First of all, Houston has the best radio stations around. For 97.9 The Box to transition oh so smoothly from Kendrick Lamar’s “Bi**h Don’t Kill My Vibe” remix featuring Jay-Z to Lil Jon/Ying Yang Twins’ “Get Low” is amazing. Also, when was the last–or first time–you’ve heard those two songs on the radio?
It was the perfect intro for a New Yorker like myself ready to pop my Houston cherry. While I didn’t get a chance to visit Queen Beyonce in Third Ward or check out Frankie To-ong’s viral H-town Christmas light show, the third annual Day for Night festival helped me understand the city’s presence of unique underground, legacy and budding acts hailing in music and art.
Taking place at the historic Barbara Jones Post Office in downtown Houston, the trifecta was a hip, scene to many kids’ wet dreams. As one of only festivals to showcase visual art on a grand scale, the erie building once used to sort and deliver mail was transformed into an interactive museum of poignant work by the most talented visual artists around. Kyle Mcdonald and Jonas Jongejan recreated their 2013 installation “Light Leaks” for the festival and for the culture. The duo collected fifty disco balls and paired them with particular projection mapping, giving stoners a calming disco inferno to feed their highs.
Brooklyn’s Hovver also allowed folks to space out thanks to their circular creation, “Liminal Scope.” Three rings made up the presentation, as hues of lavender, white and yellow lights twisted between them. If you stood around long enough, an existential orgasm would’ve been waiting.
But the most thorough installation arrived by way of designer Ekene Ijeoma. The artist brought together Emmy-winning composer and pianist Kris Bowers, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and Grammy-nominated bassist Burniss Earl Travis for “Deconstructed Anthems.” With a self-playing piano, the group created a light and jazz performance of the US national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Ijeoma also programmed the composition to remove notes from the ongoing loop to match the rate of mass incarceration.
Powerful and haunting, the message was absorbed by some who sat quietly during the performance. Others captivated by the installation were more than happy to recite the national anthem with their hand over their hearts. Stylish festival goers also saw the opportunity for Instagram photoshoots. Either way, it was truly an artistic piece to take in.
As art geeks continued to fawn over the installations, music lovers jumped between the Yellow, Green, Blue and Red stages for musical performances. Festival whisperer and hip-hop artist Princess Nokia brought the Afro-Latin, Yoruba vibes early Saturday to the Green stage (Dec. 16). Most of the crowd was oblivious to her discography, but it didn’t stop the New Yorker from schooling them on tunes like “Mine,” “Tomboy,” and “G.O.A.T.”
Once word got out that Cardi’s set was moved up an hour, fans dropped their burritos only to wait 40 mins for the rapper to hit the stage. Her opener and fellow Bronx native, Hoodcelebrityy, made up for it with her reggae-rap sound. Tracks like “Walking Trophy”--and her island gyal moves--were a great introduction for new fans of the rapper.
Cardi finally hit the stage for a 15-minute set, something many fans seemed to be bummed by. Members of the peanut gallery claimed the “Bodak Yellow” rapper was underpaid for her performance and lead to her short stage time. Besides her features on Migos’ “MotorSport” and G-Easy’s “No Limit,” many were privy to her solo tracks like “Lick,” “Forevea” and undoubtedly, “Bodak Yellow.” With talented dancers at her side, she performed the popular tracks and fans got what they wanted.
Lil B’s set featured plenty of intended blunders like his “WHAT’S UP DALLASSSS!” greeting to Houstonians. The rapper performed most of his set off beat, but it all seemed to be apart of his rouse. If Lil B’s set were replaced by Trae the Truth, we’re sure it would’ve been a touching moment for the city and an unforgettable homecoming set.
With Tyler, the Creator, Nine Inch Nails and plenty of rain closing out Saturday, Sunday’s festival goers and performers enjoyed clear--and warmer-- skies. Entertaining artists included iconic group En Vogue, who were anything but out of place. The trio gave the crowd a lesson in R&B, A-1 runs, and nostalgic melodies.
Your nocturnal favorite could never.
Cardi’s presence was missed by genre fluid duo Phantogram. Frontwoman Sarah Barthel made it clear she was a big fan of the rapper and shared her dream of Cardi hitting the stage for their set. “Cardi said she’ll be here in about two or three hours,” she said before diving into dynamic tracks like “Fall In Love,” “Mouthful of Diamonds” and “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore.”
Last but certainly not least, was Houston’s very own Solange. The singer canceled her Saint Heron “Soul Cleansing” performance, but made up for it on the Red stage on Sunday evening (Dec. 17). Her “Orion’s Rise” show was filled with cuts from A Seat At The Table and jams from the five-year-old gem, True. The singer sounded better than ever as she floated between ridiculously high notes while nursing a sinus infection.
After leaving the stage to grab her adorable cowboy hat to match her crimson look, the artist thanked her Houston fam for appreciating her work over the years. Closing her set with “Don’t Touch My Hair,” Solo turned Day for Night into your Auntie’s house party featuring her talented band.
In all, Houston was a gentle reminder about the importance of diverse music and people who actually respect each other. It’s something that the city has always had, as seen during the turbulent Hurricane Harvey storm in August 2017. One concertgoer shared with me how the same post office featuring the alluring light shows, was nearly underwater just months prior. The festival wasn’t just a last hurrah for festival season. It was a testament to the city’s resilience and creative spirit.
Thanks for the memories, Houston.