Soul Stars Charles Bradley, Laura Mvula Lead Early iFest 2014 Names

Photo courtesy of Dap-Tone Records
Charles Bradley
The Houston International Festival has announced the first confirmed acts for this year's festival, which returns to the freshly renovated Sam Houston Park downtown April 26-27 and May 3-4. This year's spotlight country is Australia, but the first round has a heavy deep-soul tint.

The one single act we're happiest to see is Charles Bradley, the old-school R&B dynamo who has roared onto the soul scene the past few years thanks to his albums No Time For Dreaming and last year's Victim of Love. Imagine a male Sharon Jones backed by an equally stout band, the Extraordinaires, and you're almost there.

Others are emerging UK vocalist Laura Mvula, a double nominee in the 2014 Brit Awards (their Grammys) for her album Sing to the Moon; and the Family Stone -- that Family Stone, keepers of Sly Stone's psychedelic-soul flame. Maybe Sly himself might show up from whatever planet he's been on recently, but don't get your hopes up.

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The Best of iFest's Second Weekend: Aaron Neville, Sergent Garcia, Grupo Fantasma, etc.

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Photos by Jody Perry
Aaron Neville
After four certified platinum albums and a few Grammys, Aaron Neville -- now 72 -- would have had every right to hang it all up years ago. Instead, to the delight of fans, the New Orleans soul singer found himself performing at iFest this weekend in support of his fourteenth studio album, My True Story, his first release in seven years.

Clad in a white button-down, blue jeans and with a beige fedora atop his head, Neville closed down the World Music Stage early Sunday evening, crooning to the horde of listeners that had gathered to hear and see the legend for themselves, eventually getting everyone to snap their fingers and dance along. He performed plenty of his own songs, including "Hercules," "Don't Go, Please Stay" and True Story's title track, peppering his set with renowned classics such as Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and Ben E. King's "Stand By Me."

If Sunday's performance was any indication, Neville's still got soul to spare, and he won't be slowing down anytime soon. MATTHEW KEEVER

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Acts You Shouldn't Miss at iFest's Second Weekend

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Photos courtesy of Houston International Festival
Texas Brass Band
Bud Light World Music Stage, 1 p.m. April 27; Houston Press Rocks Off Texas Music Stage, 4:30 p.m. April 27

The Texas Brass Band combines trumpet flourishes and tuba-led bass lines with jazz, R&B, and hip-hop influences to create a unique, distinctively Southern sound. Last year, the ten-man band could barely fit onstage together, but its members still found a way to groove to the music onstage, swaying back and forth in perfect, funky rhythm. The energy TBB exhibits during live performances, on which the band prides itself, is infectious and, no matter how long their set lasts, fans will inevitably clamor for more. MATTHEW KEEVER

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Acts You Shouldn't Miss at iFest's First Weekend

Rocks Off asked our staff members who will be covering the Houston International Festival for us this weekend to give us one or two choices for artists they don't want to miss.

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Photos courtesy of Houston International Festival
Bootsy Collins
Forro In the Dark
Bud Light World Music Stage, 2:30 p.m. Saturday/Center Stage, 6:30 p.m. Saturday

As one of the first acts to hit the iFest stage, Forro In the Dark provides an early exposure to the delights and diversity of Brazilian music. The group should be an enjoyably educational introduction to the "forro" musical style, a dance-happy amalgamation of rhythms primarily powered by the interplay of guitar, flute and percussion.

In a decade of playing on its home turf, the New York-based but Brazilian-rooted group has built a fervent fanbase that includes David Byrne, who sang on two songs on the band's debut album. MICHAEL POINT

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Officials Promise iFest's Security Needs Will Be Met

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Photo by Groovehouse
The crowd at the 2012 Houston International Festival
With nerves on edge after Monday's Boston Marathon explosions, officials at the Houston International Festival and City of Houston say they are up to the challenge of meeting the security needs of an event that organizers believe will bring some 200,000 people to the streets of downtown Houston this weekend and next.

iFest is entering its 43rd year, and will gather an array of artists, performers, vendors, fans, and musical acts including Bootsy Collins, the Wailers and Los Lobos to Sam Houston Park, Tranquility Park and the streets around City Hall. Ticket information and other details are available at

Music Feature:

World Beat: The Music of iFest

Wednesday afternoon, iFest President and CEO Kim Stoilis sent Rocks Off a statement that said, "Like the rest of the world, our thoughts continue to be with the people of Boston and all those impacted by this tragic event. Security and safety of our patrons has always been a No. 1 concern. It is the lead element of patron experience, and a great patron experience is our No. 1 goal."

