iFest Aftermath: Not Bad For a Non-Music Festival

Categories: Last Night, iFest
Breaking iFest news: Nigeria's King Sunny Ade & his African Beats have been forced to cancel their entire U.S. tour, including a scheduled appearance Saturday at iFest. According to a press release from the group's PR firm, Rock Paper Scissors, the U.S. Embassy has refused to grant visas to two new members of the group, who came aboard after their talking drummer and a percussionist were killed in a car accident on their way to a video shoot last month, in time to make the necessary travel arrangements.
Eggs/ breakfastontour.com
Every time we go to the Houston International Festival, Aftermath has to remind ourselves that the two-weekend downtown event is not, strictly speaking, a music festival. Not in the way that Jazz Fest and Austin City Limits, two regional neighbors with which iFest is sometimes (and unfairly) compared, are music festivals.

Aftermath suspects that very few Houstonians, if any, buy a ticket to iFest strictly because an obscure artist such as Mali's Bassekou Kouyate is on the bill; or, for that matter, because someone as well-known and well-liked as Joe Ely is playing with a band that hasn't been glimpsed around Houston since Rockefeller's in the early '90s.

The vast majority (we're guessing) buy tickets because if the weather holds out - which, Sunday's early-afternoon downpour and flash shower around 6 p.m. notwithstanding, it did - it's a pleasant and family-friendly way to sample exotic dishes such as goat curry, get their faces painted and let their kids gawk at people walking around on giant stilts. Meanwhile, the people who go mostly for the music hardly ever have to worry about having to elbow their way up front, although there was precious little green space around the Bud Light World Stage for Ely (who killed) or Ozomatli, who wound up involving most of the crowd up front (including our photographer) in their boisterous Latin hip-hop fiesta.

Chris Gray
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba

The quickest way to tell iFest is not a music festival is that, besides the HEB Cultural Stage and Center Stage, which are as likely to feature poetry readings, cooking demonstrations or dance exhibitions as live music, all the performances start at the exact same time. Real music festivals group their stages into two or three categories and stagger the starts so there's no quiet time and fans can circulate from stage to stage and never have to stand around waiting for someone to finish a sound check.

Granted, the stages at iFest are all maybe a five-minute walk from one another, but it still meant that, for example, Aftermath had to leave the fragrant reggae grooves of the Mighty Diamonds Sunday afternoon to go catch a quick mambo and samba from Houston's Norma Zenteno Band. We didn't mind that much - one time we walked by New Orleans rappers Truth Universal on the HEB stage and were sorely tempted to stay - but it would have been nice to see complete sets from both artists, or at least to have had the option.

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