Fort Worth, whose reputation as a cool city-in-waiting has been on a steady upswing since the early 2000s, cries out for its own signature popular music festival.
Fortress Festival co-founders Alec Jhangiani and Ramtin Nikzad would even expand that notion to include all of North Texas, and it just so happens they have quite a bit of experience with bringing festivals to Cowtown. For eight and six years, respectively, they were the managing directors of the Lone Star Film Society, which puts on the Lone Star Film Fest every year, but now, their gaze turns to filling a different creative void in the region.
“With 7 or 8 million people, the area doesn’t have what we refer to as a centralized music festival landscape, where you have one or two signature events with really diverse lineups that draw in the really big crowd,” Jhangiani said. “There’s definitely a space there to fill.”
To be sure, if Fortress Festival’s weekend of revelry in the Cultural District is to become one of the events that puts Fort Worth and DFW on the map as a legitimate festival destination, it will have to grow into that role. Jhangiani said in its first year, it will likely pull in an audience somewhere between 4,000 to 7,000 four in each of its two days.
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It’s a very different process from running a film festival.
“I think the scale of the music festival and the number of people we’re trying to reach is the biggest difference,” Jhangiani said. “Marketing becomes a whole new thing when you have to try to get 10,000 people to buy into what you’re doing.”
If one of the markers for becoming viable is bringing in eyebrow-raising headliners in year one, the co-founders have already checked that off the list.
Rap’s ferociously conscious Run the Jewels, whose politically charged lyrics have won the hearts and minds of swaths of disaffected 20-somethings the world over, will perform at the end of a day of music Saturday.
Run the Jewels, the collaboration between rappers Killer Mike and El-P, surprise-released its third album, “Run the Jewels 3,” on Christmas Eve. It’s the heavily anticipated follow-up to “Run the Jewels 2,” which carried rap fans through 2015 with some of the most viciously keen cuts this side of Kendrick Lamar.
Meanwhile Canadian electronic duo Purity Ring — the singer-producer duo of Megan James and Corin Roddick — will light up the night with ethereal “future-pop” lullabies Sunday. They’ve been holed up in Edmonton, Alberta, piecing together a start on their third album between one-off shows like Fortress Festival after finishing North American and European tours in support of 2015’s “Another Eternity.”
“Obviously, you’re thrilled to be able to land Run the Jewels,” Nikzad said. “But with their album hitting on Christmas Eve, it’s one of the happy coincidences for us where the timing was really good for fans being able to get familiar with the album just in time to see them at Fortress.”
On their own, Saturday’s and Sunday’s headliners are just the kind of pulse-of-the-moment, artistically relevant artists Fort Worth’s existing venues aren’t equipped to hold. But if a festival like Fortress Fest, with two stages — one set up outside the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and one at Will Rogers Coliseum — were to take root, it could be to the re-establishment of Fort Worth as a great music town.
“The most important thing is demonstrating a demand for this kind of festival, this kind of lineup. Hitting that level of awareness with enough people,” Nikzad said.
“We know it could take a number of years to stake your name and place in the community. We don’t have anything like this in North Texas. We’ll have to build on what we do the first year, year after year.”
Imported and local openers
The headliners aren’t the only eye-catching names on the bill, though. Avant-garde hip-hop producer Flying Lotus will drag a Saturday audience into his underbelly at the Will Rogers stage right before Run the Jewels, and the dreamy rock of British shoegaze veterans Slowdive will play Sunday before Purity Ring.
Peter Hook, the founder and bassist of Joy Division and New Order, and his band The Light will be Sunday’s last act at the smaller Modern Stage. They’ve have been known to perform Joy Division or New Order albums in full while on tour.
But Fortress Fest’s first year has a local angle as well. DFW hip-hop luminaries Sam Lao, Blue the Misfit, Bobby Sessions, -topic and Cure for Paranoia will be a part of the festival’s inaugural go-round.
Ronnie Heart will add his funky, Prince-inspired sound to open Saturday, and Fort Worth post-punkers The Burning Hotels will play the Modern stage as afternoon turns to evening. Sudie’s synth-driven laments and the The Quaker City Night Hawks’ channeling of Creedence Clearwater Revival form a diverse local triangle with -topic early Sunday afternoon.
But one of the most interesting acts hails from Austin. Beware the demigorgon as SURVIVE, the experimental synthwave quartet behind the eerie soundtrack of the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things,” will wrap things up on the Modern Stage on Saturday.
More than music
For all their lofty goals surrounding the music they hope to keep bringing to town, the festival’s venue — especially the Modern — will give Fortress Fest a certain visual, multimedia effect that goes hand in hand with artists like SURVIVE and Sudie.
The Modern’s regular galleries will remain open for festival pass holders during all performances. As well, the museum will be an active participant as more than just an architectural backdrop to the second stage, which will be elevated atop the reflecting pool. To get to the stage, which Jhangiani and Nikzad said could play to an audience of around 2,000, festivalgoers will be ushered through the museum’s Café Modern and back out again to the lawn area.
Since capacity at the Will Rogers stage is bigger, both days’ headliners will play there, with West Lancaster Avenue, between Will Rogers Road West and Van Cliburn Way, open only to foot traffic between the two stages.
Food trucks will be set up along this route. . Some restaurants represented at the festival will be Salsa Limon, Shawarma Point and Cannon Chinese Kitchen, as well as various juice, coffee and ice pops options. There will also be a designated yoga area near the Modern Stage.
To Jhangiani and Nikzad, the immersive experience of the art and the festival’s additional features are key to what they’re offering as Fortress Festival looks to establish itself and music fans decide where to put their festival-going dollar.
“Our entire value proposition is an experience,” Jhangiani said. “If anything, we want to do something unique and representative of Fort Worth, but not all of the things everybody already knows about the city.”
“Part of it is also the sense of community we hope to foster,” Nikzad said. “You can see these bands, but you can have this very visual experience on top of the music at the same time. There’s a lot to build on, and we hope to make it all a part of what makes Fortress Festival one of the best weekends of the year.”
Matthew Martinez: 817-390-7667; @MCTinez817
3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Fort Worth Cultural District, between the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and Will Rogers Auditorium
$80 per day, $125 two-day pass
Fortress Festival schedule
Will Rogers Stage: Ronnie Heart (3 p.m.), Bobby Sessions (4:15 p.m.), Blue the Misfit (5:30 p.m.), Houndmouth (6:45 p.m.), Flying Lotus (8:30 p.m.), Run the Jewels (10 p.m.)
The Modern Stage: Cure for Paranoia (3:45 p.m.), Sam Lao (5 p.m.), Burning Hotels (6:15 p.m.), Wolf Parade (7:30 p.m.), SURVIVE (9 p.m.)
Will Rogers Stage: -topic (3 p.m.), Dengue Fever (4 p.m.), Quaker City Night Hawks (5:15 p.m.), Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats (6:30 p.m.), Slowdive (8 p.m.), Purity Ring (9:30 p.m.)
The Modern Stage: Sudie (3:30 p.m.), Golden Dawn Arkestra (4:45 p.m.), Whitney (6 p.m.), Always (7:30 p.m.), Peter Hook & the Light (9 p.m.)