Local Correspondants: Grant Paul at Free Press Summer Fest

by: Grant Paul
Music Festival Correspondant

The Flaming Lips are melting minds with an amazing set. They’re covering Dark Side of the Moon. It’s night, but in the middle of this crowd the temp is easily in the 90’s. I haven’t had water in a couple of hours. I’m having the time of my life. No doubt the best live show I have ever seen. Then, one second later, a very good friend is on the ground having a massive seizure. My joy immediately turns to a mixture of concern, panic and fear all at once. We are tenth row with close to 25,000 people surrounding us in every way you can imagine. No medics, no water, no help anywhere. Also, I am on three hits of the strongest LSD I have ever had.

Free Press Summer Fest was undoubtedly the best experience of my life. Not just from the massive amounts of mind-blowing music I saw, but more from the lessons I took from it. Never has any festival or trip taught me more about myself, my friends and life.

Before I get any further into my story, a massive thumbs up goes to the organizers of this festival. Bang for your buck doesn’t even begin to describe Free Press. I spent $65 on my ticket and saw nine amazing acts in full, including the best band ever. I seriously would drop $65 just to see the Flaming Lips. Actually, according to Wayne Coyne, Free Press will be the number one festival in America in three years. Can’t say I disagree with him. Talent-wise this thing is loaded. I saw acts ranging from Primus to Pretty Lights. Sound setup was great and Eleanor Tinsley Park was a very cool venue. As with any festival these days, there is a large amount of commercialism tied in with it, most of which is easy to avoid. My one complaint, after events that transpired, is that there was not enough attention put into medical staff. It seemed impossible to find help, even after I thought we’d found help. I heard that it was because they over-sold this year, who really knows though? Either way, do yourself the favor of checking this fest out if you have the means.

My personal journey started off rough as hell. I’ve been getting my fucking teeth kicked in at work for the last month. Basically had to work 156 hours in two weeks just to make it to Free Press. But, I would not be deprived of the Flaming Lips again, so I broke my body and made it. I picked up our rental car, a brand new Dodge Charger, and I was already so pumped when we got this car. From there, I packed in basically 10 minutes, like any true man should. Didn’t forget the bud or the paper in the freezer. It was time to hit the road. As always there is a large cast of friends with me.

Since I haven’t in a while I’ll run through everyone again.

Conan is my roommate, part of my tripod of unbreakable friends and an all-around amazing dude. He’s a little on the quiet side but don’t let that fool you, he’s one of the deepest people you could ever have the privilege to talk with. Wise for his age and always ready to go as hard as needed.

Dragon Lady is Conan’s girlfriend and my other roommate. She’s crazy, implosive, strong as a diamond but fragile as a daffodil. Also wise for her years and learning more every day.

Billy Zane is another member of my tripod, half warrior monk and half belligerent dick head. Always comes through in the clutch. Plus, he’s one of the most fun people to party with ever. I know that after this festival we will be life-long friends.

The Desert Rose is a new friend, who I actually just met like five minutes before we hit the road. She’s from New Mexico and was a friend of Billy Zane’s. This chick is also a total badass, wise and fun. Cannot wait for the next one with her.

We also had friends that we met in Houston. So, to get it out of the way, I’ll go ahead and introduce them now.

Brother Man is my cousin and the final member of my tripod. This dude is a monster with dreads and possibly the funniest human to ever walk the face of the Earth. No matter where he goes, he is the party. My blood and brother till the end.

Foxxy Love is Brother Man’s girlfriend and is a great match for him. She’s an awesome chick and great party animal, as always, a great person to be around.

The Firecracker is a friend of all of us and a fucking badass. She is no stranger to any of our antics.

The Best Connect Ever is an awesome dude. True to his name, he has the best of everything you could imagine. He always makes sure all of us are taken care of every time. Great dude to party and hang with.

Sexual Chocolate is Foxxy Love’s roommate and a friend of all of us. She pushes the limits every time and this trip was no exception.

