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I am a three year veteran of Free Press Summer Festival, and every year, the Monday after that glorious weekend gets harder and harder to endure. Though infinitely thankful for the air conditioning, being at work just does not compare with the palpable buzz of the crowd, the unforgettable stream of live music, and the tantalizing food of FPSF. This year was no different, and I have to be honest, I had my doubts. With a last minute switch from the beloved hills of Eleanor Tinsley Park to the concrete flatlands of NRG Stadium’s Yellow Lot, no one knew what to expect. Bottom line, Free Press surpassed all of my expectations.

Amazing music was definitely not in short supply at the festival. I got to hear favorites like Houston’s very own The Suffers, the bluesy stylings of Gary Clark Jr., and the nostalgic tunes of Weezer (be still my thirteen year old heart). However, being able to discover new favorites is the best part of festivals like this. Charles Bradley And His Extraordinaires were just that, absolutely extraordinary; and I’ll never forget accidentally moshing during the Mastodon show. Also, I need to take a second to thank electronic geniuses Major Lazer and Swedish House Mafia’s Steve Angello for the week worth of cardio I did dancing at their sets. Both days of the festival were jam packed with acts, and the folks behind FPSF made it easy to personalize your itinerary and discover new artists with their app! You would not have known that the festival was in completely foreign territory, the app came loaded with maps that helped us navigate the grounds like pros.

In addition to great music, FPSF welcomed a new attraction this year. Proudly standing front and center of the festival grounds was Budweiser’s Bud & Burgers competition, judged by Momofuku founder, celebrity chef, David Chang. Budweiser and Chang reached out to home cooks from all over the nation and challenged them to bring forward their best burger recipes. There isn’t much that goes together better than an ice cold beer and a great burger. Budweiser and Chef Chang were on the look out for whose was best and the most deserving of the Bud & Burger championship title and $100,000.

Chef David Chang described burgers as “the perfect canvas to do whatever you want,” and there were two artists up for the challenge of creating the best masterpiece. Brian Fruey from River Forest, Ill., and Rae Ballard from Euharlee, Ga. were the competitors at the Houston leg of the tour. Both brought Midwestern inspired burgers to the table, but the crowd’s votes pushed Brian Furey’s loaded work of art to the next round. He grilled up a green chili burger, inspired by his childhood, with a smoked tomato mayonnaise and a patty completely encased in cheddar and beer cheese that he and Chef Chang agreed was “not for the faint of heart.” Brian moves on to the next round where he will pull out all of the stops against the rest of the finalists for a chance at that $100,000 grand prize; which he says would go toward taking him and his girlfriend on their dream vacation to Greece.

A killer burger competition, unforgettable concerts, and a gnarly tan later, I have hereby dubbed this year’s Free Press Summer Festival one for the books. And while I feel like I’m still recuperating, I walk away from this experience with a deeper appreciation for air conditioning and my email alerts already set to bombard me when blind presale tickets go on sale for next year.

Isabel Protomartir

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