Not everything is bigger in Texas — and in the case of the first year of Fortress Fest, that wasn’t a bad thing.
Days after social media was aflutter with memes about the dumpster fire that was the first-year Fyre Festival that never got off the ground in the Bahamas, it was nice to attend a first-year festival that wasn’t trying to be too big for its britches. The Fort Worth-born event featured Run the Jewels and Purity Ring as headliners, with a number of other well-known acts to go with an undercard built mostly on Texas talent.
The scare of a storm delayed the start of the first day of action Saturday from 2 PM to 5 PM, causing for the cancellation of a few acts. But once gates opened at 5 PM, it was business as intended, albeit with some pretty cold winds blowing. This was not what I expected when I arrived to Texas from California.
Los Angeles-born and Dallas-raised producer and rapper Blue. The Misfit was the first act I caught. I wasn’t familiar, but his bio boasts that he did early work for Top Dawg Entertainment, including producing early Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q tracks. I found his set to be entertaining before I started to walk the grounds a bit.
Up next I caught local Fort Worth indie rockers The Burning Hotels. They gave a solid easy-going set, perfect for settling into the laid-back feel that the festival would take all weekend. Next I caught Houndmouth, who delivered one of the most energetic sets of the weekend. “It’s a little chilly out here but it’s better than Fyre Fest, I suppose,” one of the key members of the band remarked — a joke I expect many other bands at festivals to crack for the near future.
Eventual headliners of the night Run the Jewels did a poster signing at the Garageland booth. Garageland are a SoCal art and concert poster company that have done tons of art for L.A. gigs and did an epic print specifically for Run the Jewels’ performance at Fortress Fest. The line was pretty long even 30 minutes before they were scheduled to sign.
Flying Lotus was next on the main stage, delivering one of the most psychedelic sets I’ve seen at a festival in quite some time. He had a sheet in front of him that served as a screen to go along with the screen behind him, and the visuals were insanely trippy. His experimental set was pretty awesome, and at the end he asked the crowd to throw weed on stage, and a baggy nearly struck him in the face. “This’ll do,” he laughed, before finishing his set up soon after.
Run the Jewels dropped the highest-energy set of the weekend, proving to me again that they are the best duo in hip-hop at the moment. It was my ninth time seeing RTJ, and they have yet to disappoint. Killer Mike and El-P have amazing chemistry, and they really know how to connect with their audiences.
The pit was intense as hands flew high in the air while they ran through their best material. The one slight bummer was the duo did barely an hour, and I’ve come to expect a festival headliner to go slightly longer than the rest of the acts on the bill. Still, no one seemed to leave disappointed.
On the first day, I ate some delicious fried rice from Cannon Chinese Kitchen and ended my night with some epic tacos from Salsa Limon. On Sunday, I started my day with a grilled cheese sandwich from Emojis Grilled Cheese Bar and a smoothie from JuiceLand.
I caught interesting sets from Dallas-based acts like emcee So-So Topic, electro-pop act Sudie, Fort Worth rockers Quaker City Night Hawks, and rock band Dengue Fever early in the day. Perhaps most interesting of the early bands were Golden Dawn Arkestra, who claim to be from outer space — which I believe after taking them in on the Modern Stage.
Up next was Whitney, who I missed at Coachella the previous two weekends. They seemed a bit miffed by how the wind was affecting them on the Modern Stage, which sat pretty wonderfully on a stage set in water. They made the most of it, with singer-drummer Julien Ehrlich at one point giving his bassist a baptism in it. Surely they were freezing the rest of the time they were on stage.
Canadian power pop group Alvvays was up next on the Modern Stage, and they had to deal with a delayed flight that got them to the festival an hour before they went on, and then some crazy technical feedback during the first song of their set. Eventually the problem disappeared, and they breezed through a set that featured a fifty-fifty mix of old songs and new. New tracks like one where Molly Rankin kept singing about “getting me down” has me ultra excited to hear the follow-up to their debut record that dropped in 2014.
I was able to catch the last half hour of Slowdive, who I will be lucky enough to see in Atlanta before Shaky Knees in a few weeks. Their new material also sounded wonderful, and their music more than any other band on the bill went well with the mass winds. The final punch of “Alison” and “Souvlaki Space Station” was a wonderful way to close out their performance, and many of the older folks who were there for Slowdive left early before eventual closer Purity Ring took the stage.
This was Canadian electronic duo Purity Ring‘s only date listed for 2017, and they confirmed near the end it would be the only one for the foreseeable future as they work on new tunes. They brought their expansive light show with them, and though the crowd was “chill” as vocalist Megan James noted, they seemed mesmerized by the performance nonetheless. The epicness of James’ vocals were only matched by her beautiful curls, which blew in the wind perfectly whenever she struck a pose. They ran through an hour-long set of stuff from their two records, closing with “Begin Again”.
Overall, it was a pretty successful weekend as four or five thousand people came to take part per day. Starting small is a smart move from a first-year festival, and there’s definitely room for the promoters behind Fortress Festival to grow.
One of the only drawbacks of the weekend was the long walk between the two stages — the Will Rogers Stage and Modern Stage. The Will Rogers served as the main stage with the Modern Stage the secondary stage, in the back of the beautiful Modern Museum. The only problem was the walk from the Modern to Will Rogers, they made you walk around to the front and re-check your bags and wristbands to go to the Will Rogers. It made a 10-minute walk take about 15 minutes. On the second day, they allowed media to skip that part and walk straight through, but for regular ticket-buyers, they had to go around.
Photos courtesy of Fortress Festival