September 24, 2016 was not a good day for music festivals in Texas. In North Texas, the Texas Mutiny Festival at Texas Motor Speedway was delayed and downtown Dallas’ Smoked Dallas was cut short before headliners Toadies could take the stage. Sadly, two hundred some-odd miles south, the Houston Open Air festival was also affected. What was the issue? Lightning. While everyone had rain or shine tickets, lightning was a factor that none of these event organizers could predict.
The gate openings for Houston Open Air were 11am, but early lightning strikes nearby pushed it back to noon. After waiting in line for exactly one hour, I received my media wristband and headed towards the VIP entrance. At this moment the first evacuation occurred. Everyone was required to leave the premises and return to their cars to await updates. Everyone was escorted beyond the main entrance on Murworth street and the gate was closed. While I did hear that there was a location (presumably covered, though it still had not rained), the majority of attendees and myself lined up along Murworth (that was closed to through traffic) and commiserated. I have to point out an issue with this. The event organizers evacuated the premises for safety concerns. But, none of us were any more safe hanging out in the middle of the street. Police were casually onsite, but remained in their car with the windows rolled down as pot smoke billowed wildly.
After a while I decided to head to a nearby convenience store where myself and hundreds of others raided the beer throughout the day. Consequently, back on Mulworth the party went going. Still waiting on updates, I decided to do a quasi-Heavy Metal Parking Lot (sorry, no video) and chat up my fellow metalheads. Some were nonplussed that a metal festival could be cancelled because of lightning. “Dude, there’s nothing more metal than a lightning bolt,” I was told. Eventually, I decided to head back to my hotel and get a little A/C and use the facilities. Finally, at 5:00pm the gates re-0pened. And unfortunately, two of the main acts I was going to see, Max & Igor Cavalera and Anthrax, were not rescheduled. With as many bands that were on the schedule, I’m not sure how you can do anything else. Nevertheless, Anthrax fans were out in force and visibly pissed.
After waiting an eternity in the VIP entrance, watching the GA pass through with ease, I made it inside the gate and headed for the VIP section where I could also enter the Media Tent. The VIP section was a white picket fenced off area, partially shaded, that had a handful of picnic tables and a large video screen showing the performances on each of the main stages. I grabbed a beer and peaked into the media tent. There wasn’t anything interesting happening there so I decided to scope out the grounds and make my way to a good spot for Ministry’s 6:00pm set. There were two main stages, side-by-side, and then off a few hundred yards, another stage where the drummer from the Foo Fighters cover band played a set simultaneously with Alter Bridge’s main stage set. Between Alter Bridge songs, I could hear Foo-dudes band. Though it wasn’t loud enough to really make out what they were playing. After checking out the merch and cruising by a row of food trucks, I decided to grab a position for Ministry.
I don’t know anything about Alter Bridge, but they did sound pretty damn good. And I point this out because their audience was enthusiastic, but when Ministry kicked into their opening song, “Punch in the Face,” the crowd went off. Immediately, a mosh pit churned and you got the sense that the crowd was ready to release the tension that built up from waiting for the event to start. Ministry played a ferocious 45-minute set and I was immediately relieved this day wasn’t altogether cancelled.
After Ministry’s set, I decided to grab another beer and find some food. The VIP area had some brisket stuff (the sign was small and the line was long, but I’m guessing the usual brisket tacos, brisket fries, brisket nachos fare) and maybe burgers, but also two onsite food trucks. One was selling Lobster Rolls for $15, another was an Asian-Mex-fusion thing that also sold fancy donuts. I opted for the pork kimchee tacos for $10 and was relatively satisfied. They were two small tacos, but they were delicious. Unfortunately, as I was waiting the Cult had already kicked into their first song. When I got my tacos, I head to the far corner of the fenced VIP area to scarf down my tacos and catch the show. At this point I realized it was kind of odd that the VIP area didn’t have a direct view of the stage. I suppose I could’ve watched it on the large video screen, but for Christ sakes I was at a concert. I’m not going to watch it on TV. I finished my tacos and headed out of the VIP to watch the rest of the Cult set. Throughout the set I made it a little closer to the stage, but was pretty much in the back. The Cult sounded great, though I wasn’t familiar with as many songs as I expected to be. But, they played the hits and sounded in good form. I will point out that Billy Duffy’s guitar was louder than everything else on stage. I could not hear the bass player at all and only the cymbals came through on the drums.
As soon as the Cult finished their set, Slayer went on almost immediately on the adjacent stage. There was no time to get another beer or use the restroom between sets. What’s more, if you were set up on the stage right (where the Cult played) you were stuck there when Slayer kicked off on stage left. This was an unfortunate consequence of the delayed schedule. I expect that they had to condense the schedule as much they could to get as many bands in as possible. But, I’m thankful I was in the back for the Cult so I could easily slide over for Slayer.
Slayer’s set was amazing. They had a grand light show, were loud as all hell, and dutifully rewarded a disgruntled, yet patient crowd. During The Cult’s set, a large curtain hung over the stage while Slayer’s crew set up. Oddly, there was no curtain on the adjacent stage, so you could also watch Alice in Chains’ crew set up with all the lights on and everything. It wasn’t distracting, per se. But, I wondered why there wasn’t a curtain on each stage. When Slayer ended I decided I needed to rehydrate and grabbed a sports drink. Alice in Chains started almost immediately and I almost didn’t care. I wasn’t the only one who needed a drink or the bathroom, many folks were running back to the main stage to see Alice’s set. Also, I saw a lot of people leaving during the AIC set. Alice in Chains played a professional set. They sounded good and I dig the not-so-new-anymore singer. All that said, they had a tough time following Slayer. Slayer’s show seemed bigger and more intense. AIC were not bad, but I wouldn’t classify it as “killer set.”
The event organizers had a tough case to deal with. Many of the fans I chatted with while we were waiting for the gates to re-open were mystified at the circumstances because there was virtually no rain. But again, lightning was the issue here. Some would argue that they shouldn’t have scheduled in this predictably rainy time of year. However, summers are full of these type of music festivals and you have to schedule around them. The Open Air guys got a lot of great names for this lineup. It was a disappointment for everyone that only a fraction were able to play.
– J. Kevin Lynch