so throwback, like it would fit as an opener for Earth, Wind & Fire. Their cover of Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You” has the most hits on Spotify, but set-closing “Show Me The Right” with its funky bass line is what hit heaviest for me.
Overall, I enjoyed In Bloom 2018 a ton, and if the fest continues to position itself the week after SXSW, I might continue to attend. Perhaps over time more people will extend their trips to Texas an extra week. Just one word of advice — bring the BBQ next time.
Top photo of Broken Social Scene by Sydney Gawlick / In Bloom Fest