Houston's Five Best Concerts This Week: Eric Church, Helmet, Ledisi, Miranda Lambert, etc.

Photo by John Peets/Courtesy of Essential Broadcast Media
Eric Church
NRG Stadium, March 3

RodeoHouston kicks off its 2015 season with a first-time entertainer whose appearance says as much about the changing times as it does his hosts' unending need to stay in tune with what's hot. Once all but blacklisted by radio programmers for a hell-raising attitude that sometimes spilled over into his lifestyle, Eric Church now sits at the very top of Nashville's A list thanks to The Outsiders.

One of only two country albums released in 2014 to go platinum -- and the furthest thing from some focus-grouped album-by-committee stitched together in some big-label boardroom -- Outsiders is instantly recognizable as the work of an artist with an axe to grind who is firing on all cylinders, from No. 1 single "Talladega" and eight-minute stream-of-consciousness rant "Devil, Devil (Princess of Darkness)" on down. (Concert begins after rodeo is over.)

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Houston's 10 Friendliest Bars

Photo by David Rozycki
Just a couple of the friendly people you might meet at Lola's Depot.
On our bar adventures about town, most of us are going out to have a good time and hoping to encounter some friendly faces. From our experience, the bars on this list meet these requirements, as we usually encounter both good-natured and approachable patrons and staff at these places.

Keep in mind that you can run into a jerk anywhere, unfortunately, but we feel if you give these spots a chance you're most likely to make some new friends, at least for the night.

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The 10 Best Concerts In Houston This Weekend: Aaron Watson, Robyn Ludwick, Cursive, etc.

Photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media
Aaron Watson's The Underdog is one of 2015's surprise-hit albums.
World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest
NRG Park, February 27 & 28

Never mind the Hideout during the rodeo itself, but critics who gripe that the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo embraces the likes of Fall Out Boy at the expense of the boot-scootin' talent in its own backyard must have overlooked the World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. This year the contest spreads an even dozen top Texas country and like-minded acts over its three days, down to "Hound Dog" howler Bri Bagwell mini-residency at the "Rockin' Bar-B-Que Saloon."

After everyone has slept off last night, the fun continues Friday with headliner Aaron Watson, whose new album The Underdog hit the No. 1 spot on iTunes country chart last week, alongside Baytown's Breelan Angel; Houston's Justin Van Sant and the Bart Crow Band. Saturday brings a full plate of finger-licking tunes Saturday with Cameran Nelson, Clare Dunn, Max Stalling, Uncle Lucius and the Turnpike Troubadors. As for the food, even if you don't score a pass to one of the invite-only tents, each ticket comes complete with a yummy chopped-beef sandwich. See the rodeo's Web site for a map and more info. CHRIS GRAY

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2015 FPSF Lineup Brings On Mixed Emotions

Photo by Marco Torres
To say opinion is split over FSPF 2015 headliner R. Kelly (shown at a 2011 Toyota Center date) is the understatment of the year.
Scanning this year's FPSF lineup, my first thought was "I see they're not going out of their way to quiet those people who keep calling it a sausagefest," followed closely by, "R. Kelly...seriously?" I was thrilled to see the likes of Gary Clark Jr., St. Vincent, Charles Bradley and Riverboat Gamblers, and impressed by the names that can only help FPSF's mission to be taken seriously as a front-rank music fest: Decemberists, Mastodon, Belle & Sebastian, Skrillex, etc.

Could not care less about most of the rest, but I think the organizers chose well with this year's first-time local acts (Catch Fever, George West, Moji, Geo Chamba...) -- unless said acts happen to play hip-hop; the admittedly bonkers "Welcome to Houston" reprise notwithstanding. (Also, Lecrae!) Personally, all that doesn't quite add up to $200 worth of entertainment to me, so that's what media passes are for, I suppose. But throw a sucker-punch like Tears For Fears and it's like, well, maybe... CHRIS GRAY

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The FPSF 2015 Lineup Is Right Here

As promised, above you should see the lineup card for this year's Free Press Summer Fest, scheduled for June 6 and 7 at Eleanor Tinsley Park near downtown. If some of the names are a little difficult to read, we'll be glad to oblige below.

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The Five Best Concerts In Houston This Week: Bad Suns, Meghan Trainor, Dwarves, etc.

Photo by Steve via Flickr
Bad Suns jamming at last year's SXSW
Bad Suns
Fitzgerald's, February 24

Formed all the way back in 2012, Bad Suns is another stylish, dance-friendly act jockeying for whatever fans haven't yet been gobbled up by Imagine Dragons; perhaps they're just positioning themselves as potential openers for the "Radioactive" pace-setters' upcoming arena tour. Either way, the Southern California quartet folds '80s synth-pop into Phoenix-style alt-rock the way a skilled pastry chef would whip up a tray of delicious petit fours, and quickly found a receptive radio audience with candy-coated singles like "Salt" and "Cardiac Arrest." With Coasts and Maudlin Strangers.

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Drake Drops May 17 Arena Theatre Date

Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Drake, the last time he was in the Houston area.
Let us, for a moment, put our dreams of a Drake and Kanye album away for a moment; here in Houston we have bigger Drake news to deal with.

Out of nowhere, much like his new mixtape, comes news that Drake is hitting the circular stage at the Arena Theatre, and tickets are onsale...now?

Happy Friday, Houston!

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Houston's 10 Best All-Ages Music Venues

Photo by Katie Haugland via Flickr
We can all remember back to a time when we were under 21 years of age, ready to go out on a Friday night with friends. But where to go? Long ago, back when the Earth was flat, there was not much to do besides driving around all night or hanging out in your local parking lot.

Luckily for today's young people, some places in Houston offer live music to those still under the legal drinking age; truthfully, some venues listed here have been open to young people for quite some time, though we didn't always know about them back in the old days. Besides being places where young people can venture out on their own, parents can take their younger kids here to introduce them to the wonderful world of live music as well.

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Sammie Relford Gives It One More Shot

Photos courtesy of Leslie Waddy
Sammie Relford (center) and a few dozen of his fans at the Gallant Knight
Sammie Relford is making another comeback. The soul singer once enjoyed a long run as one of Houston's most recognizable and popular entertainers, drawing comparisons to past R&B greats from James Brown to Luther Vandross. Some of those were self-anointed, perhaps, but Sammie also had the crowds to back them up -- packed Saturday-night houses at the old Gallant Knight on Holcombe for years and years, and then more of the same at his own club, Sammie's at 2016 Main.

Now he's ready to do it all over again. He's not lacking in self-confidence, either.

"What I do is special," Relford says. "There's no more Marvin Gayes around. There's no more Otis Reddings around. And I'll take your mind mentally and make you think you're looking at these people. And make your day. If you're sad, I'm going to make you happy."

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The 10 Best Concerts in Houston This Weekend: Grand Old Grizzly, Big Sandy, Lights, etc.

Photo courtesy of Grand Old Grizzly
Grand Old Grizzly
Fitzgerald's, February 20

Not to be mistaken for their neighbors in the Grizzly Band -- a forgivable mistake, to be sure -- Grand Old Grizzly has modestly established themselves as one of Houston's top roots-rock units in the past few years. Drawing on familiar sources from Tom Petty and Rodney Crowell to the Supersuckers and "Ghost Riders In the Sky," the quartet makes the kind of music best enjoyed while drinking or driving, just preferably not at the same time. (Please.) Friday is the official release of the group's second album, Cosmonada, one of the finest slices of Americana cut by a Houston act in quite a while. With Thunderado. CHRIS GRAY

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