Words by Garrett Smith // Photos by Ellie Alonzo & Garrett Smith
It’s five o’clock, ominously overcast, and, despite a rain-based delay, we’re here. We await the opening of the gates like so many battle-ready soldiers; whether hungry for what’s to come or shivering with anticipation, we stand ready regardless. There’s a potent energy in the air, to be sure – anyone can tell you, from an airline passenger, to an athlete, to any performer, that delays seem to stir the atmosphere into a cocktail of anticipatory static blended with a crazed excitement. We gathered here are no different.
After all, we’re here to storm the fort. Fort Worth, and it’s cutely named two-day event, Fortress Festival.
Right off the bat, we’re pleased to see Margin Walker’s signature everywhere: from the eye-candy design of the logos and merch, to the rainbow of wristbands denoting different types of attendees – complete with touch-scan RFID cards – to the assortment of local artisanal vendors, it’s obvious who put this show together, and they’ve brought a great, casual fest-going experience to the Fort.
Let’s get to the main attraction – the bands.
Unfortunately, the first three acts of the festival – Ronnie Heart, Bobby Sessions, and Cure For Paranoia – were forced to cancel due to concerns of inclement weather on the part of the festival staff. Shout out to these performers – we hope to catch them next time.
Our first performance, then, was by the inimitable Sam Lao, on the stage at the Modern. The stage itself was out on the water, and there’s no better way to start a festival than with some waterfront chillin’ to mellow beats and conscious rap.
Next we headed to the Will Rogers Stage which was, for all intention was your typical well-made main stage. Blue. The Misfit led the first round of performances here, delivering a fun, blazing hot set on a cool, cloudy day – a particular favorite of ours was a track called “Walking Dead”, which, as the man himself stated, was about being hungover. Let’s just say that we all can relate to that. Overall, a great performer who knows how to involve the audience and have a laugh while eloquently delivering verses.
Houndmouth was a perfect addition to Fortress Fest’s lineup, heaping on a sugary dose of hopping, pop-rock positivity with youthful, near-falsetto vocals and easy-listening riffs that find a home in the throes of a carefree festival and all of its hippy-ish attendees.
Now, just as the sun’s setting, we come to Flying Lotus – in his own words “Man, it’s windy… This is going to be fun, you guys.” As night cozied in around us, FlyLo started his set with the atmospheric bass riff from none other than Twin Peaks’ opening theme song. We’ve never lost our minds so quickly and unexpectedly during a set, but hey – there’s a first for everything, and I think FlyLo can claim the first to do a track centered around a Twin Peaks theme. That in and of itself made the whole show worth it, but if that didn’t do it for you, then we’re sure the eclectic jazz-influenced beats and strange time signatures – accompanied by an incredible set of projections appearing on a screen in front of the DJ – did something.
Of course, with night now here, this was only the festival runners and artists doing some quick calisthenics – the real flexing was still to come
S U R V I V E was up next at the Modern and, with their signature ambient yet explosive soundscape paired to a handful of stage lights, on a waterfront lawn to boot, they did not disappoint.
Last, but certainly not least for day one were none other than the duo at the forefront of both political hip-hop and cultural zeitgeist, Run the Jewels. With giant “fist and gun” inflatables flanking the performers, Fort Worth was alight with the fire-and-brimstone vocals that the duo are so known for. The chemistry between Killer Mike and El-P is palpable, and the energy they pumped into the ozone of the show was like nothing else – there really aren’t many fanbases quite like that of RTJ.
As El-P stated, mid-set – “We went out and got a gift for all of you… We hope that, despite all your differences, that you’ll like it. Here it is.” With that, he and Killer Mike gave us their gift: a beautifully put together performance inspiring thousands of people to dance, jump, yell, and maybe, just maybe, go on to make their own music, to inspire others. Who knows? Only tomorrow will tell.
// Day Two //
And here it is to speak for itself: without any commercial break, we’re back, and ready for day two of Fortress Fest. We’re a little winded from day one, and day two is proving to be windy in and of itself – but it’s the last day, and we’re ready to put the Fun in Sunday Funday.
So-So Topic know how to kick off a Sunday properly, announcing to the crowd “F*ck all your problems!” F*ck ‘em, indeed – it’s day two of the fest, it’s much less cloudy, and we are all sunshine and smiles. Leave your problems at the gate; the only problem we have here is whether to wear a jacket for the breeze, or short sleeves for the sun.
