Fortress Festival defies gray skies with block-rocking beats

Fortress Festival made its first waves toward the end of Wolf Parade’s Saturday set on the stage outside the Modern Art Museum, and it had nothing to do with the rainy forecast that never materialized.

It was a splash into the Modern’s reflecting pool, in a moment that underscored how thirsty the fans gathered in Fort Worth were for the brand of festival-season revelry that Fortress was serving up.

When Wolf Parade singer Dan Boeckner called out for those in the first few rows across the “moat” to “walk on water” to the band’s island stage, he was obviously joking. But his fans took him seriously.

As the band started “I’ll Believe In Anything,” and the temperature dipped into the 50s, a few at a time raised hands and lowered feet into the shin-deep waters, until around 30 were dancing and high-fiving to keyboardist/vocalist Spencer Krug’s refrain, “I’d take you where nobody knows you, and nobody gives a damn.”

Liability concerns from Fortress Fest organizers aside, the feel-good hymn became the hallelujah exhale the festival needed on a day that started two hours later than it should have, as the violent storms predicted for Saturday missed the Cultural District entirely, leaving only menacing gray skies and some unfriendly wind. (Though East Texas turned out to be not so lucky, as five perished in storms there.)

Local acts Ronnie Heart, Cure For Paranoia and Bobby Sessions were cut from Saturday’s schedule as the festival’s start time was pushed back from 3 to 5 p.m.

The crowd began to build as evening turned to night, and the Montreal baptism administered by Wolf Parade gave way to some of the block-rocking-est beats the ghost of Will Rogers has ever borne witness to, courtesy of Flying Lotus and Saturday headliners Run The Jewels.

Which is where festival logistics deserve a mention, something that was on the tip of everyone’s tongue who trudged the third of a mile or more between between one stage at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the other near Will Rogers Auditorium. The festival staff and the RFID wristbands made getting in extremely convenient, if the circuitous route between stages did not.

Putting another entrance gate into the Will Rogers area at the corner of West Lancaster Avenue and Van Cliburn Way seems like one of the first conversations the festival organizers should have for next year. Parts of the jaunt did not seem to be in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, but some folks using crutches were allowed into the grounds via West Lancaster and Van Cliburn Way.

The length of the walk wasn’t the issue, really. Walks in the Cultural District are generally nice, but Fortress Fest logistics made seeing Austin synthwave dynamos SURVIVE at the Modern in between the face-melting sets from Flying Lotus and Run The Jewels outside Will Rogers a near-impossibility.

Once Flying Lotus started, at around 8:45 p.m., the crowd of 3,000-4,000 was at once entranced by the Los Angeles beat sorcerer, compelled to make only the movements commanded from behind the first of a dual-layered visual-effects screen. Flying Lotus’ visuals came with split personalities: the spacey, futuristic and geometrically driven cityscape scenes that accompanied earlier material from “Cosmogramma” and “1983” and the shocking and dangerous voodoo conjured for material from his 2012 album, on which he raps as his cartoon alter-ego, Captain Murphy, with a demonically low vocal register and a sinister laugh.

He went through short samples of “Zodiac S---,” “Sleepy Dinosaur,” “Coronus, The Terminator” and “1983” before emerging from behind his silk screen and rapping on “Mighty Morphin Foreskin” and a rendition of “The Killing Joke” every bit as haunted and diabolical as the DC Comics supervillain that inspired the track.

“I didn’t know what to expect out here,” the beat master quipped.

The crowd swelled once again as the tag team of Killer Mike and El-P took the stage just after 10 p.m. What ensued was an all-out eardrum assault.

Killer Mike took the masses peacefully assembled on the lawn through his world of conspiracies and tore them apart on the opening “Talk To Me.” El-P, the doctor of death, cooked up curses and slurs on “Legend Has It,” the latest single from the duo’s third album, “RTJ3.”

Though brutal throughout their set, Run The Jewels took every opportunity to express their appreciation on their first-ever Fort Worth date. Many fought their way to the front of the pulsing swell of humanity, screaming lyrics with the pair’s famous pistol-and-fist hand sign raised to the sky.

The self-titled opus “Run The Jewels” capped the evening earlier than expected, at around 11:15 p.m., as the festival schedule showed the headliners blaring their poetic vulgarity until at least 11:30 p.m., but there were few complaints from the crowd. The duo poured it straight from the bottle for 70 minutes, and the effects went straight to the crowd’s collective heads as they asked each other, “Did that just happen?” while spilling over into the West 7th district for a nightcap.

Yes. Yes it did happen. Right here in Fort Worth.

And it continues today.

Matthew Martinez: 817-390-7667; @MCTinez817