Words // Garrett Smith – Photos // Ellie Alonzo & Garrett Smith
With our lenses at the ready, our pens and notepads steadied, and our phones fully charged, we’re ready, once again, to take on the masses and storm the fort.
The latest edition of Fortress Festival finds itself taking new strides towards improving the festival goers’ experiences – with no overlapping sets, the Modern Art Museum stage from last year being moved closer to its partner stage, and a greater variety of food and drink options (including free bottles and cans of Bai tea). We’d say they’ve really upped the ante on the fest game, and we’re proud to say that these hometown heroes are one of our favorite festival experiences so far.
Time to put our money where our mouth is, and show, instead of tell:
// DAY 1
We kicked off Saturday by arriving just in time to catch Waxahatchee begin their set. Ranging from humble, folksy tones to more ethereal dream pop vibes, Waxahatchee is always an intimiate, emotional performance that starts this weekend off in a very vulnerable, comforting way.
Chicano Batman gave us the perfect sundown throwdown, with spicy licks and some dirty dancing being the name of their game. Latin grooves meet American soul in this suited-up ensemble. Every member had their own personal swagger, but not a one ever felt like they had fallen victim to petty machismo. No, this was just confidence personified, and with a sick soundtrack to back it up.
If you weren’t swinging hips, you weren’t there.
Hurray for the Riff Raff came on to deliver a decidedly dark, witchy set. It’s Louisiana meets Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga, with a decidedly punk streak thrown in there somewhere; an affair between the dark side of bayou blues and the smoke-filled lounges of jazz. It’s an unexpected entry of the day, and a fun twist, at that.
Next, however, came a solid streak of the day’s main attraction – hip hop. RZA kicked off the trio of legendary performers, with opening and accompaniment from consummate badass Stone Mecca and his band, The Beatitudes. From the army surplus jacket to the wicked angles of his guitar, the man oozes experience and talent. We can’t say we were expecting a jam session to spring forth from an instrumental cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, but here we are, mouth agape, nonetheless. RZA himself was happily crowd-pleasing, playing several Wu-Tang hits separated only by chants of “tiger style” and stories of old days and new. The man performs like someone that hasn’t been performing for close to 30 years, with a fresh energy and a playful spirit.
We then caught Shabazz Palaces, rising stars in the alt hip hop scene, and of course they scream coolness. From their visual aesthetic to their sonic atmospheres, Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire bring bold African influences into every aspect of their oeuvre.
They are royalty, and they’re not afraid to make that clear.
Speaking of royalty, we come to some of the longest running legends of the scene – De La Soul. For starters, it’s absolutely insane that we’re getting to see this trio in Fort Worth. Mad props to Trey Hicks and Colin Rinehart, and the rest of the Fortress team. The fellas were lively as ever, but made sure to remind us that they’d been performing longer than many of us had lived – and had probably played the part of soundtrack to our conceptions. They had fun with the audience, to be sure – at one point, they told everyone to chill, including the photographers and the security, and refused to keep the song going if people didn’t put down phones and cameras to raise their hands in the air. It was playful, sassy, and overall, endearing – you can’t ask for much more.
Approaching the close of round one, we caught all-time BAE Julian Casablancas playing with his project The Voidz – and we think there’s is no better or easier way of explaining the band than to say it is peak Julian. It is odd, ethereal, playful, prodding noise, replete with UPS jackets, lackadaiscal hair, a Coca-Cola hat, and epileptic lighting. Like we said – PEAK Julian.
And now, folks, we find ourselves at tonight’s zenith, and we could think of nothing and no one better than wildly bragadocious and delectably extra than Chromeo. It felt like a transportation back to the days of Prince’s peak performances, when insane staging, wanton bravado, and outrageous guitar solos ruled the day. The stage was a chrome take on the classic stairs and runway platform that many 80s and 90s hair and glam metal bands made use of – and it was absolutely glorious.
Everything about Chromeo is extra, and we were there and alive to eat every ounce of it right on up. This is was peak performance looks like, y’all – a classically sexy glam-jam frontman paired with a leather-clad bear of a man, performing as a Prince that got into EDM. It’s bright lights, shiny steel, sick licks and reckless abandon, and the energy of both audience and artist is chart-topping.
