The moment when a festival lineup is revealed is always an exciting one. It's a split second that's rife with anticipation, and it can be downright exuberant if it contains unexpected surprises and bucket-list bookings. Conversely, that moment of concert-going epiphany can quickly be deflated if the reality is that certain hoped-for bands won't be playing. Once the initial chatter dies down, however, real music lovers know to dig deeper into the bands whose names get printed in the smaller fonts beneath the marquee acts, for the best festivals are invariably chock-full of hidden gems and little-known up-and-comers.
This year's Fort Worth Music Festival again boasts a great top-of-bill, big-lettered roster. Lucinda Williams, Jimmy Eat World and Billy Gibbons of ZZ-freaking-Top will no doubt draw the festival's largest crowds when they take one of the two stages at Panther Island Pavilion, with the skyline of Fort Worth as their backdrop. But it would be a monumental mistake to show up too late to catch what will be some of the best sets of the festival, regardless of how low the bands' names were placed on the show's poster.
With that in mind, here are five non-headlining acts that will be worth showing up early for this weekend.
Patriot (Friday 4:50 p.m.): In an astute plan to provide each of the two festival days with its own sonic theme, Friday is unquestionably the day Fort Worth gets to have its roots-rock itch scratched, and scratched pretty aggressively at that. Among those performing the first night, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Justin Townes Earle are definite no-brainers. In fact, their back-to-back scheduling is pure Americana-vana. Then again, while both are more than worthy of our time, they're also as familiar with us as we are with them, thanks to the metroplex being such a welcoming environment for the roadhouse folk-rockers of the world. It's never a smart idea to miss Dallas-based troubadour Ronnie Fauss, either, who kicks the day off just as happy hour begins. But after him, Fort Worth-based Patriot get to show off their weathered, mystical crafts.
Even with a band name that recalls the redneck mainstream pap that fills most airwaves, Jake Paleshic and crew -- who recently recorded a full-length debut that's due to be released this fall -- are as far from bro-country or what passes for standard Texas country as they could possibly be. With nourishing country-Western arrangements enveloping his ghostly voice, which echoes the haunting upper registers of Roy Orbison, Paleshic showcases a vivid storytelling style that favors imaginative portraits and well-structured philosophical ponderings over geographical pandering.
Foxtrot Uniform (Saturday 2 p.m.): Originally a no-frills, two-piece blues-based rock outfit, it would've been easy if lazy to compare Texas music vets Kenny Uptain and Kelly Test's duo to the Black Keys or the White Stripes. Such easy tagging has now become impossible as the band has grown from those bare-boned beginnings into a fully fleshed-out and righteously powerful five-piece. Nowadays they're a balls-out rock band with soul to spare. 2012's Huj! Huj! Hajra!, recorded by the original two in Test's living room, is indeed a fun collection of meat-and-potatoes rock with an R&B groove that often wafts around the perimeters of the songs. Their soulful, Otis Redding-like "Top of the World" even earned them some radio airplay around town. But it was with the welcoming of Zack Busby of Descender, Robbie Saunders of Venetian Sailors and singer-songwriter Katie Robertson that the band took its currently robust, rocking shape.
Ice Eater (Saturday 2:20 p.m.): Fort Worth Weekly once wrote that Ice Eater, the every-kind-of-rock-plus-the-kitchen-sink collective fronted by lead singer James Jardine, "Isn't a very Fort Worth-ish band." We don't know what that means, but we do know this is a five-piece that's as dynamic and commanding as any live rock act in our area today. While keys and electronics are intricately, and often bombastically, employed in their anthemic soundscapes, Ice Eater will shred their guitars and shoegaze with the loudest of them as well. The group's 2013 record, Don't Care, is so forcefully engaging that images and colors infiltrate your psyche, with or without permission. Out of all the acts performing in the sun-soaked midday slots, Ice Eater is the band we'd love to see in a late-night hour, when lasers and colorful lights might illuminate those visions more vividly.
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TEAM* (Saturday 4:40 p.m.): The newest project from Caleb Turman, vocalist and guitarist for the are-they-together-or-aren't-they pop-punk outfit Forever the Sickest Kids, and fellow Sickest Kid guitarist Rico Garcia shows off a more indie-riffic side to their pop proficiency. The group's debut full-length, Good Morning, Bad Day, is a sun-kissed good time with some Afrobeat flavors peppering the tunes up a tad at various points. Given the core members' radio-friendly origins, it's not surprising that TEAM* just finished playing a few shows with 1990s alt-rock heroes Third Eye Blind. Don't hold that against them, though, for the strength of their recorded output, including an EP from last year, is worthy of more than a mere "side project" label.
Aaron Behrens and the Midnight Stroll (Saturday 6:50 p.m.): As one-half of the Austin-based electro-dance-rock outfit Ghostland Observatory, lead singer Aaron Behrens proves he can strip things down quite well. That isn't only apparent in the shearing off of his trademark Willie Nelson-style braids, but also in his new group's more traditional approach to full-band rock and roll. While the group doesn't have a debut full-length album out just yet, it's not a shock that a guy from one of Austin's most popular musical exports of recent years still has sharp performance chops on the ready.
In much of the Midnight Stroll's music, a slow burn flickers ominously, eventually exploding as the tunes give in to the frontman's magnetic presence. Behrens' impeccable sense of drama can still be heard in the way he wraps his haunting vocals around the guitars, much the same way that colorful keyboard bursts and ass-shaking beats used to do when he dwelt in Ghostland.
Fort Worth Music Festival takes place at 3:30 p.m. Friday, May 16, and 1 p.m. Saturday, May 17, at Panther Island Pavilion, 395 Purcey St., Fort Worth, fwfest.com