Houston Calling

Santomojo Shines On

November 27th, 2006 · 6 Comments

This just in from Drop Trio’s Ian Varley:

Did you hear about the Santomojo festival? My guess, based on attendance, is: no.

Have no fear – the festival happened without you. But the attendance was dismal, probably due to a mix of (a) high ticket price, (b) lack of big name national acts, and (c) a weird date. And, dare I say it: (d) the unfortunately provincial attitude of Houston audiences.

Put succinctly: it was a flop.

At least, that’s from the point of view of attendance. But musically, the Santomojo festival was a rocking success. Along with a few dozen fellow Houstonites, I saw a score of bands that were not just good, but fantastic. I saw curated quality – this was a “jam heavy” festival, perhaps, but the aesthetic that prevailed was a razor sharp one — electrified, complex, improvisational music with mighty aspirations. Charles Bishop and Nino Batista — the two brains behind the lineup — assembled a dramatic and cohesive bill.

To name just a couple names:

Moonshine Still (who, based on their name, I’d feared would be a bluegrassy jam band … not that there’s anything wrong with that) was instead the gem of the evening, bringing a non-stop explosion of well-crafted, impeccably executed electric prog-jam songs. One of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time, and that sentiment was echoed by just about everyone I talked to.

Lazlo Hollyfeld (who I’d been told were uniformly jammy) were actually a high energy rock outfit who pushed their chops into compelling swirls of melodies, with the kind of off-kilter songwriting that really gets music geeks like me going.

Moving Matter brought a storm of energy and light to the show, even though their set didn’t start until 1:30am. Their long-format tunes are relentlessly driven by Dan McGreevy’s backbeat, and the instrumental interplay reaches mighty zeniths.

Trance-thumpers A>S>H>S made sound (and visual) environments that pulled people into higher realms of thought. Houston underground music fans know these guys always put on a rare and enveloping show, but, as drummer Jason Williams put it, Houston underground music fans were also asking him if there were “any way to get in for $15” instead of $25.

Jam-circuit stalwart Mike Dillon (of the unfortunately named Hairy Apes Butt Moving X-perience) put together a weird and wonderful burlesque party with his “Go Go Jungle”, fusing his rock-solid musical sensibilities with a zany lounge songbook and an airtight trio of vibes, bass & drums.

And the list goes on. Every one of the 15+ bands, from all corners of the country, opened up the flood gates of energy and, for a few hours, shone with original electricity.

It wasn’t all roses, of course: the sound in the smaller “Red Room” was abominable, and consequently, there were a few bands in that space that never quite gelled like they could have. And, Quodia — a band with two members of King Crimson in the lineup, presenting a 70-minute multimedia odyssey with a low-key musical presence — was ultimately an overly hopeful mismatch for the event. The band put on an amazing show, but the crowd didn’t hook into it in that context. That same show, put on at an artistic space like DiverseWorks, would have blown people’s minds. In this setting, though, it just blew people’s patience.

But all that said, this is a festival with (believe it or not) a really clear rasion d’etre. This is a musician’s festival, by which I mean: one that respects musicians who take chances and hold themselves to high standards. The kind of festival where adventurous listeners are given a thousand little gifts, and open ears are richly repaid. I saw my friend Dustin (a consummate musician himself) utterly entranced by more than a couple of the bands, giving himself over to abject music worship. “This is fucking awesome!”

And you know what? Speaking as a musician, it was fucking awesome. I hope it continues next year, in a refined and better executed form. And I hope the word spreads to anyone in Texas who wants to see a festival where musical innovation is respected and revered. If we build it, they will come. Or maybe they won’t – this is Houston, after all — but I sure hope it continues either way.

Ian Varley is a local musician and member of Drop Trio (who performed at Santomojo). More can be found at IanVarley.com.

Tags: Music

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Shelby // Nov 27, 2006 at 4:05 pm

    I was there. All day. I too was entranced and also very thankful for the opportunity to experience so many amazing bands and talented musicians all in one day … and one place.

    I remember thinking more than once about how unfortunate it was that more people weren’t there. So many missed so much!!

    This is great – “The kind of festival where adventurous listeners are given a thousand little gifts, and open ears are richly repaid”.
    Yes, exactly. That is what it was! I’m glad I was there to receive them all.

  • 2 Jeff // Nov 28, 2006 at 12:50 am

    I’m not much of a jam band kinda guy, but I would’ve gone to this to see some of my friends play if I had known. I didn’t even read about it until late in the week. I’ll admit that I was sick and away from my machine alot last week, but I’m wondering why I didn’t hear about it sooner. Even if I had, I would’ve been in bed at home anyway. 🙁

  • 3 DAC // Nov 28, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    Yeah, the holiday weekend was not the best idea. Lots of people out of town — plus you automatically discount sports fans. Heh.

  • 4 Kat Rittinghouse // Nov 29, 2006 at 9:37 am

    ICON was present as well and agrees the event was a flop considering we had heard about the event last minute, as usual and had little time to assemble a large group. Many of the bands were fantastic. I still have concerns about lighting which makes it difficult for us to cover an event when we can’t even photograph the happenings there. Overall, I feel that the Meridian has potential. Lighting, first and foremost and cheaper tickets indeed for those that don’t want to spend high dollar for bands they’ve never heard of…I commend Charles and Nino for coordinating the event.

    ICON loves Drop Trio and The Greyhounds!
    Rock on!

    The everrawking indie promoter
    aka joyfulgurrrl

  • 5 Fred // Nov 29, 2006 at 10:19 am

    Please, no more jamband festivals.

  • 6 gatekeeper // Nov 29, 2006 at 10:52 am

    The Good: Greyhounds!, Moonshine Still, Lazlo Hollyfeld, Drop Trio
    The bad: red room sound, retarded scheduling (splitting already thin crowd for 2 similar bands?)
    the ugly: spending over 10 hours in a dark dingy warehouse with pricey drinks (move it outside!)

Leave a Comment