Wednesday, May 19, 2010

REPRINT SERIES: Houston Peace Festival 3/6/10

(Ed. Note: Here's the second in our 29-95 reprints series. This one is presented in its unedited form and it's quite different. Better, worse? You decide.)

The fourth annual Houston Peace Festival was held at Live Oak Friends Meeting on Saturday afternoon. A festival of art, activism, dancing, music, and hippie principles like love and harmony. Not a bad concept, though not quit Woodstock or Burning Man in execution. I mostly went for the bands personally and this is an article about my musical discoveries in Houston, so I won't spend a whole lot of time on the rest of the events. However, before I jump into the music, I do want to shout out some of the good causes involved in the whole thing.

Of course there was good old KPFT sponsoring the event, giving out flyers out for their upcoming 40th anniversary bash at McGonigel's Mucky Duck. That's March 14th, from noon to 8:00 PM. There was the Montrose Land Defense Coalition who are fighting to convert an abandoned lot on West Alabama and Dunlavy into a park instead of yet another pointless HEB, a cause I personally support. There were vegans pushing their way of life, though that one's a bit too much for me, I've never been able to give up the meat. The Art of Living who will be hosting a Happy Family Workshop ("a Body/Mind/Wellness workshop for every family") at the Student Center at Rice University April 1st to April 4th. Amnesty International and the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty were there to fight the death penalty, among other things. And those are just the ones I still have flyers from, there were many, many more.

On top of all that, there were stands where they were selling jewelry, vegan food, paintings, and all manner of other oddities. Considering it was all hosted in the Live Oak Friends Meeting's relatively small yard, it was a bit of an accomplishment just fitting all that in there.

Anyhow, since this is about the music, I'll discuss the music. The whole thing got started a little after 1:00 PM but I have to admit that I ended getting around to it a little bit late. I made a stop around that time at Cactus Music to catch Cory Chisel's instore performance. Though I don't know much about him, I did enjoy his work on the recent Louisiana Music Factory Preservation Hall compilation, which also had performances by Andrew Bird, Yim Yames, Tom Waits, Ani DiFranco, Merle Haggard, and more on it. It's good stuff, you should check it out of you haven't already. Cory and his band put on a spirited performance in the intimate setting of the store and really impressed me. Basically, if you like any of the artists I just mentioned on that compilation, you'll probably like Cory too. And I'm not just endorsing him because we share a name! I haven't had a chance to check out any of his albums yet, but I will be in the future.

After catching that, I went up to the Peace Festival. After asking around, I apparently missed the Free Radicals and an unnamed band from Dallas. I was somewhat disappointed I missed the Free Radicals as I've wanted to see them for a while, but I'm sure I'll get the chance eventually. After all, at the Peace Fest alone I was able to catch two bands I had missed time and time again and wanted to see. But I'll get to them in a moment.

The first artist I managed to catch was Zachary Ford, an acoustic guitar singer/songwriter from here in Houston. He mixed up originals with a few interesting covers, the most notable of which to me was the odd choice of an Ozzy Osbourne cover. "Dreamer," from Ozzy's 2001 album Down to Earth (why do I know these things off the top of my head?), does have just the right "let's take care of mother earth and love each other forever and ever" sort of hippie lyrics to fit in with the festival, it was just slightly odd to hear a folkster playing an Ozzy song. It worked pretty well though. His originals were nice as well. Ultimately though, it served more as ambience for the rest of the happenings at the festival, his performance didn't really capture the audience's attention like later artists would.

After Zachary Ford, there were a few speakers, one speaking of the importance of Harry Belafonte and another to inspire us with a pro-health care reform chant of "HEY HO NOBODY OUT EVERYBODY IN" ad nauseum. One woman came to sing a song but it was hard to hear her because her mic was turned off for some reason. Then came Tyagaraja whose name seemed to double as the name of the frontman of the band and as the name of the band itself. Tyagaraja played the first part of the set by himself playing acoustic guitar and singing. Notably, he spent the entire peformance sitting indian-style with the mic angled down towards him. The folksy solo songs gave way to a more upbeat, jazzy, soul sort of sound when the rest of the band joined in with him. That material interested me far more than the purely acoustic stylings, so I'm interested to hear the album when it comes out. According to Tyagaraja himself, they're tracking that in the studio right now. As for the name and the content of the lyrics, it seemed to be related to a spiritual and religious conversion of the part of the sort of Buddhistly dressed Tyagaraja, though he didn't speak on it too much, choosing to tell everyone to come talk to him after the show if they had questions about it. I didn't get a chance to, which I have to admit I somewhat regret because it seems like it would've been an interesting story.

