PLANO “Hot fun in the city,” proclaimed the paper fans being handed to attendees of the inaugural Suburbia Music Festival, as they entered the main gate Saturday.
Set amid the 800 acres of Plano’s lovely Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve, the freebie proved, ultimately, to be truth in advertising.
The opening day of this two-day event, a Live Nation-backed festival designed to draw dollars and attract tourists to the city just north of Dallas was, by and large, an enjoyable affair.
Certainly, the organizers could not have asked for better weather, with temperatures hovering in the low 90s, scarcely a cloud in the sky and a light breeze wafting across the expansive grounds.
The all-ages crowd grew steadily over the course of the afternoon and into the evening — attendance figures for Saturday were not immediately available, but organizers were aiming for around 20,000 — and apart from the odd case of dehydration here and there, it appeared to be a calm gathering.
The music, which on paper seemed like an arbitrary hodge-podge of bands way past the glory days and buzz bands better suited for clubs in Deep Ellum, made a bit more sense in practice.
Suburbia Music Festival spread its wares between three stages: Meadow (the main stage), Cedar Room and Prairie. The latter two played host largely to hip-hop (Cedar Room) and alt-rock (Prairie), leaving Meadow to cycle through the unabashedly rock acts.
As is often the case with festivals of such scale, the best moments happened away from the main stage, although it too had its pleasures.
The unquestioned highlight of Saturday was Run the Jewels — rap super-duo Killer Mike and El-P — and their criminally underattended set at the Cedar Room stage. By turns profane and playful, the pair’s chemistry was evident, and those who did crowd around the stage were treated to a giddy performance that had heads bobbing and hands raised in ecstasy. For a moment, Suburbia felt like crashing someone’s very expensive backyard barbecue, albeit one featuring a primo rap group.
Elsewhere, Surfer Blood’s hazy guitars and irresistible melodies were ideal for such a sunny day (as was Midlake’s psychedelic, pastoral folk-rock), just as singer-songwriter Meg Myers’ serrated angst felt a little off.
Delta Rae’s stomping, swampy blues-rock played well on the Meadow stage, and the rustic uplift of Needtobreathe was also diverting. SoMo, a rising hometown R&B star, came off better here than he did in December at the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball, where he seemed nervous and trying too hard.
The evening provided a triple dose of nostalgia, courtesy the Dandy Warhols, Third Eye Blind and Violent Femmes.
The Dandy Warhols, as blithe as ever, nevertheless inspired small frenzies of dancing among fans, while Third Eye Blind proved its mid-90s work holds up (even if frontman Stephan Jenkins, who’s cultivated a bizarre surfer-meets-self help guru aesthetic in the interim, came off as massively entitled, constantly reminding the crowd how fortunate they were the band took a break from recording its new album to play Suburbia).
The Violent Femmes were a welcome dose of weird amid so much corporate branding, with Gordon Gano cheerfully flinging expletives and non sequitur lyrics at a sea of people, many of whom had children in tow.
My first day wrapped with Colorado duo Big Gigantic — I missed headliner Alabama Shakes because of a certain Welsh pop star in town — which proved to be a bewildering mix of EDM and live instrumentation, set amid a light display intent on triggering seizures.
Apart from a few infrastructure tweaks — for instance, there could be bigger and more clear signage directing attendees to the various stages; once you leave the festival grounds at night, you’re plunged into pitch darkness, which makes navigating the park’s hilly terrain a dicey proposition — Suburbia seems to be on the right track.
What needs to be fixed can be done so easily. More important was what Suburbia did well, right off the bat. The staff was quick to help with any question and unfailingly friendly, with a water station set up to refill bottles, and plenty of food choices (even vegan options) in the sizable food court. The lay-out, though sprawling, was simple, and once a rhythm of moving between stages was established, easy to maintain (not a single act took the stage late Saturday, which is more impressive than it sounds).
It’s evident Suburbia aims to be DFW’s answer to the long-running Austin City Limits Music Festival, held every fall 200 miles to the south.
While this festival, which concludes Sunday, isn’t quite there yet, it’s not hard to take a look around at what Live Nation and the city of Plano have built on a beautiful site — a couple of days promising “hot fun in the city” — and see where, with a little luck, some dedication and smart bookings, they just might have something.