As rock radio mainstays Jimmy Eat World ran through their albums at Fort Worth Music Festival on Saturday, a man in his 50s wearing a Suicide Girls T-shirt looked on as a group of thirtysomethings danced and relived their youth. Close by some college kids took breaks from dancing to drink heavily from cups filled with Rahr and Sons' trademark Blonde beer. All of this happened with the Fort Worth skyline looming over a stage adorned with a Shiner banner and two inflatable Shiner bottles slowly swaying in the night's breeze, almost perfectly in sync with the music coming from the stage.
It would be unfair to say a festival in its fourth year is just hitting its stride, but it feels like the Fort Worth Music Festival has finally found itself after kicking off as a small arts and music fest in 2011, surviving the torrential downpour of 2012 and making the move from the Will Rogers Memorial Center to Panther Island Pavilion last year.
Much of this is due to the partnership of fest extraordinaires Spune and Texas country music booking impresario Marsha Milam Music. Spune's indie-leaning booking and Milam's country work blended together over the weekend to give Fort Worth a taste of the best of both worlds. This is inherently Fort Worth, a fest that's part Cowtown, part Funkytown and all charming bars named after birds.
While Friday's country-leaning opening night did well, it was Saturday's youth-tinged lineup that had the crowds out in droves. A cast of locals carried the fest through most of Saturday, but Ghostland Observatory lead singer Aaron Behrens and his new band the Midnight Stroll set the tone for the evening. Behrens' trademark hair braids have been replaced by a more mature and conservative cut, and you could say his music matured with his hair. Far away from the DayGlo-tinged electric pulse of Ghostland, the Midnight Stroll straddles a line between psychedelia and the thumpy Texas rock 'n' roll that popped up around the Cosmic Cowboy scene of the '70s.
Not even the most Jimmy Kimmel Live band of all time, the Airborne Toxic Event, and their schmaltzy, ready-for-the-State Fair-circuit set could change the mood of the crowd who politely cheered an extended drum solo, and what may have been the worst rendition of "I Fought The Law" performed. It seemed there was even enough beer flowing to get some people dancing.
Luckily indie-poppers Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. delivered their usual excellent set, diving into their bag of covers to perform 4 Non-Blondes' "What's Up" and their usual cover of the Beach Boy's "God Only Knows." The duo has been on a steady rise since their EP debuted in 2010, and the large crowd dancing in front of the stage bodes well for their next few trips through the region. Be prepared for much larger crowds as their October release, The Speed of Things, picks up fans and critical praise.
As the fans crowded the main stage area, KDGE-FM 102.1 The Edge's Mark Schetman took the spotlight to introduce Jimmy Eat World, remarking that college Mark never thought adult Mark would have the opportunity to do something so cool. Adding to the air of nostalgia was a large number of fans in their early 30s who could sing along to every song the band played; the whole affair felt like the region's biggest college reunion. It was as if we were living a 2014 re-make of The Big Chill.
After working through most of their new material and brief set break, Jimmy Eat World came back out and delved into their biggest albums, Clarity and Bleed American, closing out the night with the hits "A Praise Chorus" and "The Middle," which the crowd sang almost as loudly as the band.
As the festival wound down to its close, many made the trek from Panther Island Pavilion to their cars across a bridge that stands over the Trinity River, smiling and saying, "Can't wait for next year." With the way the fest keeps growing and the people behind it, it's hard to argue with their enthusiasm.