Houston International Festival

Houston International Festival

Downtown Houston, April 28-29

Over the past two weekends, Houston hosted what is possibly the biggest, if not the best, music festival in Texas. Set among the city's gleaming downtown skyscrapers, the International Festival brings in music from around the world for two weekends; each day, the price of a couple of beers bought an amazing array of music on all of eight stages. Sets were timed to overlap from stage to stage, so with a little stamina, you could see eight hours' worth of music and dance and still have time to enjoy the good food representing Houston's multitude of different cultural communities. This year's spotlight country was Ireland, and on this second weekend, superstar Irish singer-songwriter Paul Brady was the main attraction. Lesser-known Celtic groups like Kila, Solas, and Different Drum also performed among regular presentations from Irish dance troupes. Afrobeat fans were treated to the fiery sounds of Nigerian Femi Kuti, while Zaire's Ricardo Lemvo's horn-heavy Afro-Latin fusion was propulsive and intoxicating. American music was found Saturday in the delightful mountain music and wry humor of Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys, the masterful musicianship and stylish swing of Austin's Hot Club Of Cowtown, and the flavorful Cajun-rock blend of Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys. Meanwhile, on another stage, blues was the order of the day, from Texas Johnny Brown's Gulf Coast soul to the revved-up Austin style of Angela Strehli to down-home swinging blues master Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Sunday belonged to onetime Houstonian Lucinda Williams, who enthralled a huge gathering with a gorgeous set that showcased the live punch of her new songs. There was also a playful and diverse set of distinctive Latin music from Ruben Ramos & the Texas Revolution, and a captivating solo performance from Richard Thompson. With near-perfect weather, a spectacular setting, and large but never unwieldy crowds, this year's International Festival proved to be a welcome alternative to the generally overcrowded Jazz & Heritage Festival happening a little ways up I-10 in New Orleans. Next year, more (but not too many) music fans should consider making the drive.

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