This past weekend the Fort Worth Cultural District got a bit raucous. The inaugural Fortress Festival became the newest entrant in a crowded field of springtime music festivals in North Texas. The organizers hope to make it the destination music event for the region. KERA’s Hady Mawajdeh and Christopher Connelly checked it out and it’s the topic of today’s State of the Arts conversation.
Hady: Chris, we survived Fortress Festival. Congrats. Can we take a quick moment though to talk about one of the acts that I think had an amazing performance and seemed to have taken a lot of people by surprise?
Chris: Sure. I think I know who you want to talk about.
Hady: I am sure that you do. His name is Flying Lotus. He’s an L.A. based music producer who makes hip-hop inflected electronic music that’s got the complexity of Coltrane. He performed in between two giant screens One screen was in front of him and was projecting visuals that were reminiscent of the sorts of visual art you might see if you were watching Adult Swim. The second screen was behind him and the visuals back there were sort of a mixed bag. That screen also had animated visuals, but they were different. More geometric and more abstract. It was all sort of psychedelic – and the crowd loved it.
Chris: Absolutely. Now, Fortress Festival did get off to a kinda rocky start – they delayed the first day – cut out three hours of local acts because they expected storms. No rain in the end, but 23-mile-an-hour winds did interfere with some of the sound. It may have dampened turnout a bit, the organizers said they sold about 5,000 tickets for each day.
Hady, you talked with some of the folks there to see the bands. What did you hear?
Hady: Rave reviews. Almost every person I spoke to at the festival said they loved the lineup. I spoke with one couple that came up from College Station and here’s what Texas A&M student, Kevne Hull, had to say about the festival:
“Everything’s been fantastic so far. Most of the bands, honestly I hadn’t even heard before, but we started listening to them on the drive up and it’s definitely blown me out of the water.”
The biggest draw to Fortress Festival seemed to be Run the Jewels – that’s the rap duo made up of Killer Mike and el–p, two veterans of the hip-hop scene who are known for being heavy on the political and social commentary in their lyrics.
Chris: They were remarkable – you could tell they were having a blast on stage together. Killer Mike had this giant grin on his face throughout the whole performance. It’s a little tough to find a radio-friendly cut from their new album, but the song “Thieves” brought the house down. (Listen to “Thieves” performed by Run the Jewels in the player below)
Hady: It seemed like every song they performed was somebody’s favorite. And like I mentioned before, there were a lot of people praising the festival’s lineup, but one criticism I heard was that there were too few women in the lineup.
I asked Alec Jhangiani about that. He and a partner founded Fortress Festival. And he acknowledged it’s a symptom of a larger problem.
“We’re always cognizant of that, because I think by default, whether it’s film or music or anything else, they are still male dominated professions. So I think to always be aware is a good thing, but at the same time you don’t want to necessarily choose acts based on that,” says Jhangiani.
Chris: Jhangiani said there were other female-led headliners he tried to book, but they were too expensive for the fledgling festival. He says he and his partner were looking at diversity in the lineup in a lot of different ways – demographically, but also in terms of genre and sound. The lineup had had a huge range in that regard.
Hady: Another partner in this was kind of unexpected — The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. One of the stages was built in the reflecting pool around the Modern’s building, which was pretty cool. Now, art museums aren’t usually in the business of throwing big music festivals. What’s going on there?
Chris: I talked to Dustin Van Orne from the Modern about that and he said the partnership was a pretty natural fit for the museum.
“Especially people who come to music festivals like this, that audience tends to be the kind of audience that comes to museums or could potentially be interested in museums, especially contemporary and modern art,” says Van Orne.
Van Orne said they had a few hundred people in the museum galleries after hours, so folks did seem to be taking in the art as well. Organizers say they’re happy with turnout during the first year. They’re already planning next year’s festival.