Under a chilly and sometimes sprinkling sheet of grey Fort Worth sky that turned stout black sooner than usual, the second edition of Untapped Fort Worth successfully kept its attendees spirits high with quality ales and well-crafted musical performances. The several food trucks on-hand even lent the event some warmth in the form of hot deliciousness (most notably, the goat cheese and strawberry jam-laden Sweet and Lowdown burgers from the always excellent Easy Slider truck).
While the crowd was certainly smaller than usual due to the inclement temps, an intimacy was evident -- a rarity for a sizable festival -- given that everyone who was there, especially after 7pm, when the chill offered more bite, truly wanted to be there. Maybe it was because they couldn't get enough beer (understandable), or, perhaps there wasn't an act that could be missed, but Saturday night's festive spirit at Panther Island Pavilion, just outside of downtown Fort Worth, proffered an emotional glow not even a blazing sun would've been capable of providing.
Let's talk beer first. Southern Tier's (Lakewood, NY) Crème Brûlée Stout was every bit as rich and delectable as it sounds while Real Ale's (Blanco, TX) special tapping of Codex Triplex boasted a bright, pleasantly sour splash. Plenty of tasty sunset-tinted brews made their presence felt as new-to-North Texas Odell Brewing's (Fort Collins, CO) Runoff Red and 90 Schilling both satisfied and the Tongue Buckler Imperial Red from Ballast Point (San Diego, CA) might be better than the brewery's stunning Sculpin IPA, which is as fine of a West Coast IPA as there is.
Hell, even the cider was solid. Angry Orchard's (Cincinnati, OH) Cinnful cider was clean, tart and nowhere near as sweet as most of the stouts being offered. But as delightful as the liquid selection were, the music wouldn't be denied.
From beginning to end, the performances were spot-on, which is remarkable, since few would've blamed any of the bands for having an off night when the outdoor conditions were obviously less than ideal. But it seemed that the enthusiasm of the crowd powered the wide-array of artists. The meat and potatoes southern jam-rock of local boys Quaker City Nighthawks didn't shrink as a light sprinkling of rain drizzled for a good chunk of its set.
The electronically-backed People Under the Stairs were on-point and jubilant while the scruffy dudes of the Felice Brothers sent out a punchier set than they've shown in this area during previous tours. Perhaps the weather helped them pick up the beat a bit, and their signature songs, "Whiskey in My Whiskey," and "Frankie's Gun," were both ratcheted up in the tempo department, but not to the detriment of the two tunes, as the kicked-up versions became rowdy sing-alongs, which is needed at any Beer Festival, regardless of the weather.
It was also unsurprising to see the Joy Formidable convincingly tear through an hour-long set to end the night. The Welsh trio blazed with fuzzy reverb through a dozen of their best songs from both critically acclaimed albums in their repertoire. Opening with "This Ladder is Ours" from last year's Wolf's Law and closing with the fan-favorite, "Whirring," their intense brand of joyful stage-burning was a great way to end the evening indeed.
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The Brooklyn-based Indie-pop act Lucius and soul-hippie Allen Stone from Washington were the two acts whose music styles seemed to be most ripe for a less than successful night. But, as with the other bands, both acts more than rose to the occasion, emoting positive vibes in droves from the stages they performed on. Lucius, who received many rightful accolades for last year's Wildewoman, rely on a delicate blend of almost-cloying vocals and an overall precious structure of sunny pop that often draws comparisons to the bet of the so-called "girl-groups" from the 1960s.
But the always identically-dressed Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, backed by guitar, bass and an active percussionist, stomped in-rhythm as their harmonies were bolder than they are on-record yet retaining their inherent sweetness. Perhaps the quietest tune of the entire festival, "Go, Home," was powerfully nailed to perfection as slowing things down was fine, as it was done so with a wonderful sense of harmonic drama.
Stone, another excellent signing of ATO Records, hopped on the festival's slightly smaller stage across the grounds just after Lucius finished. Smiling as he wiggled and writhed through a passionate set of his R&B-flavored tunes, there were plenty of fans packed towards the stage, singing along with each word. Again, it would've been tough to blame the shaggy-haired Stone and his excellent band of getting in and getting out as quickly, and as sourly, as possible, but that clearly wasn't in the unit's plan. Each song Stone sang was made more robust by a duo of organists, with some extra funk getting laid down regularly by his lead guitar player, who stood near the back of the stage, barely visible to some of the crowd.
With a thriving craft-beer scene in North Texas continuing to grow, it's beyond impressive that a festival filled with so many great beers offered tunes that matched the suds cup for cup, note for note. Being able to capably please the discerning beer fan (read: craft beer snob) while simultaneously thrilling the indie hipster residing within most of us, whether we want to admit it or not, isn't an easy task. But Untapped Fort Worth, in conditions that surely made happiness tougher to achieve, made it seem as though it was just another day in Beer-vana.