All week leading up to the much-anticipated Fortress Festival, the weekend weather forecast became increasingly ominous, prompting many to post on social media concerns that the entire Saturday lineup would have to be canceled or postponed. It was undoubtedly a rocky start for the fledgling fest, a first-of-its-kind venture co-founded by Alec Jhangiani and Ramtin Nikzad (who both left positions at the Lone Star Film Festival) in collaboration with the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and booking agency Margin Walker that took place in the Cultural District last weekend.
Organizers eventually decided to push the first set back from 3 to 5 p.m., effectively bumping from the lineup dance machine Ronnie Heart, one of just three Fort Worth acts on the bill. That decision turned out to be premature, as storms never materialized in the area (communities to the east weren’t so lucky), although a brisk wind and cloudy skies kept temps low.
By Saturday night, the temperatures had dipped into the 50s, but the crowd of thousands at the main stage was thoroughly warmed up after a trippy set by Los Angeles electro-wizard Flying Lotus. By the time co-headliner and acclaimed rap duo Run the Jewels performed, the throng was at full throat. After overcoming some early sound issues, co-frontman El-P declared, “Right now we’re [starting] a mission to make this night a mother-fucking blockbuster.”
The hour-long set, heavy on selections from the duo’s latest release, Run the Jewels 3, flew by, even with a break in the middle for El-P to test out some new, NSFW slam poetry.
Are there kinks to be worked out? Certainly. The trek between the main stage at the Will Rogers Memorial Center and the second stage at the Modern took upwards of 15 minutes (the festival did have Funkytown Pedicab on hand to help out), making it nearly impossible not to miss large swaths of performers’ sets. If you planned to see Joy Division co-founder Peter Hook play all the hits (“Transmission, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”) and co-headliner Purity Ring, you’d better have packed your sneakers. Other mild inconveniences, like having to finish your drink before leaving one stage for another, were easy to overlook.
The Modern stage felt more than a little isolated at times. It didn’t help that about 15 feet of water separated the bands from the audience, invoking a feeling of detachment that the artists seemed to notice.
“How is it over there on the dark side of the moon?,” asked Wolf Parade singer/keyboardist Spencer Krug during the Canadian indie band’s rollicking set, one of the weekend’s best. And when guitarist/singer Dan Boeckner called on fans to “walk on water,” he probably didn’t expect 30 or so of them — perhaps spurred on by the band’s decade-long absence from performing in Texas — to wade toward the stage in a sort of slow-motion, aquatic mosh pit that was the emotional highlight of the festival. Security let the revelers stay to the end of the Krug-led anthem “I’ll Believe in Anything” before sending them back toward land.
Also, possibly due to the concerns over the wind gusts Sunday, the Modern stage lacked the overhead structure it had had on Saturday, which would have kept the wind from affecting the sound. Without it, neo-yacht rockers Whitney and Canadian indie kids Alvvays seemed thrown off, and both complained about sound issues throughout their sets, though the audience could hear them just fine.
Still, by the time indie electronic music darlings Purity Ring closed out the festival with a spectacular electric light-choreographed performance late Sunday, the wind had died down and all the hiccups seemed forgotten. If the exuberance of the fans walking back to their cars was any indication, Fortress proved it would be a welcome mainstay on the Fort’s ever-growing social calendar. Let’s hope other musicians of the world took notice.