For a laid-back suburban shindig just off the highway, Richardson's Wildflower Arts & Music Festival offers a lot more time-wasting options than you'd expect. Taking over the town's Galatyn Park complex, the annual event wraps up its 2015 edition tonight, and its vibe is that of three festivals in one.
A one-day family vacay
With activities and mini-stages set up in the streets and alleys surrounding the main stage area, it was possible for youngsters and their folks to entertain themselves for hours, even if they didn't take in a headlining music set. The organized chaos of a super-size Kidz Korner area offered a petting zoo, a butterfly habitat, a rock wall, craft stations and a mini karaoke stage. Of course, we couldn't fault the parents and kids who passed by all that and opted to play Frisbee or catch on the lawn facing the big stage.
We bobbed and weaved our way through a crowded scene dubbed Performance Row, offering exhibitions and performances from area dance teams, gymnastic troupes, drum lines and theatre companies. At one point, there were performers bouncing up and down on trampolines. We're exhausted just thinking about it.
A mouth-watering marketplace
Wildflower crammed as many food and merchant booths into its streets and stage areas as possible. There seemed to be an entire segment of the festgoing crowd who showed up simply to walk around, eat and shop.
Shoppers found the usual festival suspects -- jewelry, sun hats, art guitars, T-shirts and posters. But the hungry and thirsty might have had a harder time narrowing down their selections. In addition to corn dogs, funnel cakes, popcorn and ice cream there were endless booths and trucks devoted to regional and international flavors -- everything from barbecue sandwiches to noodle bowls. (Anyone who braved the chicken-fried meatloaf on Saturday might want to take it easy today. Go for a salad.)
A music marathon
The biggest draw of Wildflower was its multifaceted lineup, which aimed to please listeners of all ages and passion levels. More than 35 acts were spread across six different stages on Saturday. Inside the Eisemann Center, singer-songwriters such as Carrie Elkin and Cliff Eberhardt performed intimate sets, while less experienced troubadours were forced to contend with distracted fest-goers on smaller outdoor stages. Scheduled sets from the 1990s throwbacks Tonic, Fuel and Everclear drew fans in their 30s and 40s over to the North Central Ford Stage for the evening.
We spent a good chunk of time Saturday afternoon on the main-stage lawn, with thousands in chairs and on blankets. As folks around made their way back and forth to the beer garden, a couple of Texas rock bands warmed up the crowd. Dallas four-piece the Roomsounds kicked out a nice brew of straight-ahead rock and country. Austin two-piece Sideshow Tragedy took a bluesier, Black-Keys-like approach. Both formulas were good fits for the festival crowd.
We ended our Wildflower experience with the main-stage set by Leon Russell, a legendary Oklahoma singer-songwriter who has lost none of his vocal charm. And the 73-year-old still possesses his unique sense of style -- he walked on stage with a white hat, coat and cane to perfectly match his long beard and piano.
Yet his performance couldn't be considered anything but colorful. From its covers of Ray Charles and Dylan to a boogie-worthy take on "Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms," Russell's honky-tonk piano and vocal personality seemed to pull hundreds away from everything else that was going on Saturday.
And, as we said, there was a lot going on.