HOUSTON - The 42nd annual Houston International Festival takes place over the last two weekends in April and offers something for everyone -- including Tango dancing.
A non-stop live performance schedule will feature Reggae greats Steel Pulse, Texas blues rockers Los Lonely Boys and jazzy New Orleans band Galactic. Other World Stage performers include the swampy blues band JJ Grey and MOFRO, African reggae group Tidal Waves and Venezuela's funky Latin dance band Los Amigos Invisibles.
The Festival takes place on April 21-22 and April 28-29. Hours are Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and an admission ticket is required. Click here for tickets.
April 21, 2:30 p.m., Americas Stage; 6:30 p.m. 29-95 Texas Entertainment Stage
Beaumont-born Jesse Dayton goes way back with Houston. 20 years ago, when Dayton was barely old enough to buy a drink at the bar, his rockabilly trio the Road Kings was the top-drawing club band in town. He has since released a series of solo albums that comprise one of the best and most underrated bodies of work in Texas music over the past two decades, deeply rooted in country but with a wide range of contemporary pop-culture references. He’s the only musician alive to have shared the stage with both Rob Zombie and Johnny Bush, and lately he’s been channeling Kinky Friedman in a theatrical stage production.
April 21, 6:30 p.m., Americas Stage
Navasota-born, Austin-based singer-songwriter Ruthie Foster last performed at HIF in 2007 as a solo artist. This time she’s bringing a road-tight band that includes lead guitarist Hadden Sayers (who will also be performing a couple of sets with his own band). Foster’s latest album, Let It Burn, was recorded in New Orleans with an all-star studio cast, and serves as a fabulous showcase for her gospel-fired, blues-drenched voice.
Los Lonely Boys
April 21, 6:30 p.m., Bud Light World Stage
Brothers Henry, JoJo and Ringo Garza broke out of Texas about eight years ago with the No. 1 rock radio hit “Heaven.” Through subsequent albums, they have maintained a loyal following regionally and nationally, with a melodic rock sound that mixes classic Sixties influences and bluesy roots with an undeniable Texas heart and Latin soul. The band’s latest, Rockpango?, was released last year.
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
April 22, 4:30 p.m., Americas Stage
The title of Jason Isbell’s critically-acclaimed album, Here We Rest, is taken from the original, pre-Civil War state motto of Alabama, where Isbell grew up and still lives. With Drive-by Truckers, Isbell was sort of the third wheel in a band that already had two. Since stepping out on his own, he has made his mark as a superb alternative country – or should we just say country? – songwriter, and his band, 400 Unit, ranges from acoustic nuance to ferocious rock.
JJ Grey & MOFRO
April 22, 4:30 p.m., Bud Light World Stage
After a decade of hard-touring and five studio albums, JJ Grey has built an audience that bridges the cultural and generational gap between blues/roots and Bonnaroo jam band. His longtime touring and recording band, MOFRO, conveys the laidback country-soul vibe that speaks to Grey’s rural Florida roots. But what sets Grey apart from dozens of other roots-rock and retro-soul dudes is his voice – a soulful, swampy growl that recalls, and I do not make this claim lightly, a cross between Otis Redding and George Jones.
Galactic featuring Corey Glover and Corey Henry
April 22, 6:30 p.m., Bud Light World Stage
New Orleans’ Galactic has a well-earned reputation as one of the most exhilarating live acts in America, or anywhere else on the planet. A perennial favorite at Jazzfest, and a virtual house band at Tipitina’s, the band will be joined at this performance by vocalists Corey Glover, formerly of the rock band Living Colour, and Corey Henry, of New Orleans’ Rebirth Brass Band. Galactic’s recently-released Carnivale Electricos establishes the link between the carnival traditions of New Orleans (where it is called Mardi Gras) and Brazil. But when you boil it down, it’s still about the funk, or as they say in the Big Easy, da fonk. These guys are usually up for a good jam. We’re not making any promises, but do not be surprised if some of the other acts hanging around backstage (see above) are invited to sit in.
Rich Del Grosso Band
April 28, 12:30 p.m., Americas Stage; 4:30 p.m. 29-95 Texas Entertainment Stage
Rich Del Grosso moved to Houston a few years ago after establishing himself as one of the best, and also one of the few, pure blues mandolin players in the country. In 2009, his album Live From Bluesville, was nominated for Acoustic Album of the Year at the Blues Music Awards. Del Grosso’s band will feature guest guitarist Tony Vega. For the second set, at 4:30 p.m. on the 29-95 Texas Entertainment Stage, they will be joined by local blues legend Milton Hopkins in a tribute to Milton’s older cousin, the late Lightnin’ Hopkins, in honor of the centennial of his birth.
