Alt-country band Hooray for the Riff Raff was a standout at Fortress Festival.EXPAND
Alt-country band Hooray for the Riff Raff was a standout at Fortress Festival.
Roderick Pullum

Fortress Festival Kicks Off the Texas Summer Music Season

For the first weekend in what feels like forever, the weather worked in the favor of music fans seeking outdoor fun and live music.

The familiar scents of sunblock and barbecue welcomed Fortress Festival, Fort Worth’s annual two-day music fest, as music fans from neighboring cities came together in the shadow of Will Rogers Coliseum.

Unlike other music festivals across the country for which this season is known, Fortress Festival seemed organized with distinct musical agendas for each day with a meaningful interplay of music on stages set 100 paces apart from each other.

Saturday’s lineup of artists appeared to be organized with attention to the polarized mix of music each of us carries on our mobile devices. The Wildcatters Network Stage presented a mix of indie rock while the CG Northern stage focused its attention on hip-hop and dance music.

The day got off to a quiet start with the sleepy folk stylings of L.A. artist Bedouine, only to be shaken in an energetic mood on the second stage when Dallas funk-hop darling Cure for Paranoia took the audience by storm. When Cure for Paranoia rapper Cameron McCloud asked the audience how many people had never heard of the group before, half of those in attendance showed that they had not. But that did not stop fans and fans-to-be from singing along to the hook of “Got it Good.”

The energy of the crowd was pacified by the jazz-infused indie rock of Bay Area band Jay Som and lifted up again by the storytelling rhymes of Raleigh rapper Rhapsody, who ended her set with the proud, defiant words, “Put your fists up for everyone that dissed us.”

Things on the Wildcatters stage picked up a bit when the Alabama indie folk group Waxahatchee shed its more mellow past for a raucous set that relaxed toward the end. That energy picked right back up when L.A.’s Chicano Batman got the crowd moving with its funky grooves and smooth bilingual tones.

It was a slow mosey back over the hundred paces to hear the blues driven alt-country of Hooray for the Riff Raff, but the crowd remained five rows deep waiting for the arrival of RZA featuring Stone Mecca.

Those five rows of fans were not disappointed. Although the sound check took an inordinately long time to get all the horns, bass, drums, live tracks and vocalists ready, RZA’s set slowly turned the rest of the festival grounds into a ghost town.

Complete with covers of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Baby I Like it Raw,” the set paid heavy homage to RZA’s time with Wu-Tang Clan, with audience members frequently throwing up that familiar two-handed “W.”

While Shabazz Palaces delighted the crowd with their techno-hop, The Voidz got folks to sing along to a rendition of “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and Chromeo closed with a dance party featuring a stellar light show, the enthusiastic, crowd-engaging performance of hip-hop legends De La Soul stole the show Saturday.

Including a tribute to J Dilla and an almost contract-necessary performance of “Me, Myself, and I,” De La Soul made sure that everyone, including the photographers in the photo pit, participated in the performance with all of their energy. While Pos took the left side of the crowd, Dave took the right side of the crowd in an all-out battle for who could make the most noise throughout the trio’s set, ultimately bringing everyone one together in a hand-waving, hip-hop-loving atmosphere that concluded with Maseo’s signature laugh from Gorillaz’s hit “Feel Good.”

“I’ve been laughing like that my whole career,” Maseo said from the stage, “but I laugh like that now because we’re still here 30 years later.”

As the afternoon breeze blew across the festival grounds for Sunday’s events, the crowd trickled in at a slow, hung-over pace.

While an interplay of genres marked the first day's sets, the second day’s events were organized by a musical exchange between DFW's hottest acts on the Wildcatters stage and mostly national acts on the CG Northern stage.

Dallas’ Midnight Opera kicked things off, however, on the CG Northern stage with an early morning dose of dreamy doom rock while the majority in attendance watched the band from the shade of trees to escape the heat of the midday. Denton’s Pearl Earl picked up on that dreaminess with its synth-haunted acid rock from the Wildcatters stage, gaining energy and getting the audience ready for the flute-backed funk of Fort Worth’s Ronnie Heart, whose Prince-inspired showmanship got the whole crowd dancing.

Then on to fellow Forth Worth musician Andy Pickett, who squeezed an eight-piece band on the tiny stage for his smooth, blues-driven soul dripping with true Texas charm. Pickett’s Texas brand of soul paired well against the Daptone soul of North Carolina singer Lee Fields, who provided vocals for the James Brown biopic Get On Up.

Next came the genre-bending Fort Worth band Henry the Archer. Its mix of ska, jazz and hard rock provided a surprisingly smooth segue into the genre-defying electronic dance rhythms of New England’s tUne-yArDs.

The country-infused rhythms of Dallas’ Vandoliers paved the way for the folksy indie rock of the crowd’s favorite Australian singer, Courtney Barnett. Barnett surprised audiences with a set that took a much harder turn than expected by those only familiar with the track often spun on KXT, the real estate ballad “Depreston.” When she sang that song, the whole crowd sang every word.

The Wildcatters stage came to a close with the slow Southern rock of Dallas’ Texas Gentlemen, leaving fans to witness the indie folk rock of the festival’s main attraction, Father John Misty, who left fans satisfied at the end of a long two days filled with the country’s and DFW’s best artists.

So concluded Fortress Festival’s official launch of summer in North Texas. Well-organized and well-selected, the festival brought fans together for a music festival filled with kindness and respect for one another.

If any festival could bring together bands and fans from three cities with the biggest friendly rivalry when it comes to their music scenes and show how well they sound up against the national sound, this is it.

It will be another year before Fortress Festival brings its magic back to Fort Worth’s Culture District, but when it does, rest assured that the vibe is real and the rhythm will get you.

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