Live music at beer and food festivals is always a risky proposition because the primary focus is on sampling stations. Attendees are often overwhelmed with options, so the performances can easily be relegated to background music that plays out over snack breaks.
When the five-city Untapped Festival took over Fair Park on Saturday, it brought more than 100 local and national breweries and a healthy sampling of DFW-based food vendors. That volume alone promised to overwhelm any concert.
But the folks at Untapped did a nice job of accommodating the music, provided by a dozen bands that spanned three stages. Though at times the music did serve as a diversion for foodies and hopheads making their way around the perimeter of the Cotton Bowl, where the tasting stations were arranged, the diverse performances were well-attended and the musicians themselves were in fine form, playing to audiences outside their core fanbases.
Take Adia Victoria, for example. The South Carolina native and gothic blues purveyor spent a great deal of her allotted 50-minute set meticulously providing background notes on the stories behind several of her hauntingly beautiful songs. Elegantly dressed in a long red and black dress, which she often paused to contain and manage, Victoria spoke passionately about her conflicted religious upbringing, the relationships that inspired some of her most poignant lyrics, and the inspiration she has taken from studying the old blues masters like Robert Johnson.
Anchored by a sharply dressed four-piece backing band, her music is vital and impactful, containing enough punch to rock forcefully, but augmented by enough jazzy soul to mesmerize and soothe, as well. Her placement at the far-end Coop Ale Works sponsored stage attracted a small, but devoted crowd, but one whose enthusiasm failed to drown out a couple of woefully misguided and out-of-place pro-Trumpers who decided to rudely voice their displeasure at Victoria’s early set support for Black Lives Matter and anti-Trump marchers. Victoria seemed prepared for the interruption and handled it with cool grace.
The quieter, more introspective artists seemed most out of place at Untapped. Dallas hip-hop artist -Topic followed Victoria’s set with his richly worded rhymes and smartly arranged beats. His groovy, well-commanded material made for good drinking music; the slow burn of the numbers meshing perfectly with the leisurely tasks of sipping and sampling. However, his music struggled to drown out the hearty chatter of passersby.
Across the grounds on the Lakewood stage, Icelandic indie rock outfit Kaleo performed, riding the wave of success from their No. 1 Billboard alternative rock single, “Way Down We Go." Straddling that fine line between Hozier pop-folk sentimentality and Kings of Leon stadium-rock power balladry, the four-piece aimed high with soaring choruses ably filtered through lead singer’s J.J. Julius Son’s weepy falsetto. Kaleo's music was fine, but a bit underwhelming. Their fans skewed a bit younger than Untapped's general population, and most who wandered over to their set continued on their merry way after a few minutes of listening.
The best acts of the day went all-out in their pursuit of joy. This was true of Lee Fields and the Expressions, one of the early acts to grace the main Lakewood Brewing Stage. They worked up an immediate sweat and brought the early imbibers to their feet with some blistering uptown funk and groove-inflected soul. A festival veteran, Fields howled, yelped, crooned and dropped to his knees as he plowed his way through tunes focused on love, heartbreak and redemption. Like a siren in the night, his James Brown-esque vocals resonated throughout the vast Fair Park grounds, drawing in revelers who wasted no time joining diehard fans for an impromptu dance party.
In a similar vein, Bishop Briggs brought enthusiasm and energy in spades as she and her band whipped the crowd into a frenzy with nearly an hour’s worth of kaleidoscopic material centered around her hit single, “River.” Fluctuating between trippy hip-hop grooves, slinky dance-pop numbers and heartfelt confessionals, the crew served up a raucous set that locked folks in, making it a monumental task to squeeze out of the throng for a refill or a better vantage point.
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Gogol Bordello followed Briggs and continued the party, cramming nearly a dozen assorted figures — everyone from accordion player to violinists to backing vocalists — onto the stage. For a brief time, the scene resembled a honest-to-God Ukrainian beer hall, with listeners chanting hearty lusts, dancing festive jigs, and hoisting their beer glasses high in the air in excitement. Frontman Eugene Hutz barely stopped to catch his breath during the set, but when he occasionally did, he surveyed the assembled crowd and nodded with approval. He came to a beer festival and he conquered.
TV on Radio had the honor of bringing everything to a close. The veteran art-rockers are wrapping up the lengthy tour that has accompanied the late 2014 release of Seeds and are no strangers to either Dallas or festival stages. Their hour-plus set was a study in cool confidence. Singer Tunde Adebimpe and guitarist-vocalist Kyp Malone traded songs and banter freely, while members Dave Sitek, Jaleel Bunton, Japhet Lewis and Dave Smith worked the material over, adding detailed nuance to tracks like “Careful You” and “Golden Age,” clipped precision to “Winter” and “Repetition” and swirling glimmer to “DLZ” and set-closing “Staring at the Sun."
The benefit of being the sole act performing at that time meant there was a sizable crowd — one that wasn’t shy about dancing along and shouting out lyrics and song requests. Adebimpe and Malone pleasantly engaged the crowd, joking about beer recommendations and saluting the raw power of music. In lieu of addressing the political climate, they gently urged folks to love and look out for one another, but the set list conveyed a message, with “Wolf Like Me,” “Happy Idiot," “Lazerray” and “Dancing Choose” performed with intensity.
Untapped will be back next year for its sixth consecutive Dallas appearance.