HOUSTON - Houston is one of the only cities that could host a three-day (partially) outdoor music festival in the middle of December.
While temperatures were mild for this year’s Day For Night Festival, you can’t predict the rain. And that did put a little bit of a damper on the weekend but it did not stop the music - it just moved the schedule around.
The festival format was similar to last year’s at the Barbara Jordan Post Office, near Market Square in downtown Houston. The former post office is now an empty building, perfect to fill with two floors of visual art exhibits and two small stages for DJs to perform. Outside, festival-goers enjoyed the two larger stages, plenty of food trucks and booths and pop-up bars.
The only major difference from last year is that there were two outdoor stages this time – last year there were three.
Saturday, organizers decided to move up some of the acts on the outdoor stages to end those performances by 10 p.m., when the heavy rain was supposed to move in. It didn’t affect the fans too much but it still poured down for the headliner, Nine Inch Nails. Huge crowds braved the rain while others huddled inside, waiting for it to stop.
But other than a little rain, the festival ran like a much more well-oiled machine than last year. One of the big improvements was lighting inside the building. While still dark in some corners, organizers lit the stairwells and the visual art exhibitions seemed to be better marked and easier to find.
However, you pretty much had to rely on your phone to find where everything was and to see who was performing when and where because the festival decided not to provide handouts of the schedule or map. It probably led to less trash cluttering the festival grounds, but also burned your phone battery out quickly.
Some of Saturday’s musical highlights included Of Montreal, who kept things colorful and interesting with dancers that would come on and off the stage in different costumes, like a giant dragon and mouse-like creatures. Perfume Genius flailed across the stage with a beautiful high falsetto. Lil B brought seemingly-unlimited energy onstage, so the audience gave him a pass when he accidentally shouted out 'Dallas' at least twice during his set. And Pussy Riot’s show was full of performance art, from costumes to dancing while a translation scrolled across the big screen as they sang in Russian.
Plenty of fans packed the area around the green stage to see Cardi B, but they had to wait until the last ten minutes or so for her to actually join the DJ onstage. James Blake kept things moody as he crooned alongside sparse beats with spotlights shining on him on an otherwise dark stage.
Sunday had even more star power, with Kimbra and Priests bringing the energy early on. Rezz started the dance party by 3:30 p.m., and even she was surprised by the big crowd in the middle of the day. The Album Leaf created a calming but tense atmosphere with their mostly instrumental set. And En Vogue had everyone feeling like it was the ‘90s when they burst into “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It),” complete with coordinated dance moves.
Phantogram had one of the best performances of the weekend, melding tortured vocals with electronic beats. They stopped halfway through to joke that Cardi B would be their special guest… and she’d be joining them in 2-3 hours. Solange followed Phantogram on the red stage, and lit the whole stage up in red – from the lights to the costumes. Between her mellow songs, she talked about growing up in Houston, and how she was proud that her hometown had a festival with so many like-minded artists… something she didn’t have when she was growing up here.
Finally, it was tough to choose between two of the headliners Sunday night – Justice and St. Vincent. Justice, a French duo, upped the energy 300% with a dance party accompanied by an incredibly-timed light show. And St. Vincent played some of her hits before performing her new album, Masseduction, in its entirety. Diehard Thom Yorke fans stuck around late for his late set, which didn’t start until after midnight.
While many people attend Day for Night for the music, the visual art is an excellent perk. In between acts, you could walk between several displays, from a pyramid made from lasers, to light reflecting on a giant group of disco balls, to a series of GIFs projected on the side of the building. The people-watching is almost as interesting, with some elaborate costumes and lots of glitter.
The atmosphere is adventurous, carefree, and creative, a side of Houston that’s nice to see at the end of a rollercoaster year for the city.
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