As news broke of the incredible mess at Fyre Festival, another first-time festival beginning with the letter F was about to launch.
Fortress Festival's organizers were surely hoping their own infant festival would avoid the social media-fueled death the infamous Bahamian mirage endured. (It did.)
Busting a proactive move on Friday, Fortress Fest organizers announced gates wouldn't open until 5 p.m. on Saturday, two hours behind its scheduled 3 p.m. start, because of potential rain. But aside from a few slight sprinkle drops and some testy gusts of wind, the weather indeed held out.
Seeing more than a dozen bands in two evenings left me with a few feelings:
Logistics were tough
Even without serious crowd congestion, getting around the festival was tedious, as the two stages were located about a half-mile apart in Fort Worth's Cultural District. And since the area is a functioning commercial neighborhood — not in a typical, insular park or festival venue — alcoholic beverages were not allowed for travel between stages. Add multiple bag checks combined with stops for the scanning of each attendee's RFID-powered wristband, and the experience wasn't perfect.
That trek from the smaller Modern stage back to the large Will Rogers stage was a chore: Yards away from the lawn of the main stage, we were forced to make a crazy loop up along Lancaster Avenue, and then back around through the main festival gates.
But that was the worst of it, really. These logistical oddities never caused any massive congestion or resulted in an unsightly disruption. Lines were manageable for beer, merch and restrooms, and even the most claustrophobic attendee probably felt calm throughout the weekend.
All killer, no filler
More than any other aspect, the talent booking was the reason this festival brimmed with promise. Indeed, the headliners were worthy, but the middle meat of the lineup was no less impressive.
Southern roots-rock band Houndmouth, Canadian indie group Wolf Parade and local-boys-turned-swaggering-nationally-touring-heroes Quaker City Night Hawks proved to be invaluable parts of this festival's puzzle.
The sets from dream-pop band Alvvays and Austin-based "Stranger Things" synth unit S U R V I V E were delayed by tech issues on the Modern stage, which was gracefully situated in the museum's picturesque reflecting pool. But both of those bands, along with adored locals including Sam Lao; Blue, the Misfit; and the Burning Hotels gave the festival true substance.
Headliners as art
Nestled in the iconic Cultural District and partnering with the Modern — with headliners as visually artful as Run the Jewels, Flying Lotus, Nathaniel Rateliff, Slowdive and Purity Ring — went well beyond simply making sense. Each of the marquee sets felt like individual art installations, worthy of being admired aesthetically as much as aurally.
Sad folkie-turned-sweaty soul man Rateliff led an eight-person horn-heavy collection, including Fort Worth's own Jeff Dazey on sax. And what this set lacked in electronic visual effects, it made up for in revue-style showmanship, with matching embroidered black jackets and casually choreographed grooves.
Insurgent hip-hop duo Run the Jewels performed in between massive inflatables depicting their trademark jewel thief hand symbol. Charismatically bouncing around the stage in front of their DJ, Killer Mike and El-P closed out Saturday night in a fiery way that proved they're every bit the commanding performers as current hip-hop arena-fillers Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Kanye West.
The large digital screen on the back of the main stage was a fine component for performers playing after sunset. Though British shoegaze pioneers Slowdive, performing in North Texas for the first time since the early '90s, began at dusk, the post-nightfall swirl of lights and resplendent visuals lent even more dreaminess to the layered lushness many attempt but few can duplicate.
Experimental electronic producer Steven Ellison, better known as Flying Lotus, and Sunday night headliners Purity Ring brought the most visually stunning overall performances. Beginning just after dark, fest favorite Flying Lotus twisted and tweaked knobs from his DJ stand, which was situated between the stage's giant digital screen and a transparent screen on the front. Colorful and imaginative images and designs provided thrilling companionship to his tracks. It hopefully wasn't lost on the crowd when Ellison thanked his "visual crew" as he said goodbye.
To bring the fest to a windy close under a clear, coal black sky, Canadian electro-pop duo Purity Ring offered the weekend's grandest combination of sound and vision. The combo of Megan James' pristine, piercing vocals and Corin Roddick's ability to weave pop bursts with psychedelic flourishes and retro flair was enjoyable enough. But add that to hundreds of lengthy light bulb-dotted strands hanging from the top of the stage and the light presentation that came with it all, and the festival's first edition came to a gorgeous, triumphant close.