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Leon Bridges stole the show at his native Fort Worth's Fortress Fest.
Leon Bridges stole the show at his native Fort Worth's Fortress Fest.
Christopher Durbin

Leon Bridges Steals the Show at His Hometown’s Own Fortress Festival

Now in its third year, Fort Worth’s nationally recognized music festival had a lot of work to do to beat its sophomore year, and though the start was rough, the finish was worth the wait.

The two-day festival, known for its eclectic lineups, kicked off Saturday on somewhat of a monotone note with three similar, local hip-hop artists: Cardiac the Ghost, Adrian Stresow and Solar Slim.

Dallas’ Cardiac the Ghost seemed frustrated with his opening spot and lashed out at the small Saturday morning audience, leaving several audience members wondering if his attitude was part of the act or if he was really trying to upset them.

Things began to mellow out as the music diversified with DFW psych-rockers The Cush, who took to the Seagram’s 7 Stage.

Bobby Sessions added a good dose of politics to the day’s musical affairs with a theatrical a cappella performance of “Like Me.” Sessions also welcomed fellow Dallas artist Keite Young of Medicine Man Revival onstage for his performance of “The Hate U Give,” from the movie of the same title.

Before leaving the stage, Sessions led the crowd in singing happy birthday to his mother, whom he had missed while on tour.

The energy really picked up in the late afternoon, with the funky soul of Medicine Man Revival, the sultry pop/r&b of Tinashe and the tropical fusion of Gio Cahmba.

That energy reached its peak when the Tupelo rap duo Rae Sremmurd sent shock waves through the crowd surrounding the Dickies main stage. For what had been a day of slow-building intensity, the duo engaged even the most discerning of rap fans and got everybody moving.

Austin’s The Bright Light Social Hour brought the energy down a bit in the day’s penultimate performance with their slow, crunchy grooves.

Though headliners will arguably always be the best remembered part of a festival day, Chvrches absolutely brought down the house.

Among the most memorable parts of the set was singer Lauren Mayberry’s response to Chris Brown’s recent Instagram attacks and subsequent death threats from his fans calling out their mutual collaborator Marshmello for choosing to tacitly endorse his abusive behavior.

“Chvrches is a band, Chvrches is a business, Chvrches is a brand that people can buy into, and it has to be honest,” Mayberry said. “And we would be really hypocritical if we worked with somebody, and didn’t say anything about what they did.”

As the band closed its set, a freak rainstorm blew through the festival grounds, washing out a rather rocky opening day. Where Saturday had been a day built on monotonous starts and slow-building energy, Sunday was a day of smooth sailing.

Winners of the festival’s fan vote Meach Pango, kicked the day off right with an excitement that got the groove going early and was seamlessly continued by Luna Luna.

Austin rap duo Blackillac gave one of the festival's most surprisingly crowd-pleasing performances. The group had just returned from Boston that morning where one member, Franchise, had apparently fallen and hit his head. Although they were functioning on little sleep, the group got the crowd moving and participating in a set filled with humor and slick rhymes.

Fort Worth’s own War Party used their blistering final performance as a band to not only say goodbye to the band and its fans, but used the opportunity to encourage people to vote in the upcoming City Council elections.

The music got absolutely crazy between Superorganism, Sailor Poon, and Tank and the Bangas – each of these female-fronted bands is known for their unconventional instrumentation and fearless leadership. Pearl Earl drummer Bailey Chapman joined Sailor Poon’s set to give the performance just a bit more kick.

Rae Sremmurd at Fortress Fest sent shock waves through The Dixie Chicks' crowd.EXPAND
Rae Sremmurd at Fortress Fest sent shock waves through The Dixie Chicks' crowd.
Christopher Durbin

In anticipation of the night’s closer, things took a more mellow turn in the evening with country band Red Shahan, the Thai funk of Houston’s Khruangbin, and indie hip-hop artist Abhi the Nomad. It's pretty common to see people sitting in common areas at festivals, even during the bigger acts' performances. This was not the case when Fort Worth’s recent Grammy-winning hometown hero made his triumphant return home.

Everyone was there to see Leon Bridges, and he did not leave them wanting more as he bucked the 10 o'clock curfew and played an additional 30 minutes for a set that covered all of the fans’ favorites, including an upbeat, rock-heavy performance of “Smooth Sailin’” and an intimate jam session for “Georgia to Texas.”

Humbled by the hometown love, Bridges took the time to honor the people who got him to where he is today, like Sam Anderson of Quaker City Nighthawks.

With a one-song encore, Bridges closed out a beautiful night and two-day festival with the style and grace he is known to hit with, making up for any bad, bad news.

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