We also had a last-minute addition to the group. He came from Dallas to meet us in Houston. The Jester is one of my personal projects for the betterment of humanity. I love this kid like a little brother and try to do my best to impart wisdom to him. He’s young, dumb and full of cum. In many ways, hanging with him is like riding in a time machine for me. It’s so crazy to actually grow up and then see someone who is exactly where I was at a certain point. The Jester is also a former roommate and Conan’s cousin.

Last but not least is The Grasshopper. She is going to take up a large portion of this story so I think I should take some time to fill in a little history with her. She is hands down one of the coolest people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. She is a real deal, badass writer, a responsible adult, caring person and a great listener. I actually started hanging out with her several months back. In my way, I’ve done my best to impart what I know about life to her. I took her on her first psychedelic journey. I have done my best to keep our relationship at a certain level but life never works out that way. We went through some shit, some fun and some not so fun. All my fault on that end. There are just certain times when saying no to a situation is not an option. But we’re only human, and we all have needs. Going into this trip was a strange one for me, because instead of doing the sane thing and just talking to her about everything, I shut down and avoided the situation entirely. I hate being a bad guy to good people. Plus, I am a very complicated person to be around. Hopefully, after the events of this weekend, we can still remain great friends, only time will tell.

So myself, Conan, Dragon Lady, Billy Zane and the Desert Rose left Lubbock around 10:30 a.m. on Friday. The drive to Houston wasn’t bad. I had a great time racing the Charger around anywhere I could. Actually got up to 115 a few different times. Hahaha. I love fast cars. We had tons of music, conversations and laughs along the way. It took most of the day to get to Houston. We checked in at 7:45 p.m. and the hotel we got was fucking pimp!!! Sixteenth floor with a badass skyline view. Great accommodations are a must for any trip. We chilled in our room for a few, and then decided to go find something for dinner. Taking a short stop for some Jameson at the hotel bar was a great idea. We left from there to downtown Houston.

First thing I noticed about Houston downtown: it is nothing like Austin. Very grown up. You can almost feel the oil money running through the streets. This presented several problems because, being this grownup/professional type atmosphere, we were not able to find anywhere to eat or drink. Actually, we found several places, all of which were closed the entire weekend. But finally, after walking around for a while, we were able to find a badass Mexican food place. Ninfa’s Mexican Restaurant, 1200 McKinny St #355. This place had great food, cold beer and super hot Spanish dancers, one of whom I temporarily fell in love with. Around this point, The Jester got into town and met up with us. We caught up quickly and enjoyed the rest of our meal. After a seafood pizza and five Negro Modellos, I’d had my fill. We left after I had tipped and parted ways with my new infatuation.

Everyone else besides The Jester and me went to the bar. I was in the mood for some good smoke and company after a long drive, so we went back to our hotel and kicked it.

I loaded a bowl and Conan showed up to join us. We sat outside taking one-hits and catching up even more. After we sat around talking and smoking for a while, we watched some old boxing match. Then I was ready to pass out.

I woke up the next morning feeling fairly rested, even though I did get woken up when the drunkards came in at four in the morning. Nothing too bad though. I got up, showered and called The Jester to come meet me for breakfast. We ended up going to an Einstein Bros Bagels. Not bad but not spectacular. We sat outside and tried to get ready for the insanity that would ensue. Little did I know at this point, but there was nothing that could prepare me for what would happen. Conan came down and we went with him to grab a bagel. After we sat around for a while it was time for everyone else to start getting ready, so we went and woke everyone up so showers could commence. I took this opportunity to get all my supplies for the day ready. Bud, “magic paper” and sunscreen. Shit loads of sunscreen. I’m super white. Being a Viking has its ups and downs.

After everyone got ready we headed to the park. We were extremely close to the venue, something I always make sure to do when attending festivals. Great plan because, if you go as hard at these things as I do, you do not want to drive after the day is over. We arrived around 12:30 p.m. and waited in line for about 20 minutes to get in. We actually thought we had bought ourselves some good karma because we donated $20 to a group of guys raising money for their friend with leukemia. As always, karma is not something to buy, you have to earn it. We cleared the “check point,” even more lax than normal. From there, Billy Zane and I were ready to eat some magic paper. We both took two a piece. Conan, Dragon Lady and The Jester all had one. Now the day was really ready to begin.