Joe Louis Walker
April 28, 4:30 p.m., Americas Stage
Joe Louis Walker came up in the San Francisco Bay Area blues scene of the 1960s – his roommate for several years was Mike Bloomfield. After devoting himself to gospel music for a decade, Walker returned to the blues in the Eighties and he has been burning down the house with his electrifying vocals and hair-raising guitar solos ever since. Walker’s latest album is appropriately titled Hellfire. This marks his Houston International Festival debut.
April 28, 6:30 p.m., Bud Light World Stage
WAR emerged from South Central Los Angeles as British rock singer Eric Burdon’s back-up band on a tour of Japan in the late Sixties. They went on to record the hippy bacchanal anthem “Spill the Wine” with Burdon before taking off on their own to deliver such seminal Seventies funk classics as “The Cisco Kid,” “Low Rider” and “The World Is a Ghetto.” The current edition of WAR has been touring together under the leadership of original lead singer Lonnie Jordan for more than twenty years, and maintains an international following that cuts across cultural, generational and musical borders, from classic rock to hip-hop.
April 29, 4:30 p.m., Americas Stage
Led by brothers Rick and Mark Del Castillo, this Austin-based band has built a national audience for its dramatic blend of flamenco and rock. Rolling Stone magazine praised Del Castillo’s “tumbling brilliance on nylon-string classical guitars” and compared their sound to “Eddie Van Halen fronting early Santana with an assist from the Gipsy Kings.”
April 29, 6:30 p.m., Americas Stage
The ultimate Tex-Mex supergroup is back on the road, with a party-ready mix of early rock and roll, rhythm and blues, country and San Antonio conjunto accordion. Original members Flaco Jimenez and Augie Meyers are joined by Shawn Sahm, whose late father Doug Sahm was the musical glue that held the band together, as well as the original rhythm section of Louie Ortega, Speedy Sparks and Ernie Durawa.
April 29, 6:30 p.m., Bud Light World Stage
Steel Pulse has been preaching the roots-reggae gospel for more 30 years under the leadership of vocalist/songwriter David Hinds and keyboardist Selwyn Brown. Formed in Handsworth, the Jamaican ghetto neighborhood in Birmingham, England, the group came up playing punk clubs in the late Seventies before cracking the American market with the 1982 album True Democracy. The band recently released its first album in seven years, African Holocaust, which was nominated for a Grammy for best reggae album. More importantly, Steel Pulse is still the tightest, most committed roots-reggae band on the road.
Check out Rick Mitchell's official Houston International Festival blog, Rico Live.
12 can’t-miss acts at the 2012 Houston International Festival
Austin Piazzolla Quintet
April 21, 12:30 p.m. 29-95 Texas Entertainment Stage, 6:30 p.m. H-E-B Cultural Stage
This band features some of the best and most versatile musicians in Austin, including accordionist Mike Maddux and pianist Jonathan Greer, playing the music of Argentina’s Astor Piazzolla, whose harmonically-complex compositions present tango as an artistic equal to jazz and classical music, and who is now rightfully considered to be one of the greatest formal musical minds of the 20th Century, in the pantheon with Bartok, Stravinsky, Copeland and Ellington.
April 21, 2:30 p.m. Bud Light World Stage, 6:30 p.m. Center Stage Presented by KHOU
April 22, 1 p.m. Center Stage Presented by KHOU, 4:30 p.m. H-E-B Cultural Stage
Born in Ecuador into a famous musical family and raised in New York’s Golden Age of Punk listening to rock, funk and reggae, guitarist/vocalist Cecilia Villar Eljuri plays Latin rock with passionate vocals, heavy basslines and some serious guitar solos. She has released two critically acclaimed albums with producer Yossi Fine (David Bowie, Lou Reed) and the drum’n’bass section of Sly and Robbie. The 4:30 p.m. set on April 22 will be solo and unplugged, and could tilt in a more traditional direction.
Los Amigos Invisibles
April 21, 4:30 p.m. Bud Light World Stage
April 22, 2:30 p.m. Center Stage Presented by KHOU
Formed 20 years ago in Venezuela as an alternative to both traditional Latin dance music and heavy rock en espanol, Los Amigos Invisibles was introduced to North American audiences with the superb, club-friendly 2004 album The Venezuelan Zinga Son, Vol. 1, released on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label. The group has since scored multiple Grammy nominations in the Latin Alternative category, including a 2012 nomination for the album Not So Commercial. The group has a reputation for wild live performances, mixing South American styles such as cumbia and samba with North American jazz and funk influences into a steamy, spicy-hot tropical stew.
