Report Says iFest Group Will File for Bankruptcy This Week

Photo by Marco Torres
Houston's Archie Bell performs at iFest last month
After several years of financial troubles, the nonprofit that produces the Houston International Festival will file for federal bankruptcy protection this week, according to a report in today's Houston Chronicle that claims spending has begun to exceed income by as much as $250,000 a year and has led to debts of more than $1 million.

The article cited a statement from the board of directors of the Houston Festival Foundation, which said, "Over the past few years, the Foundation has sold all of its assets to pay its bills and has no assets left at this time. The hope had been that this year's festival would have provided some profit to begin to pay off some debt, but that did not happen."

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The 10 Best Acts to See at iFest's Second Weekend

Photos courtesy of Houston International Festival
Asleep at the Wheel
Ray Benson's Wheel has been rolling for more than 40 years now, quietly becoming quite a finishing school for many of the state's top country and swing musicians. Meanwhile, their impossibly tall front man has developed into the leading ambassador of Lone Star culture around the globe.

Earlier this year Benson actually stepped outside the Wheel and released a rare solo album, A Little Piece, a reminder that underneath the raconteur, TV personality, businessman and unofficial mayor of Austin, he's still a musician at heart, and one who's a worthy heir to Bob Wills and Count Basie to boot. Really, really big boots. (Bud Light World Stage, 6:30 p.m. Sunday) CHRIS GRAY

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The 10 Best Acts to See at iFest's First Weekend

Photos courtesy of Houston International Festival
Richard Cagle & The Voodoo Choir
Whether you love rock and roll, have a soft spot for the blues, or are just a sucker for good storytelling, Richard Cagle & the Voodoo Choir are sure to please. Possessed of an affinity for the blues since he was a boy, Cagle familiarized himself with the likes of Lightnin' Hopkins when he moved to Houston in the late '60s.

Despite heavily downtrodden lyrics, the Voodoo Choir's energetic guitar licks, funky bass lines and heart-pounding percussion are sure to keep fans' feet tapping. (7:30 p.m. Sunday, BB&T Heart of Texas Stage presented by Houston Press) MATTHEW KEEVER

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Hopefully on Steadier Ground, iFest Turns a Corner

Photos courtesy of Houston International Festival
A scene from the 2013 Houston International Festival, when the spotlight country was Brazil
It's hard to believe that the Houston International Festival was once just a street fair in front of Jones Hall and the Alley Theatre, but that's but one wrinkle in a fascinating history that stretches back to 1971. iFest has been all over the city, from Main Street downtown to Reliant Park, but officials are hoping this year it will enter a new era at the freshly renovated Sam Houston Park, one a little less tumultuous than in recent years.

iFest is now one of Houston's oldest citywide public celebrations, and said to be its original arts-oriented festival. It is definitely one of its most unique: each year it highlights a "spotlight country" (this year is Australia), and orients its food, music and other cultural programming toward that nation as much as possible, as it does with the curriculum guide it produces and distributes to schoolchildren across the Houston area.

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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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