North Texans really like beer. A short drive around these parts will reveal a plethora of independent breweries, craft beer stores and bottle shops featuring the best and latest creations being developed and issued. The only thing close to edging out our love of beer is our love of live music, which makes Dallas a prime spot for a two-day event celebrating both.
That’s what the folks behind Untapped Festival have thrown for the past five years. This year’s event, held Saturday at Fair Park, is one of the most ambitious yet, with a dozen bands and over 100 local and national breweries featuring over 400 of their finest craft selections. These stats make the festival one of the largest in scale and scope anywhere in the country.
Resist the urge to chug your beer samples, and instead sip slowly as you listen to the various craftsmen explain their tools to the trade, all set to a soundtrack provided by a smartly curated lineup of musical acts. Untapped has again upped the ante from years past by setting up three stages of local and national performers this time around.
From the haunting gothic blues of Adia Victoria to the gypsy punk swing of Gogol Bordello to the pulsating art rock of headliners TV on the Radio, the festival will provide an eclectic range of sounds and musical styles. There’s enough music around to afford those in attendance the opportunity to drift in and out between refills, but folks would be wise to stay put for a couple of the main performers.
One particularly worthy of your attention is Lee Fields, a soul-funk singer who currently bangs out raucously bombastic tunes with his backing band, the Expressions. A national festival favorite, Fields has been at this game for over 40 years, expertly mining the sweet spots between James Brown funk swagger, Kool and the Gang festive celebration and Marvin Gaye sensual crooning.
More prolific than ever over the past decade, Fields and the Expressions are back out on the road behind their new album, Special Night, a 10-track bundle of joy that nurtures and accentuates Fields’ strengths while also lending a much needed message of positivity and togetherness. In advance of his 4:45 p.m. Untapped set time, Fields took time to speak with the Observer about playing festivals, the ideas behind the new album and his love for beer.
Observer: You’ve been a pretty big draw on the festival circuit over the past couple of years. Do you enjoy playing these kinds of shows?
Fields: It’s good for me all the way around. It’s great for me when I can touch the hearts of the people and words cannot explain the good feelings I receive back from the people. I could take all day looking through Webster’s Dictionary and I wouldn’t find a word to describe how good I feel.
Do you find it hard to narrow down some of your material into the 45 to 50 minute set times that festivals allow for artists?
Of course I would like to expand in regards to time allowed onstage. But I understand the restrictions that they have in regards to allowing so many artists to play in one day. Most of the time I wish I could stay up there a little longer, but I try to make sure I don’t run above the allotted time. I just have to work a little harder to make sure I can give the people everything that I can.
It’s actually exciting. These festivals have to be run like a business. Before I go on, they say, "Lee, don’t be on for so long!" Then I get to that allotted time and I think, "Man, I can keep going longer!" But then the other side of me says, "Nah, don’t do that. Be fair to the other artists and cooperate." I don’t wanna go, but I’ve got to abide by the laws like everyone else has to.
Untapped Festival is also a major beer festival. Are you a beer fan?
Yes. I love beer. I love love love love love love love beer. I’ll be at the right festival, for sure. However, before I go onstage, I will limit my consumption. I might drink one before I go on because what’s most important is giving the crowd all that I can. I’ll have one and then there will be a little voice inside me that says, "Come on, Lee. Have another!" But, I can’t do that. I’ve got to focus before the show and then afterwards I can sample.
You keep a pretty robust touring schedule each year. What keeps you going?
The people. People come to shows to forget about things and get to that place of total bliss. The Expressions and I have a job and that is to take people to that special place, like James Joyce said, "Where words don’t go." I call that place euphoria; the place where you feel so much joy for certain moments. You can’t stay there. You won’t come back and you’ll be walking around like a zombie. That’s not good. We go there for moments like that during concerts, and then we can forget about our troubles and later reminiscence about how good those times were.
Well, you certainly do give it your all and people can definitely get to “that place” at your live shows.
Thank you. You see, I think we humans are sometimes like computers and if the program is working long and slow, the best thing to do is shut it down and reboot. I consider going to that place of euphoria as like a rebooting process for humans. When people leave, they can hopefully feel fresh and re-energized. We, as a band, certainly feel that way.
You’ve got a new album out now called Special Night and the reviews have been great. I’m sure you’ll be playing a few tracks from the new one at Untapped.
Yes! We will be playing some tunes from the new one. I stood back one day as we started making this album and thought about where we are as a collection of human beings around the planet. There are songs on this album that apply to the times we are experiencing now. I said I was going to make this album human-to-human. At this moment in time, we are all confounded and confused.
You hear people talking about jobs and money and stress. And then there are all the computers and technology — what I call “artificial intelligence." People interact with that more than with each other. The Expressions and I decided to write an album about human situations. I hope maybe it can be a small catalyst to get human beings to start interacting more with other humans instead of being so involved with technology and money.
Your show at Untapped will be taking place a couple of days after the presidential election. Will you find it necessary to say something about the election results or might that put a damper on the proceedings?
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I let the music speak for itself. I’m not a political guy. I know who I am going to vote for, but I’m not a person to banter with others about their choices. I spent my whole life writing songs and helping people learn to love each other. In terms of the political climate, I’ve found this particular election very disappointing. It’s been about seeing how low people can go, which is sad because I think the American people are better than that. I’m hoping we learn from this one, and hope that the next election that comes around becomes more about the issues and more about adults behaving like adults.
Before we go, is there anything special that you’re looking forward to experiencing down here in Dallas?
I love Dallas and I love Texas. Don’t be surprised if I end up as a resident down there one day. Dallas has great food, great drinks and great people. It’s full of love and I always feel so good playing for the people down there. When my tour manager tells me we’re playing down there, I wanna jump in the van and go right away.
Untapped Festival takes place Saturday, Nov. 12, at Fair Park, 1300 Robert B. Cullum Blvd. Tickets start at $39 at untapped-festival.com.