We went ahead and met up with The Grasshopper. She had already been in the park for an hour so I let her take us on the tour. Eleanor Tinsley was a great venue. Lots of stage space and amphitheater style for the two main stages. It was big, from end to end close to a mile. This is something that I would later learn to hate. Everything was laid out very nice, but there was a bottleneck that caused problems all day because Jeep had to take up a shit load of space for test-drives. The one thing I hate about festivals now is how dependent they are on corporate sponsorship. I understand they need the money, but it still sucks for the rest of us.

I bought a poster and so did Billy Zane, both of which would later be lost in the madness. Once we covered our ground it was time to get front row seats for one of my current favorite bands: Starfucker.

By now our magic paper was starting to get a foothold. Starfucker is an awesome electric, indie rock band out of Portland, OR. http://www.myspace.com/strfkrmusic. Words really don’t do justice to how great this band is. There are not many bands where I enjoy EVERY song they put out. Starfucker is one of those bands. Two full-length albums and both are gold. Their live show is great. It was awesome to see how many fans they had show up for Free Press. Everyone knew the music and all of us up front were getting giddy as soon as they started sound check. Once they started playing, I was taken away. The magic paper had me and the band had me (much more important). I listened to “Astoria” and solved every little nagging problem I had been dwelling on for months. “Julius” is where they started to hit hard though. Even listening to this song right now I’m blown away. From there, the show did not disappoint. They played for over an hour and got through tons of great music.

I also got my first glimpse of my hero, Wayne Coyne. Second time I’ve got a nod and peace sign from the man. Ahh, super man crush. “German Love” and “Girls Just Want To have Fun” were great crowd pieces. The only downside is that they didn’t play my all time favorite by them, “Death As a Fetish.” Outside of that, it was a five-star show. This was the first show I saw and the day only got better.

After Starfucker, I was a certified crazy person. Roll me over and stick a fork in me. Ends up this magic paper was really good magic paper. Two was definitely too much but I couldn’t worry about that. Had to move forward. The Grasshopper asked me for some magic paper and I easily complied. In retrospect, I should never have given it to her. She isn’t experienced enough in the ways of the psychedelic world yet to know when she needs to slow down. But, I knew none of what was still to come, so she dropped, then we got water and headed to go see Phantogram.

I was a little bummed we had missed Best Coast but I have actually seen them twice already, so it wasn’t a total loss. I knew of Phantogram’s music and really liked several songs prior to going to this show. http://www.myspace.com/phantogram. After seeing them live, I am a certified fan of this band. They are out of Saratoga Springs, NY. The lead singer, Sarah Barthel, is another addition to my ever-growing list of female performers I want to put a baby in. She is a total knock out. She commanded the stage with every bit of swagger that any male could hope to. Josh Carter, singer and guitarist for Phantogram, has a great presence and place in this band. They compliment each other perfectly. I cannot wait for their next album. Hopefully that will be soon because they played a couple of new songs for the crowd.

The show was in the hottest part of the day but that made it all the better. I was delusional at this point. We had plenty of water and getting a surprise bottle poured on me was heavenly. They were able to play through most of their album. “Eyelid Movies,” “Mouthful of Diamonds,” “As Far As I Can See” and “When I’m Small” were amazing. “When I’m Small” melted the universe for me. Their new track, “Don’t Move,” went off. It’s always great to see good reception for new material. The sound quality, not just for this show but every show we saw, was top-notch. Everyone was getting down the entire time. I was almost sad when their set ended, but then I remembered that I would be seeing a band I have lusted over for years now. The Flaming Lips. All was great from there. Next up we had Two Door Cinema Club.

We ‘re in the final brutal heat stage of the day waiting for the next band. We had made camp on Stage 2 so we could get amazing seats for the Lips. We left one or two at a time to get water for the group, but still, there were some very hot and dry waiting times. Billy Zane came through on the first shift with ten bottles, all of which were gone almost immediately. We were hydrated at this point.

Two Door Cinema Club was a great show. Another band I’ve been listening too for some time. The only downside was that their audience was a tad… Fratty, I guess would be the word. Actually, I got a ton of enjoyment listening to all the “Hey Bro!!” talk. Also in watching these guys try to pick up females. Ends up that frat and sorority people are perfect for Two Door Cinema Club. Their “I Don’t Give a Fuck” attitude was so fun to party with during the show.