To fill the next gap between bands, the Brazilian Arts Foundation took over to do a performance of capoeira fight-dancing. It was somewhat interesting, some were better than others, but the message of the performance, according to the leader of the group, was to bring everyone into their circle and have everyone join in to dance, regardless of their race, religion, social status, etc. It's a good message to preach. I would sign up myself but I'm sadly not gifted with limberness.

The next musical performance was by Much Love, a bluesy pub rock band from Austin. Their slower songs reminded me of John Mayer's "Waiting On the World to Change," which works for those of us who couldn't afford to see him that night. The more upbeat ones, carried by saxophone, had a sort of Huey Lewis and the News feel to it, though less dated to the 80's. This was their first show in Houston and it was a good showing. I'm sure they picked up some new fans that day. In keeping with the hippie theme of the festival, they performed barefoot. I tried that and promptly managed to cut my toe, quickly throwing up a sign that that was maybe a bad idea in what wasn't exactly soft terrain.

Around that time it started to get chilly as the sun went down anyway, so shoes went back on along with the addition of sweaters and coats. More than chilly, once it got dark, it felt like December again. Bearing the cold, I stuck around to see Spain Colored Orange. A band I've followed for a while but haven't managed to see until now, I was pretty excited. They ran through a good set of their songs, though it stuck to mostly the same type of songs instead of displaying the diversity of their album. Trumpet driven rock isn't normally my thing, but there's something oddly very enjoyable about Spain Colored Orange. The audience was really into the music for basically the first time of the day, finally crowding around stage. Some of the younger people really got down, dancing all around at the foot of the stage. It was something of a sight to behold. The bizarre way they danced along to the heavy parts of the songs vaguely reminded me of slam dancing at metal shows. Not the sort of thing you expect for a band with a trumpet.

By the time listenlisten took the stage, it was pretty much freezing. Everyone was starting to complain about it, but myself and a modest crowd stayed to see listenlisten do their thing. I should note that I'm a pretty big fan of listenlisten, but like Spain Colored Orange, I've never been able to see them live before. I have all their recordings though and Hymns From Rhodesia was easily in my top ten last year. So despite the cold, I had a big smile on my face the entire set. My only disappointment was that due to technical difficulties, their set was a bit short. The performances of their suicidal folk ballads were spot on, but it seemed that inbetween every song they were trying to fix the mixing of their sound and they kept switching instruments too. It seemed like they had barely even started when they said they only had two songs left. I called out to them halfway through switching up their instruments for the last time that they needed roadies for this sort of thing. It was said with a laugh, but it's sort of true. They didn't get in nearly as many songs as any of the other artists, mainly because of that. Regardless, what they did manage to perform was just as good as I had expected it to be.

Now I have to abandon any professionalism here. I've seen Electric Attitude before and I'm not that big a fan of what they do. So apologies to them and to their fans, but with the cold and all, I decided I really wanted to go home. It was around 8:00 PM and I had been there since around 2:30 PM so I was really ready to go anyway. I'm sure I'll have the chance to catch them again, unless something crazy happened that I missed like the stage exploding or the band breaking up right then and there. I'll choose to believe everything went off without a hitch though.

So how would I rate the Houston Peace Festival overall? Well it was a pretty fun way to kill a Saturday afternoon and it gave me the opportunity to finally catch Spain Colored Orange and listenlisten so I can't complain. I'll be on the lookout for Tyagaraja's album when it's out especially because it seems like they're cooking up something good. I was also happy to support some of the activism that went on there. My name on a petition might not mean much in the grand scheme of things, but every little bit helps, just like the whole "one vote..." thing. It was definitely worth making it out there, even if I am probably the squarest hippie in the world.

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