Concert Review and Photos: On Stage, In the Crowd, and In the Lounges at Frisco’s Breakaway Music Festival

Like most North Texas Natives, it’s hard to impress me when it comes to vast stretches of commercial real estate. I was born in Dallas, grew up in Plano, and so I hardly flinch when I see a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks. That’s just a cliche at this point. Still, even I was a little bit of shock when I paid my first visit to FC Dallas Stadium, otherwise known as Toyota Stadium, for the first installment of Breakaway Music Festival Dallas last weekend. The dichotomy of the the silos that represent Frisco’s rural past sit in the shadow of an enormous, corporately underwritten soccer venue, just across from other arena-sized businesses and shopping centers, such as Main Event. Though that helps to offset the size of the stadium, it’s a little like being surrounded by imposingly branded giants.  The Frisco version of Dallas’ Lemon Bar seems out of place as you arrive, just down the street from good old Cotton Gin Road. I love the suburbs mainly for one reason: They aggressively despise subtleties.

Frisco has had other music festivals, such as Edgefest, but this was a first brave toe dip into Electronic Dance Music and Rap, along with the expected appearances of much more polite indie rock. The Dallas Observer had a shaded (thankfully) stage of local music, and FrontRow was a media sponsor.

Though the high is only in the eighties, standing in the sun all day can still be a challenge, as we learned earlier in the summer. Oak Cliff’s Lil Twist is onstage and he’s claiming both the OC and Dallas. The crowd loves it, though you have to wonder if their main association with Oak Cliff is sneaking out when their parents are dining at Boulevardier. Lil Twist drops Justin Bieber’s name as he introduces a song, as the rapper was not only a collaborator with the pop star but also a member of Bieber’s inner circle. The crowd is affectionately known as the Lil Buddies, though that appears to have gone sour, according to TMZ. I had a serious discussion with an editor recently, regarding both the dynamics and the nomenclature of this powerful entertainment clique. “Is it Lil Buddies or Little Buddies?,” I asked.

It seems that every song Lil Twist introduces is his new single. That isn’t exactly a dumb business model. He tells the crowd that his new track, “I Don’t Care,” features “my big homie, Chris Brown.” He then introduces another new single, this one featuring Juicy J, who is getting ready to perform next in the lineup. The record is called, “U.F.O.,” and is produced by both Lil Wayne and the aforementioned Bieber. If Bieber doesn’t work out, it seems that Lil Twist still has plenty of buddies from which to choose.

The action around the stadium was as often as good as what took place onstage. I had a hard time tearing myself away from the riotous goings-on at Winstar’s River Club. That would be the attemptedly posh bar located inside the venue, but within earshot of the acts, and with multiple displays of the performances outside. As the main bar serving the thousands of young fans, attitudes between server and the served began to wilt a little out in the sun. With lines over thirty deep on each side of the bar, and with only two people actually serving drinks, many impatient attendees would walk out, often with much fanfare. To put it simply: This crowd was rude. The bartenders did the best they could under the circumstances. Customers zeroed out tips in their faces defiantly.

At one point I could hear the opening of Three 6 Mafia’s now-classic “Stay Fly,” and in continuing with my newfound love of hits, I start squirming in place, desperately craning my neck in order to hear better. But what was unfolding at the bar was too much to ignore. A patron slapped his hand down on the drink menu like a late game show buzzer and threw it aggressively toward the bartender before stomping out and cursing. The bartender, a short woman with a thick Northeastern accent, was having none of it. She lifted herself over the bar with both hands, attempting to get a better look at the offending customer.

“I will beat his skinny ass if he walks in here again,” she said.

She went on to offer some perspective about what the wait for a beverage meant in the grand scheme of things. “It’s not the end of the world if you wait ten minutes for a drink. You give me an attitude, I don’t give a sh*t.” I don’t know how well-received her words were to the endless sea of men and women who looked like they could easily be casted as attractive extras in a film about surfing, though Frisco has nary a beach in sight. She was fantastic. My double finally arrives and I pay twenty-four dollars for the privilege, though I admit to being a heavy tipper. While I’m sitting at a table alone, a woman walks by with a cellophane-wrapped item and sticks it in my face. “Would you like a bracelet to represent our sparkling white wine?,” she asks.

