“Weather changes moods, spring is here again,” Kurt Cobain sang in Nirvana’s hit “In Bloom”. Perhaps this was why when Houston music festival Free Press Summer Festival moved from June to March, they rebranded themselves as In Bloom Festival. The newly renamed festival took place this past weekend, March 24th & 25th, at the old stomping grounds of FPSF, Eleanor Tinsley Park.
Gone were the concerns of flooding and extreme heat. In fact, the weekend produced nearly perfect weather. As someone traveling from Los Angeles, it was weird to be leaving the rain for sunshine, while heading east.
The inaugural In Bloom relied heavily on the rock and hip-hop genres, with a sprinkle of EDM, mostly on its own stage. Beck and Incubus went head-to-head as headliners on Saturday, with Martin Garrix closing opposite Queens of the Stone Age on Sunday.
Incubus drew a pretty sizable crowd on the smaller of the two closing stages Saturday, drawing from their deep catalog of hits. The excitement rose early with “Megalomaniac”, one of the most intense songs they have. Other favorites like “Pardon Me” and “Stellar” kept the crowd engaged throughout their 90-minute set.
One band that made an impact were British rockers Wolf Alice, who delivered a roaring set as the sun shined its brightest on Saturday. The band showcased their differing dimensions, with heavy bangers like “Moaning Lisa Smile” and “Yuk Foo” a sharp contrast from the more melodic songs “Don’t Delete the Kisses” putting fans into their feels.
Brooklyn ambient rockers Cigarettes After Sex were a perfect appetizer with their slow, brooding tunes. A highlight of their set was their cover of REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Lovin’ You”. Incubus took the stage a few minutes early, which sort of drowned out their single “Apocalypse”.
The early part of the day highlighted a lot of talent from Houston and elsewhere in Texas, something every city festival should strive to do. One of my favorite discoveries was Houston female neo-folk duo Say Girl Say, who carried an Oh Wonder-meets-Marian Hill vibe to them. It was right in my wheelhouse. VODI was also a local Houston favorite, a six-piece rock band that reminded me a bit of Dawes with their sound that teeters on rock-meets-folk.
While almost all of the teens were at the main stage Sunday to take in Martin Garrix’s closing set, I was at the smaller closing stage to see Queens of the Stone Age wrap up the festival.
QOTSA lead singer Josh Homme had fun with the ASL interpreter who worked at his stage. In Bloom had them at all of the stages for most sets throughout the weekend, and Homme was one of many performers who got a kick out of it.
“Whatever I do, you have to say?” Homme asked midway through his set. “That’s awesome. I need that wherever I go.”
Homme and his band leaned heavily on songs from their awesome latest album Villains (QRO review), while also drawing from older works throughout their 90-minute set. “It’s okay to clap, in fact it’s totally fine – it brings us together, which is nice,” Homme said during Villains cut “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now”.
Explosions in the Sky proved words are overrated with their typical mesmerizing instrumental set, and indie pop duo BROODS won over a crowd that was mostly assembled to see Queens of the Stone Age next.
Sylvan Esso showed their festival experience by turning up the heat at the main stage on Sunday with a fun set. “Are there Jumbotrons?” vocalist Amelia Meath asked. “The one day I forget to wear a sports bra, huge fucking Jumbotron. Get ready for some tits.”
Hip-hop and R&B acts like 21 Savage, D.R.A.M., Lil Uzi Vert, and Lil Dicky catered to the younger crowd – In Bloom was flooded by teenagers probably more than any other demographic.
The festival struck the right mix of performers and the festival could continue to be the staple of Houston that Free Press once was. Houston is the fourth-most populous city in the nation, and more than deserving of a festival the scale of In Bloom. The festival proved it is able to handle that responsibility.
-words: Mark Ortega
-photos: Katrina Barber, Sidney Gawlik, Charles Reagan Hackleman and Greg Noire courtesy of In Bloom