Hector Del Curto Tango
April 21, 2:30 p.m. Center Stage Presented by KHOU; 8:00 p.m. Hobby Center Sarofim Hall
April 22, 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. Center Stage Presented by KHOU
April 29, 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. Center Stage Presented by KHOU
Hector Del Curto plays the bandoneon, an Argentine accordion and the essential melodic and textural instrument in tango music. As a teenager, he played in the classic dance orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese. More recently, he has served as the orchestra director for the spectacular Broadway show “Forever Tango” and currently tours with pianist Pablo Ziegler, Astor Piazzolla’s last music director, whose Nuevo Tango ensemble is considered to be the living heir to Piazzolla’s legacy of brilliance. Del Curto’s musicians and dancers include several current and former members from the cast of “Forever Tango.” They’ll be performing twice daily on Center Stage on April 22 and April 29. But for the total “Eternal Tango” experience, with dramatic lighting and elegant costume changes spotlighting a troupe of the world’s finest tango dancers, you need to be at the festival’s official Opening Night concert at the Hobby Center’s Sarofim Hall, 8:00 p.m., April 21. Buy your tickets to Eternal Tango here.
April 22, 2:30 p.m., Bud Light World Stage
This South African band mixes reggae with traditional Zulu styles such as mbaqanga as well as rock, blues and ska on its fifth album, Manifesto. They have been bridging racial and cultural divides from Cape Town to Amsterdam with a politically-conscious message for the past decade, and recently backed Ziggy Marley on his “Africa Unite” tour of the Motherland. This performance marks Tidal Waves’ Houston debut.
April 28. 2:30 p.m., Bud Light World Stage
Guitarist Omar “Bombino” Moctar hails from the caravan outpost of Agadez, in the West African nation of Niger. His electrifying jams recall the celebrated desert blues of the late Ali Farka Toure and fellow Tauregs Tinariwen, as well as rock and blues guitar gods Jimi Hendrix, John Lee Hooker and Jimmy Page. His debut album, Agadez, was cited on a number of influential Top 10 World Music critics’ lists, and he is currently embarked on his first North American tour.
Jacqui Sutton with the Frontier Jazz Orchestra
April 28, 2:30 p.m., Americas Stage
Jacqui Sutton arrived in Houston in 2008 after a successful career as a stage actress on the West Coast and in New York. A lyric soprano, she is now becoming known as one of the city’s finest jazz vocalists. As indicated by the title, her debut album, Billie and Dolly, honors the unlikely kindred spirits of Billie Holiday and Dolly Parton, and her Frontier Jazz Orchestra features several of Houston’s top jazz players playing unconventional arrangements that sometimes call for banjo and cello.
April 28, 4:30 p.m., Bud Light World Stage; 6:30 p.m., Center Stage Presented by KHOU
Chico Trujillo is the most popular band in Chile – there are YouTube clips showing soccer stadiums full of fans bouncing up and down -- and one of the most popular party bands in South America. The band’s exuberant sound is rooted in cumbia, which originated in Colombia but is now regarded as pan-Latin dance music, and incorporates elements of bolero, reggae and traditional Chilean music under the flag of alternative youth culture. These performances mark the band’s Houston debut, and promise to be a party to remember.
Sol Driven Train
April 29, 12:30 p.m., Americas Stage; 4:30 p.m. 29-95 Texas Entertainment Stage
From Charleston, SC, SDT has been touring pretty much fulltime since 2005. Their sound, which would fit loosely into the category of “jam band,” combines Southern rock, swampy funk, world beat grooves and pop melodies. They’ve shared bills with everyone from Michael Franti to Blues Traveler, and are becoming regulars at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
April 29, 2:30 p.m., Americas Stage; 5 p.m. Center Stage Presented by KHOU
Pedrito Martinez is considered by some to be the world’s greatest living conga drummer. He is much in demand as a sideman on recordings, and he previously played the festival as a member of the popular touring band Yerba Buena. Born in Havana, Cuba and based in New York, Pedrito’s sound is rooted in Afro-Cuban rumba and the polyrhythms and chants of Santeria. His band includes second percussionist Jhair Sala, from Peru, bassist Alvaro Benavides, from Venezuela, and pianist/vocalist Araicne Trujillo, from Cuba.
April 29, 2:30 p.m., Bud Light World Stage
SOJA is a reggae band on the move, having sold more than 150,000 albums worldwide, with fans that follow from town to town like a wandering tribe of Deadheads. Buenos Aires has a particularly devoted fan base. Formed in Washington D.C. by singer-guitarist Jacob Hemphill, the group cites influences from Bob Marley to Johnny Cash and Rage Against the Machine. The band’s most recent album, Strength to Survive, was produced by John Alagia, who previously has worked with Dave Matthews and John Mayer, among others.
Seun Kuti and Egypt ‘80
4:30 p.m,, Bud Light World Stage
Seun Kuti is the son of Fela Kuti, who is to contemporary Afropop what James Brown is to funk and Bob Marley is to reggae – it is impossible to imagine what the music would sound like without him. Egypt ‘80 is his late father’s former band, playing extended funk grooves underpinned by Nigerian tribal drumming, with an updated but no less politically-pointed lyrical focus. From Africa With Fury: Rise, Seun Kuti’s second album, was co-produced by Brian Eno and John Reynolds, and was nominated for a 2012 Grammy in the World Music category.
Check out Rick Mitchell's official Houston International Festival blog, Rico Live.