Topic delivered a friendly set to an admittedly smaller crowd, but such is the life of opening the day for an all day festival. It was no less inspired or electric than any to follow, though, and if anything, the energetic hip-hop is the perfect cup of joe to get us up and grooving.
In perfect counterpoint to Topic’s set comes Sudie, performing at the perfectly suited waterfront for the first set of the day on that stage. Sudie crooned beautifully across the expanse between audience and stage – the “moat”, as Wolf Parade referred to it the day before – and managed to create a solid early-afternoon atmosphere built from looped vocals and ambient, but ear-catching, beats. We even caught a new song – titled “TBH” – that has us here at Austere holding our collective breath for more.
From there, we took in some of the eclectic cocktail of psychedelic Cambodian pop known as Dengue Fever, who hand-delivered a strange brew of music that you really have to experience to understand. Unless you’re readily familiar with Cambodian music, that is – then you probably can already imagine the heady, droning music that sounds less like a performance, and more like a fever dream. An incredibly pleasant, dancing fever dream, at that.
As it turns out, such a fever dream found itself manifested in waking reality – and it called itself Golden Dawn Arkestra. Really, though – if the last group sounded like a trip, this band actually might have been tripping. In all seriousness, Golden Dawn Arkestra are the full package – an incredibly talented lineup of around a dozen people, all managing to play a psychedelic symphony in synch, all while dressed in elaborate, alien-esque costumes that probably wouldn’t be out of place in the next Mummy movie. And while we weren’t all doing the Egyptian like The Bangles would have it, we certainly were spinning – our bodies with the tunes, and our heads with the visuals.
By this point, we were, understandably, in need of some nourishment. After sampling so much of the music – and plenty of the drinks, you can be sure – we had to try some of the food, and Emoji’s Grilled Cheese did not disappoint. If only we had enough time, money, and belly-room to try all of the good lookin’ cookin’ that the other food trucks and vendors had.
Now that the evening had come, and just as light gave way to night, we caught Alvvays give us a show that, while it didn’t have us raging, did have us staving off the dying of the light. Considering that their beachy sound carried with it thoughts of sandy day-tripping and surf galore, it was only fitting that they played for us at the waterfront stage at the Modern. A long day of festing can get you tired, but Alvvays, always, delivers those sunshine vibes.
Night had set in, and with it came the band from across the pond, Slowdive. Perhaps one of the longer running and more well-known bands on the list, Slowdive split the night in two with its dreamy shoe-gaze that still managed to energize an eager crowd as much as, if not more, than any heavier music could. And after a day full of high-octane music across genres, this was a perfectly scheduled respite.
Finally, for the last set we were able to cover for the fest – Purity Ring. If anyone was worried that this fest would not deliver an absolutely mind-blowing finale, they need worry no more – in the best way possible, we weren’t sure if this was Purity Ring, or if we had suddenly gone back about three months in time, and were witnessing Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime show. That’s no exaggeration; what looked to be hundreds of strands of LED lights descended from a platform in the air, flanking the altar-like set-up of Corin Roddick’s crystalline “drum kit”, each “crystal” of which lit up pink when hit.
That’s not even to mention the general lighting, and Megan James’ absolutely gorgeous, all white gown and hair. Stunning wouldn’t begin to cut it, but mesmerizing, entrancing – these might be getting somewhere. Not an inch of the stage was untouched, nor was a single prop or light made to seem gaudy or unnecessary. All in all, a tasteful performance that remains emblazoned our minds, even still. The visuals of the entire fest could bring any seasoned aesthete to their knees, to be sure, but these really topped the fest – like a nice, crystalline cherry on top of an iridescent, multi-flavored milkshake.
We’d drink that shit again in a heartbeat.
So, we stormed the fort, and came back to home and hearth to tell the tale of our conquest. Though it’s hard to say who was conquered – the fest, or ourselves, by the overwhelming tide of talent and artistry – we’re satisfied, nonetheless. We can only hope that you’ve enjoyed either living vicariously or revisiting memories through us, and that you’ll join us next week for JMBLYA Fest, and of course, for many more fests to come. Here’s to hoping for tunes, brews, and plenty of good vibrations, the next time we run into each other. Austere can’t wait, and we hope you can’t either.
Onwards, always onwards, we march to the next.