After finally being freed from the line, I take a tour of the stadium as Juicy J yells out several observations about Dallas:

“THERE’S A LOT OF P*SSY IN DALLAS,” he says to an enthusiastic response. (Well, yes, J, after all if the United States Census Bureau’s 2012 population estimate is accurate, then of the 2,453,843 residents of Dallas County, 50.5% of them are female. That means there are 1,239,190 women in Dallas.)

“THERE’S A LOT OF WEED IN DALLAS,” J continues. (That seems to be the case, J, however, according to this report by Drug, Dallas County ranked behind both Harris County and Bexar County in number of “marijuana possession arrests” for 2009. We only had a measly 4,398.)

“THERE’S A LOT OF COCAINE IN DALLAS.” (Okay, Juicy J, you got me there. I won’t argue with that.)

He tells the crowd that “Miley Cyrus is the best twerker in the world,” and they don’t enjoy that nearly as much. He then performs “She Dancin,” which boasts an unforgettable chorus that simply paraphrases what many a disapproving grump has said about popular culture, from critics of Josephine Baker to Elvis.

Juicy J then offers a much more altruistic sentiment. “I’m giving away a $50,000 scholarship,” he says. Next up, of course, is a song called “Scholarship.” The specifics behind said scholarship revolve around a twerk contest, and decades from now this might be seen as a breaking point in America’s crisis of rising tuition costs. All personal discomfort with these issues aside, few people can write a chorus as sticky as Juicy J. “Bandz a Make Her Dance” is the first time that day that everyone appeared to settle into the Colosseum-like backdrop.

Food choices left a bit to be desired, and there were no ins-and-outs, thus shutting one off from Frisco’s oasis of chain restaurants and faintly authentic Irish pubs. “How can they feed these rich kids Cici’s Pizza?,” I opined as I walked past a momentarily-shuttered food option. “I agree,” said a smiling woman,  randomly appearing out of the pop-up village of vendors. She handed me a Kind “healthy snack” bar, which was made of nuts held together with honey. I devoured it, squinting in the sun for signs of an actual meal.

Upstairs in the local music area, Denton’s Yeahdef did an admirable job of entertaining a crowd wandering the grounds, as professionally as is now expected from the no-format DJ after several years of practice. Oil Boom had what sounded to be like exactly one song for each genre of straight-ahead rock that’s been well-received in the past 30 years, and they embellished that point by touring through a medley of classic AM radio riffs during sound-check. They never seemed to repeat themselves as they opened with a very direct, quick-tempo song, featuring an almost Novoselic-like bassline, followed by a bluesier number*, and then an upbeat pop song. I wondered to myself if it was really Novoselic’s bass playing, or if was it was actually the Wipers who had inspired Oil Boom, in the same way that iconic bassist had either ripped off or paid tribute to that particular group before him. The influence is now so lost in pop’s DNA that it hardly matters, but it’s worth remembering where some of these moves originated.

Explosions in the Sky provided a break from the excitement with their usual set of instrumental music that I find to be emotionally manipulative, like a lover squeezing out one more crocodile tear to win a fight. They sound like the backing band for a legendary emo singer who never existed, but I know they hold a special place in the heart of anyone who has ever watched Friday Night Lights. Considering some of the behavior I witnessed in the upstairs lounge, I was impressed with the Breakaway crowd’s ability to pay attention during this set, even in the quietest sections of music. Perhaps more experimental acts will get a shot at playing the soccer stadium someday. When Wu-Tang clan took the stage, they did so minus a few members, either from business obligations, or in the case of the irreplaceable Ol’ Dirty Bastard, a tragically premature death. Just as GZA has done in live sets, they remembered one of their most important founding members with a cover of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” Explosions in the Sky attempted to play my heart strings, but this one actually hurt.

All previous kidding aside, I’m a little hesitant to knock Frisco too hard. I am reminded of journalist Hank Stuever’s experience of receiving some unfriendly emails after his exhaustive, holiday-themed cultural study on the town was released, 2009’s Tinsel. In the end, Stuever left Frisco with a positive opinion, which he declared in this very publication.  I was a fan at the time, and went to see him speak at the now-defunct Legacy Books in Plano to do a reading. He ultimately described his thorough examination the town as being about the “cultural and economic need for myth. Joy and heartbreak.” After Saturday’s visit, he might be glad to know those needs and myths both are very much alive and well.


*I hate when critics talk like that. All images by Andi Harman.