If Saturday’s opening night of the first Fortress Fest in Fort Worth’s Cultural District began mired in doubt due to the potential for stormy, dangerous weather — promoters had to shave two hours from the schedule and cancel a handful of acts — Sunday’s sets went according to plan.
While there wasn’t anything nearly as sizzlingly electric as Run The Jewels and Flying Lotus reportedly were on Saturday on either of the two stages, the calm (if chilly and, at first, windy) weather and the smooth, well-organized vibe made for a pleasantly enjoyable concert experience. Coming on the same weekend that the raging dumpster fire that was Fyre Fest in the Bahamas was blowing up everyone’s social-media feeds, Fortress Fest’s drama-free delivery was even more appreciated.
North Texas rapper -topic, who’s now based in California, kicked things off with a head-bobbing hip-hop set that was both humorous (“Chips on a Plate”) and serious (“Why You Take My Backpack”) and joyously analog. He played with a band and a DJ spinning vinyl.
The wind and an unbalanced sound mix at first played havoc with Dengue Fever singer Chhom Nimol. She had to hold her billowing skirt down to avoid having her very own Marilyn-Monroe-on-the-subway-grate moment. Still, the group’s Cambodian pop/indie-rock hybrid proved infectious.
Yet the wind and the water of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth’s pond proved to be a fitting backdrop for the ethereal, atmospheric electronic pop of Dallas’ Sudie. And just as rockers Wolf Parade made the water part of their act on Saturday, the Chicago band Whitney did much the same Sunday when drummer/singer Julien Ehrlich “baptized” one of the other band members near the start of their set of infectious, soul-influenced indie-pop.
When Golden Dawn Arkestra ringleader Topaz McGarrigle — aka Zapwot Mgwana — urged everyone to praise the sun, no doubt many thought he was talking about the one in the sky. But the wildly garbed, 14-member Austin band owe their shtick to the late, great, free-jazz musician Sun Ra. His band was called The Arkestra and, like Topaz, he claimed to be from another planet. Borrowed or not, Golden Dawn’s jazzy, Afrobeat-influenced rhythms were generally entertaining.
At the opposite end of the spectrum were Fort Worth’s Quaker City Nighthawks and Denver’s Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. Quaker City’s bluesy, hard-rock grooves and Rateliff’s brassy, shout-along soul-revival pop may not be groundbreaking, but they are well-executed. (Rateliff even got a little help from a local saxophonist Jeff Dazey, known for his work with Leon Bridges.)
No one goes to a set by British “shoegazer” band Slowdive expecting theatrics or even stage presence. And they didn’t bring either with them Sunday, but what they did bring was their signature hypnotic sonic style, as on such tracks as “Catch the Breeze,” with shimmering guitar chords rushing and crashing like waves on a beach.
Peter Hook, best-known as the bass player for Joy Division and New Order, said he was going to play a lot of older material Sunday. And he did — it just wasn’t the tried-and-true New Order hits. Instead, he and his band, The Light, dug into the earlier Joy Division catalog for propulsive takes on “Dead Souls,” “She’s Lost Control,” “Warsaw,” and, much to the crowd’s squealing delight, “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
The evening ended with Purity Ring’s EDM-influenced popcraft, which comes across better amid the boom and bombast of their stage show than it does in the studio.
Perhaps the night was best summed up by an excited audience member who asked a security guard if there would be another Fortress Festival next year. The guard said he thought so. Let’s hope he’s right.