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Sergio Mendes Opens iFest With a Charge to "Enjoy Life"

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Photo courtesy of Houston International Festival
The 43rd Annual Houston International Festival kicks off its Brazilian-themed, two-weekend affair this evening with an opening gala at the Hobby Center featuring Grammy Award- winning pianist and musician, Sergio Mendes. Opening for Mendes will be Casa Samba, a samba school located in New Orleans.

Bookending the concert will be a Chairman's Reception before the concert and an opportunity to meet and greet with concert performers Mendes and Casa Samba after. Rocks Off got an early start on the latter, speaking with Mendes by telephone about this evening's performance.

"[There will be] a lot of great songs and great music," promises Mendes, confirming that he will perform his classics, his hits and newer songs from 2011 album Celebration: A Musical Journey.

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iFest Bringing Bootsy, Baby and a Boatload of Brazilians

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This was a surprise. The Houston International Festival, sort of like ACL goes to the museum, just announced its 2013 lineup about half an hour ago, right out of the blue. Get ready to get funked up in Sam Houston Park rather than outer space.

Topliners include funk warlord Bootsy Collins, New Orleans crooner Aaron Neville, reggae droppers The Wailers, jam band Leftover Salmon, (both previously announced), British soul singer James Hunter, Zimbabwe's Oliver Mtukudzi, Austin's Grupo Fantasma, the Stooges Brass Band, Texas Brass Band and Houston's increasingly popular Bombon Sound System.

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Saturday: iFest in Downtown Houston -- War, Bombino & More

Categories: Aftermath, iFest

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Photos by Groovehouse
Lonnie Jordan of War
Houston International Festival
Downtown Houston
April 28, 2012

Check out our slideshows from this weekend: iFest bands and food and faces from iFest. Also, be sure to read our write-up of iFest's artistic and cultural offerings.

It's hard to know what to experience first at iFest. Long before you reach the gates, the smell of a tremendous variety of meats and vegetables being smoked, grilled and fried fairly carries you inside, and the mingled strains of a dozen genres of music, both live and recorded, waft from every direction.

It's a fitting, disorienting introduction to Houston's annual downtown celebration of cultural eclecticism.

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Rockin' Bluesman Joe Louis Walker Ignites Hellfire

Categories: Blue Notes, iFest

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Photo by Michael Weintrob
While many young'uns spent their years 'twixt 12 and 20 just listening to music and attending concerts, Joe Louis Walker was a bit more proactive. At age 16, he became the house guitarist for the legendary San Francisco rock club The Matrix, he played with or opened shows for everyone from Jimi Hendrix and Lightnin' Hopkins to Thelonious Monk and Freddie King. He also became close friends with blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield.

Later, after a decade spent performing nothing but gospel music with the Spiritual Corinthians, Walker returned to his brand of blues-rock in 1986, releasing 23 albums since then. The latest, Hellfire, is his first for legendary blues label Alligator. And -- as the title would indicate -- it's full of fiery tracks.

Rocks Off spoke with Walker about the new CD, an infamous incident with Hopkins and how Texas is like a big garden for growing guitar players.

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Sunday: iFest in Downtown Houston -- Galactic, Jason Isbell, Etc.

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Photos by Marco Torres
Stone River Boys
Houston International Festival
Downtown Houston
April 22, 2012

With a slight north breeze keeping festival-goers from broiling under a cloudless sky, Sunday's iFest turned into a perfect laid-back Houston day of rest and entertainment excess. It didn't hurt that the music lineup was both diverse and stellar, that there were virtually no lines and that things ran with an almost informal efficiency that is so typical of the Bayou City.

We started the day with Austin's Stone River Boys and the hundred or so souls mostly scrunched under the big live oak tree which offered the only shade -- shade and sunscreen being in high demand.

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