Two Door Cinema Club is out of Ireland. http://twodoorcinemaclub.com/. Their sound is straight California though. Poppy and full of energy, every track played was great. They had the little females in their hands with the slower ones and the frat daddies singing along to the faster paced songs. I was enjoying everything in the world. It really was a great place to be. Yet again, the sound mix was fucking great. “Do You Want It All,” “Eat That Up, It’s Good For You” and “What You Know” were my personal fave’s. There was plenty of dancing and jumping going on throughout. Even in my extremely inebriated state I saved some little freshman chicks from a drunk dude. Party hard people but remember: not everyone is partying as hard as you. After this show, we were able to make what would be our final push for the Lips. Erykah Badu was next on the stage.

We ended up being about 15 yards from the stage in almost dead center. Not the front row seats I wanted to get but still very good. It took about an hour for sound check on Erykah’s massive band, something I had noticed when I saw her at SXSW. Get good roadies or a smaller band is all I can say. They never did get the Theremin working. Something that I know tortured Billy Zane. While we were waiting we sat down and had a close-quarters pow-wow. Conan and Dragon Lady were taking some more magic paper, so I cut The Jester and myself out another. If two was crazy, I couldn’t begin to describe what three was. Holy balls. Anyway, after a 30-minute show delay (also something reminiscent of SXSW), Erykah got on stage.

She might have been late but goddamn did she take control of the stage immediately. None of the ten-minute band intro I had seen at SX. She got right on stage and got to business. I’m not familiar enough with her music to know many of the songs she played, but all were great. Filled with a power that only a true artist can achieve, there was absolute poetry flowing in every word she spoke. Females take note: this is an artist worth modeling yourself after. She was still able to get in a great 45-minute set, all delays aside. Best part, we had made it through the heat of the day and everything was cooling down now. I was ready for a crazy night. Little did I know, over the next two hours I would completely redefine myself. It was time for the Flaming Lips and The Dark Side of The Moon.

Before we get into this, I’m going to give a little personal history on my infatuation with The Flaming Lips. I was first exposed to this band in 2005 when a great friend bestowed upon me his music library. I received a massive collection from him and found almost every great band I now listen too because of this. So thanks dude, you changed my life. Anyway, out of the stuff he gave me, he said I needed to look into one band in particular, The Flaming Lips. I can’t say I even fell in love with this band right away. At first, I was apprehensive about the crazy sound I heard. It took a couple of years for me to grow as a person. As I did grow, I started to appreciate the crazy sounds I was hearing. “At War With the Mystics” became my favorite. I later found “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” and “The Soft Bulletin.” By 2008, I was a freak for this band. There is no other band out there that does anything close to what Wayne, Steven and Michael have put together. This is a down to Earth, real motherfucking band. They love their fans. Their live shows are the things of musical folklore. Even being a vet at festival and concert shit now, I had always felt like a newbie because I hadn’t seen the Lips.

Last year I thought I had my chance at the Brady District Block Party in Tulsa, OK. I sat through 110-degree heat all day to get a front row center seat. No shit, I would have been four feet from Wayne, but I just got robbed in the end. An hour and a half before the Lips, and 30 minutes before Primus, weather blew in. I got to see the gigantic LED screen the Lips use blow over and destroy everyone’s gear. Fucking crazy and totally crushing. I couldn’t attend the badass makeup show the Lips put on and I was heartbroken. So, when Free Press came around and I found that, not only could I see the Lips, but also see them perform “Dark Side of the Moon,” I was sold. I bought my ticket the second I saw the lineup. Nothing was going to stop me this time.

I was both right and wrong about this.

