It’s getting to be a thing.
This year, the annual celebration of Texas music — kicking off Saturday at 11 a.m. at Main Street Garden Park — includes two bands from Houston with forceful female vocalists and a cool sense of pop history: The Suffers’ Kam Franklin and Wild Moccasins’ Zahira Gutierrez.
All that’s missing is an appearance from remarkable 14-year-old Houstonian Vin Zeal, whose folk/hip-hop blend is wise beyond her teenage years. There’s definitely something in the bayou water down there beyond petrochemicals.
“Five years ago, there weren’t this many female-fronted bands [in Houston],” says Franklin, by phone from Houston. “Now, the ones that are getting attention are those female-fronted bands … It may be just coincidence but I’m glad it’s happening.”
If the Tontons mesh Blondie and Anita Baker, and Wild Mocassins channel ’80s acts like Siouxie & the Banshees and Berlin, the 10-piece Suffers dig deeper into the musical closet, rummaging through jazz, soul and classic reggae and topping it with Franklin’s dynamic vocals. Take, for example, their showstopping, near-eight minute soul ballad Giver, which is equal parts Mavis Staples and Tower of Power. It will no doubt be a highlight on the debut album, Make Some Room, when it drops in September.
“I started singing when I was five at church and with my family,” Franklin, 26, recalls. “My 5-year-old self never imagined turning it into anything. I was obsessed with Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.”
She’s also a fan of country music, having sung with Americana vocalist Hayes Carll, Houston’s indie/bluegrass outfit Sideshow Tramps, and counts herself a huge Dolly Parton fan.
“I am just enamored with her,” Franklin says. “She is one of the most incredible singers I’ve ever heard and an incredible instrumentalist. She plays almost as many instruments as Prince.”
Franklin has been a mainstay on the Houston scene and her reputation has gone global: She toured with the London-based Afro-British worldbeat project The Very Best.
But the Suffers may be her biggest ticket out of relative obscurity. The group came together in 2011 when bassist Adam Castaneda and singer/keyboardist Pat Kelly decided they wanted to put together more of a classic, big soul band project.
“We’ve all known each other pretty much for the majority of our lives but we were just parts of different projects. There was never a chance to make music together,” Franklin says. “But they wanted to start a fun reggae-jazz-whatever band and wanted to play with people they’d never had a chance to.”
The band has been a hit on its home turf, having won four Houston Press Music Awards in two years, and is a consistent draw. But they haven’t played much outside of Houston; Saturday’s show is their first North Texas date.
Though some have suggested they move to L.A. or New York, Franklin is content to stay in Houston.
“I feel like it’s unnecessary,” she says. “People in New York and L.A. are hearing about us in Houston. We’re stronger without all the distractions of being in those cities. Right now, we’re doing very well by staying put.”
HOMEGROWN MUSIC & ARTS FESTIVAL
Toadies, Trail of Dead, Seryn, Sarah Jaffe, the Suffers (3 p.m.), the Phuss, Wild Moccasins, Sam Lao, Calhoun, Baptist Generals and more
11 a.m. Saturday
Main Street Garden Park, 1902 Main St., Dallas
$20 advance online, $25 at the gate, children under 10 free