It's official: iFest is moving
As expected, the Houston International Festival is moving out of downtown.
The 32-year-old Houston International Festival is moving, not quite to the 'burbs, but to a tract of manicured grass and two parking lots on 27 acres at Reliant Park. Festival organizers signed a contract Monday with SMG-Reliant Park to hold the April music and culture festival near the football stadium for at least five years. The contract contains an optional extension for a total of 10 years.
SMG, which manages Reliant Park, would not disclose how much the festival is paying. Jim Austin, iFest president and chief operating officer, said it is well below the $250,000 a year the festival would have had to pay the city to continue to hold the event downtown.
The City Council voted last summer to dramatically increase the $51,000 in fees it would charge the festival to remain in the public parks and streets surrounding City Hall. Officials had complained about closing streets, wear and tear on the parks and being reimbursed for only a fraction of those and other costs, including security and garbage pickup.
I strongly suspect that the reason this was a money loser for the city and will be a money maker for Reliant is parking. If the city owned the parking lots that people used downtown, they'd have covered their costs a lot more easily. Reliant won't have that problem. If I go to iFest this year, I figure I'll park in a downtown satellite lot and take the light rail line to the stadium. I'll bet the traffic in and out of the Reliant lots will suck.
I must say, I'm amused and slightly appalled by some of the comments in this story.
Some predict the move will diminish the festival, loved in part for attracting diverse crowds of Houstonians to listen to live music from Texas, the United States and the world.
"It's not going to be very creative," said Nuri Nuri, a KPFT-FM radio announcer and devoted festival participant. He said the new site will be more structured and sterile, ruining the relaxed atmosphere that led families to spend the day at the festival, napping in the parks, meeting new people and chatting with friends.
"I'm not blaming the festival folks because they don't have the money," Nuri said. "Let the city put some money in it, for God's sake."
Mike Savas, a music buff and former KPFT announcer, said he will miss the ambience of downtown. He thinks city officials are overlooking a natural part of creating a vibrant downtown that attracts more than commuters.
"It seems ironic that they're trying to build up downtown, but only in certain ways," said Savas, who has performed at the festival in a Greek dancing group.
But though the city helped found the festival and has long supported it by waiving many fees, city officials did little to discourage the move.
"I just don't see how these minimal changes would drive them out of downtown," said City Councilwoman Carol Alvarado, who pushed for the measure that quintupled the fees the festival would have had to pay to remain on city property.
Councilman Mark Ellis disputed Austin's contention that the festival generates revenue for the city in parking fees and taxes, promotes international business, and helps Houston's image.
"Their position now is, 'Now that y'all have built us, we're going to go take our ball and play somewhere else,' " he said. "Good riddance."
Savas and Nuri said they will still attend the festival but fear it will be less fun.
"The music is so great," Savas said, "that wherever it's going to be, I would suffer through it."
With all due respect to Carol Alvarado, that fee hike from 50K to 250K is hardly minimal. I can believe it was justified, but let's be clear about it. As for everyone else, please, for the love of God, finish that second cup of coffee before you speak to a reporter. You'll thank me later.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 23, 2003 to Elsewhere in Houston
iFest 2005 focuses on India
India will be the featured country at the 34th annual Houston International Festival, but diverse sets by artists ranging from rootsy Texan Delbert McClinton to Pakistani band Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali will also be big draws.
Oddly enough, though, the main attraction of this two-weekend celebration of world music is downtown Houston itself.
After a one-year relocation to Festival Plaza across from Reliant Stadium, iFest returns to its longtime home among the skyscrapers on the west end of downtown near City Hall. It will take place April 23-24 as well as April 30 and May 1.
"After last year we heard from the public that said, 'We want you downtown.' We wanted to be responsive to that," says Jim Austin, president of iFest organizers Houston Festival Foundation Inc. "We're very excited about it. There was a great feel out at Reliant Park, but it sure is great to be coming back home."
The festival moved last year after a dispute with the city over fees for using city parks and streets, security and garbage collection as well as the percentage the city would earn on food and beverage sales.
In January the two sides reached a compromise that paved the way for iFest to return to the shady city streets.
Two dance groups — from the states of Manipur and Rajasthan — will represent India at iFest, along with India Zone, an area with entertainment, cuisine and arts and crafts from the featured country.
The first weekend of music is also dotted with artists whose popularity extends from Texas to Thailand. Houston-based rockers the Stone Coyotes will kick off the festivities on April 23, along with blues singer Shemekia Copeland and McClinton.
Taj Mahal, Zap Mama and recent Grammy winners Ozomatli will perform the following day.
Second weekend highlights include Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali playing devotional music from Pakistan, cumbia ensembles Fito Olivares Y Su Grupo and Grupo Fantasma, local worldbeat duo the Neutral Sisters, Afro-pop by iFest alumni Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca and the grand finale show with reggae legends Toots and the Maytals.
IFest will unpack its seven music and arts stages and sidewalk bazaar of food, drinks, art and tchotchkes in much the same fashion as it has during the two decades it was downtown. There will be a few changes, though.
New attractions for 2005 include the Kerrville Folk Festival songwriter stage focusing on artists that were born or raised in Texas including Moe Hansum, Kimberly M'Carver, Michael Fracasso, Jack Saunders and others. For the first time in a decade there will also be a stage devoted completely to Cajun and zydeco music including Sonny Boy Terry, Grady Gaines and the Texas Upsetters as well as Nathan Williams and the Zydeco Cha Chas.
A new series of performances titled "Peace From the Porch" will feature artists playing jazz, blues, Western swing, folk and Latin from the porches of two historical homes in Heritage Park.
All proceeds benefit the Houston Festival Foundation, which funds arts and education programs in more than 1,200 schools in the region.
"Houston's cultural salute began downtown, and it has been the Festival's home for more than 25 of our 34 year history. Part of the identity of the festival came from the urban feel of the city," said Robert T. Sakowitz, chairman, Houston Festival Foundation. "We are excited to be able to return to our roots. With all of the vitality in our renewed downtown, we are pleased we could work out arrangements for iFest to be presented there again. Downtown will best express the vibrancy of our spotlighted country."
"Houston is a great international city and the International Festival and downtown have a long and fond history together," said Mayor Bill White. "We're glad to see the festival returning. Houston is on the move and downtown is as exciting and inviting as it has ever been. The International Festival will add to that."
The Houston International Festival evolved from a salute to Houston's arts organizations and became a cultural celebration for its diverse citizens and their heritage. As Houston's population expanded, the festival's mission now includes fostering goodwill relations with these countries to help stimulate additional international trade. The Festival today has grown into one of the nation's largest urban festivals, with cultural entertainment and an outstanding music lineup.
"We began planning our salute to the great country of India nearly three years ago," said Jim Austin, president and chief operating officer of the Houston Festival Foundation. "In light of the horrific circumstances now facing the country, we wish to continue to celebrate the indomitable spirit and culture of the Indian people."
• "Early bird" discount tickets for the iFest will be available for $7 beginning March 28 and continuing through April 17. After that, ticket prices will be set at $10 (children under 10 are free).
• Tickets can be purchased at H-E-B grocery stores, online at www.ifest.org or by phone at 713-654-8808, ext. 290.