We had gone almost an hour and a half without water at this point. Sound check was well underway and I was completely distracted watching the stage. Brother Man had some how tracked us down finally and now our whole family was together. It was awesome. Wayne played with crowd, getting everyone ready for the show. They teased with guitar riffs everyone knew, so much fun. At this point I knew I could use a little water but that I was nowhere close to trouble, personally. I’ve been through Bonnaroo and dealt with never-ending heat and humidity, and many other outdoor events during the day. I knew I had plenty of reserves to make it through the show. I should have checked with everyone else at this point, just to make sure my group was good. But I was tripping too hard to even talk, so I didn’t say anything. I assumed anyone who needed to get out of the crowd would. The Jester had to duck out already. So, I just went on trying to get ready for what was about to happen to me. Wayne had come out on the stage and told us they were going to do four of their own songs, then the entire Dark Side of the Moon. I was pumped. Sound check complete. Time for Blast off!!!

They opened with “Race For The Prize.” I could not fucking believe it, my first live Lips song ever was one of my all-time favorites. Also, this is a track they do not keep in regular rotation, so it was that much more special. My heart melted. I was a fucking kid on Christmas morning. We were all jumping, hugging and singing. Confetti filled the air like snow. I couldn’t slow down. It was indescribable. Next came another seldom played track, “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots.” Billy Zane lost it. This is the one track he had wanted to hear. I was so happy for all of us. The Flaming Lips are less of a band and more of a religion. My friends and myself had reached our Mecca. They let the crowd simmer for a second after that and then, BAM! “The Yeah, Yeah, Yeah Song.” I screamed with all my power at this song. Everyone in the crowd sang every word. Absolute energy, it was beautiful. For their final song out of their catalog they played “Do You Realize.” Take a minute, if you have never heard this song, and listen to it now. http://youtu.be/PCZeGO8-6e0 They started slowly and then took off. I had tears pouring from my eyes. I loved all of my friends, family and every last person so much. I could hardly move. I remember hugging Billy Zane and singing with some random people in front of me. This song. This moment. The best of my life. Crazy to think that five minutes later everything would change so much.

They had finished their songs. Phantogram joined them on stage to perform alongside. The Dark Side was starting. Wayne pleased the crowd by coming out in his giant ball. I was so close. “Breath” started. There was a full moon. It was almost too perfect. I was in Wayne’s world and ready for whatever he was going to show me.

Then I heard Billy Zane say “Dude!!” in a way I never have before.

I was pulled back to reality. I turn around and The Grasshopper is on the ground having a seizure. It was the single most terrifying moment of my life. Five minutes after the best moment.

I don’t even take time to think, I immediately stick my thumb in her mouth so she doesn’t bite her tongue off. The seizure lasted between 30-45 seconds. Something I found out later was a relatively small one. Still, the slowest time has ever moved for me.

By no means were we out of the woods yet. She was still in bad shape and in desperate need of water. Goddamn myself is all I can think. I should have been paying more attention. Not got so distracted. Not taken or gave out LSD. I look around me and all I see is people. Close to 25,000 by the looks. I yell for a medic. There is no help coming. I look at Billy Zane and The Desert Rose. We know what has to be done.

Without even talking, we all grab The Grasshopper and start making our way through the crowd. I’m trying like hell to get anyone’s attention. Most people just look scared as shit with no clue what to do. The Lips are playing “Time,” clueless to what is going on in the audience. We finally manage to get her out of the main crowd and lay her out on a table that 3 minutes before had been a bar. Only event staff and no medics are around. There are concerned people nearby, one of whom is a doctor. Still, no one really has a clue what the fuck they are doing.

I honestly had a moment when I thought she had died. I remember telling myself I had done it. Dark fucking times. But we were eventually able to find her pulse and she was breathing. Thank whatever deity you wish. I know I thanked them all at that moment.

She was still extremely dehydrated. We picked up the table she was on and walked it 100 yards to an air-conditioned tent. We got her to cool down and sit up but she was still unresponsive and in need of water. Finally, after close to 20 minutes, a golf cart pulls in the tent with a medic. The medic determines that we need to get more water in her. No fucking shit is all I can think. We load her on the golf cart and head out. As I said earlier the two main stages were amphitheater style, so large hills. Of course, the golf cart we have has no power to get up the hill. Billy Zane and me start pushing the cart uphill. I push my body past any previous stamina plateau.

