Sometimes new ventures just take a little tweaking.
When the Texas Heritage Festival made its debut last year with summer shows in four Texas cities, it was a good idea that didn’t pan out as well as its planners had hoped, attendance-wise. So they made some changes: They included a couple of bands from beyond Texas, changed the schedule from a week of Saturdays to four straight days over the July 4 weekend, and shortened it from an all-day event to an evening affair.
Judging from Thursday’s opening night at Stubb’s, it worked out just fine. A near-capacity crowd bought bargain-price $10 tickets to see South Carolina duo Shovels & Rope, New York-via-Austin indie darlings Okkervil River, San Antonio’s Girl in a Coma and Delta Spirit frontman Matthew Logan Vasquez play modest-length sets as the sun went down on the Red River District.
Moving from last year’s site, the seldom-used Fair Market space, to the well-established environs of Stubb’s also seemed to help. You couldn’t miss that the event was sponsored by Lone Star Beer, with their giant banner behind the bands plus logo-emblazoned T-shirts and koozies. Such sponsorships help to pay the bands and keep the ticket price low, something that seemed to work for all parties involved. The whole thing is also for a good cause, with proceeds benefiting hunger relief organization Feeding Texas.
The musicians played along in spirit. “I really like Lone Star Beer, it’s a good product!” Vasquez declared near the end of his short but energetic set, which began at 6:45 p.m. for a few hundred early-arrivers. Afterward, Vasquez, who recently moved back to Austin to pursue solo work outside of Delta Spirit, greeted fans and signed records at the merch table.
Girl in a Coma, who’ve mostly been on hiatus the past couple of years while singer Nina Diaz toured behind a solo album, appeared happy to be reunited for the occasion. “I know it’s Lone Star and all, but don’t drink and drive. Drink and walk really fast,” Diaz offered as her bandmates launched into another hard-charging punk-pop tune.
They tried out some new material on the crowd, as did Okkervil River. Since relocating to New York, leader Will Sheff has reconfigured the lineup with musicians from that area. But if his Austin connections have dwindled, the audience still treated him as an old friend as the band introduced songs from a new album titled “Away” that’s due in September.
Exactly how Shovels & Rope’s Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent managed to follow three full-band lineups with a guitar-and-drums duo performance is a mystery. They kick up a racket, certainly, but perhaps it’s more just their combined personality that carries the day. It helps, too, that the spartan arrangements put the spotlight on their vocals, which soared out past the big-tent stage and carried easily toward the back of the spacious Stubb’s grounds.
Next up for the Texas Heritage Fest is the Bomb Factory in Dallas on Friday, followed by White Oak Music Hall in Houston on Saturday and finally San Antonio’s Aztec Theatre on Sunday.