Simply put – they fucking rocked, and it was fun.
Now let’s get ready for round 2.
// DAY 2
Today kicked off with a score of locals, ranging from the haunting nighttime vibes of Midnight Opera, to the spunky psychedelic grooves of Pearl Earl, and the sensual, late-night jazz pop of Ronnie Heart.
Andy Pickett rang in with some good ol’ southern soul, while Henry the Archer made sure to get us a hefty dose of classic blues and hard rock. The locals stepped up, this round, and we couldn’t be more proud of this diverse group of rockers, crooners, groovers, and swingers. Hats off, y’all.
One band – one man, really – cannot be spoken of enough, though – Little JB himself, the man who demands an introduction on stage or paper, the legendary Lee Fields and his band The Expressions. I mean, the man has his band play a solid jam and then introduce him before he even walks on stage – and that blue suit was an absolute slayer of an outfit. He bleeds style and sweats swagger, and for a man his age, damn has he got groove. There’s something about him that demands you attend his sets, no matter how many times you’ve caught him before.
And believe us – we’ve caught him several times, and we wouldn’t dream of missing out.
tUnE-yArDs came on to begin the slew of indie and alternative headliners that comprised Sunday’s lineup. Their eclectic electronic pop mingled with the crowd like the swirls of dust, caught in the light. With many elements being looped, a sort of mass hypnosis overtook the crowd, despite the many poppy beats and tunes kicking it up a notch and demanding at least a head nod, if not full on dancing.
Vandoliers gave us something that we’d had very little of so far at this Texan festival – country. It was a nice break from the heavy rock, alternative, and rap focus of the fest so far, and we’re sure many people welcomed this representation of the most southern of musical genres. The Texas Gentlemen followed them up with similar vibes, albeit with a more southern rock hippie approach. Both were fun closers to a packed weekend, and hey –
who would pass up a nice Sunday square dance?
Our next catch, Courtney Barnett, gave a performance as explosive as her meteoric rise to the spotlight, with plenty of humble spunk and mellow moxie to go around. It’s both radio-friendly and filled to the brim with deep cuts and hidden punk gems. There’s no gimmicks or antics going on with Barnett – she is married to the music and its expression, no bells and whistles required, and we respect the hell out of her for doing things her way. Keep it up, queen.
Of course, now we come to the biting end of this lineup with the greatest living satirist in music – Josh Tillman, and his inimitable project Father John Misty. Despite an abrasive reputation and a penchant for pushing buttons, Josh kicked off the set with the most unexpected expectation – “I Love You, Honeybear”. It was the perfect moody opener, replete with dramatic red lights and emotional musical detours, and it was followed by a perfect setlist blending old forgotten bangers like “Nancy From Now On” and “Hollywood Forever Cemetery” with new classics like “Pure Comedy” and “Total Entertainment Forever”.
Needless to say – we were stoked.
But, in our opinion, the finish was the best climax we’d seen on stage in a while – a performance of “Bored in the USA” that gave way to the closer, “Ideal Husband”, the most decidedly gritted teeth, raw emotional rabbit hole that Josh delves to in this project’s melange of songs. It was a welcome descent into cathartic chaos, began with a disinterested, spotty, disarming recital of “Bored” that set up perfectly for the abandon of “Ideal Husband”.
We really appreciate seeing the whole medley performed live because it reveals, intimately, the progression of Josh’s thinking, his own malaise-fueled maturation as an artist. Ultimately, it blooms into a sort of cocky humility that only Josh Tillman could rock. He’s a guy who has trekked the full arc of fame in the course of a decade. He’s found himself at a place of honest reflection mingled with a healthy confidence that does not so frequently feel the need to flex its muscles as it once did. Josh’s matured like a well-aged bourbon: rounded out and mellowed where once sharp, but retaining the bite and burn that he’s always brandished.
With that finish, we can say only that we are satisfied and, delightfully, exhausted. With such a beautiful experience in our own backyard, it’s hard to feel any different. Time to relax, reminisce, and gear up for the next one.