There was a point when the cart started to give way and all I remember hearing is, “She’s slipping!!” I dug into the ground, took the weight of the entire cart and exploded. As soon as we got it up the hill, I start sprinting to keep up and clear the way for the cart. The Jester came flying from out of nowhere. We ran for what seemed like forever. The park had basically one main road that went through everything. From the looks on Google Maps, close to three quarters of a mile is what we had to cover. In my mind, this was the longest run I’d ever been through. I tossed people who didn’t want to move like rag dolls. To anyone I might have thrown, I’m sorry, but seriously, pull your head out of your ass. When a 6′ 3” dude is trucking along, yelling “Medical Emergency!” at the top of his lungs, move.

We finally made it to the medical tent. Billy Zane and myself were done. I had nothing left in the tank and none of us had water at this point. The Grasshopper was starting to talk now. We all got water in us. She started to cool down.

One of the funniest moments of this shit: Afrojack was playing in the background and, even after all that, she’s still dancing.

We stayed at the medic tent for a while. Her memory was a little hazy at first but that was just because of the magic paper. We took her back to the hotel and stayed with her while she slept. The Grasshopper ended up making a full recovery from her adventure and we all learned something that night. I didn’t get to see an entire Lips show, but I proved to myself that when shit gets real I can hang. I’m so proud of my friends too. Billy Zane and The Desert Rose both have earned permanent places in my heart. I’m so relieved that nothing happened in the end and that we reacted appropriately. I will never do magic paper at a festival again. I will watch my friends. We will rock again.

I was shaken up at the end of it all. Conan and Dragon Lady had found us and we chilled in our hotel. Dragon Lady and me had probably the deepest, longest conversation we have ever had that night. It was amazing to see the absolute concern out of everyone in our group. We let Brother Man know we were OK. We all had tickets for an Afrojack after party that we didn’t attend, but Brother Man vouched that it was badass. I passed out around four in the morning.

I felt like I had leveled up.

The second day was nowhere near what the first had been. I actually didn’t even get to the park until 5:30 p.m. The Jester and me kicked it for a while. I got a replacement poster, the last one, actually. Finally, karma was working my way. I met up with Brother Man and we caught a good rapper, Danny Brown. The show was fun, his beats are good, but his lyrics go with a younger crowd. Apparently he’s the “Adderal Admiral.” Hahaha. Good way to ease back into the festival. We met up with Foxxy Love, The Firecracker, Sexual Chocolate and The Best Connect Ever.

We grabbed seats and watched the end of The Descendents. Primus was next. While waiting for sound check I grabbed a killer corn dog and slammed a beer. Everything was such a stark contrast from the day before. I went and chilled on the lawn. We talked and smoked. I had to fill everyone in from this part of the group with the details of the night before. It was awesome. The Best Connect Ever actually offered me some magic paper that I turned down. First time I’ve ever done that. It felt good. Primus came out and put on a good show. We only stayed for probably a quarter of their set. Pretty Lights was starting soon.

We all got separated again and it ended up being just The Jester, Brother Man and myself at Pretty Lights. His stage setup is great. Maybe still second to Deadmau5, but up there. Great DJ show, he covered all of his big tunes. “All of the Lights” and “Finally Moving” were the best. Bun B came out on a remix of “Finally Moving,” fucking awesome. The Jester bounced out early. Since it was just Brother Man and myself we got deep in the crowd. Smoked and kicked it with some cool people. Saved a chick who looked thirsty by giving up my water. Party hard. Then we ended up finding the entire group together, close to the front. Awesome moment. To top it all off they ended the show and the festival with fireworks. Only way to close this festival.

We said our goodbyes and I met back up with Conan, Dragon Lady, Billy Zane and The Desert Rose. The only place we could get food was at a Domino’s in the heart of downtown Houston, but it was dank. We all passed out, then got up and drove home the next day.

I learned and loved so much in just a couple of days. I know now more about myself and the people I put around me than I ever have before. I’m strong, but guess what? So is everyone else on this planet. Empower yourself. It feels great. If I can stress only one point out of this whole thing it’s to hydrate and watch out for your people. Water and good friends are all you need to survive any situation. As always, thanks for reading and I hope you got something out of it too. Don’t forget: sharing is caring.

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