Day One, Thursday, May 22 -- Daytime
In a true curveball, the first official night of HAW doesn't begin in a seedy club with dancers that fall from the sky. HAW doesn't begin at a concert where guest appearances are welcomed and easily assumed. Instead, it starts off in a converted warehouse space near a trendy housing district affectionately known as the Heights, in honor of one of Houston's more transcendent figures.
Drake and Bun B couldn't get dates in order for Bun to participate in the inaugural event last June, so tonight, Thursday night, May 22, is dedicated to the Trill OG. So, a tribute night featuring guest speakers such as Houston Mayor Annise Parker, James Prince, Hannibal Buress, and Dr. Anthony Pinn was set up. Pinn, one of Bun’s old teachers, teaches a course on hip-hop & religion at Rice University alongside Bun.
The large ballroom at the Astorian was turned into a swank affair by Melissa Andre Events, Toronto-based premium event planning and design firm. The event was complete with a commemorative painting of Drake next to Bun B and the late Pimp C, a large grass cut out of the HAW initials, and the large official logo (an upside down horseshoe embossed with a single star inside and multiple stars surrounding).
Waiters served champagne out of flute glasses, hors d'oeuvres of sliders, lamb, chocolate covered bananas and more. The moment felt heavy, solely because of the appearance that it needed to be heavy. A Texas state congressman via direction from Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee bestowed upon Bun an honor for his work in the community and being a bastion of influence to young adults across the country.
"My Houston is a really amazing place," Mayor Parker told the room. "Bun's worked a lot over the years mentoring the youth [and] really caring about the community. He's going to help lead voices that don't think they're heard into the future."
Drake, ever so the charming host, took to the podium to display his gratitude towards Bun, who stood next to his own mom, his wife and his granddaughter. "You made me a lot cooler than I was," Drake said rather affectionately. "You allowed me to exist here, as if I'm from here. You truly allowed me to be myself."
As onlookers raised their glasses in toasts and celebration, Bun himself even felt knocked back by the love and support. "It was a big thing to come here and not know anything about what's happening here," he said. "I wanna thank y'all, y'all are the ones who keep me going."
He added, "For someone who usually has all the words, congratulations. I'm speechless."
Day One, Thursday, May 22 -- Nighttime
There's a bit of magnetism in regards to Future at the moment. Beyond the fan base that has decided to flip the identity of Beyonce's rabid base into its own. There's been a streak of music Future's been releasing (three mixtapes worth), all of which have become universally beloved. Utilizing the circular stage of the Arena Theater to his benefit, the Atlanta rapper made it known that as the first headliner of HAW, he was going to have to break into his catalog to prove a point.
As he took the stage, the rumble and rain of a thunderstorm that occurred earlier in the day was long gone. Future's music, especially in a venue that's is set up the way Arena is with a circular stage planted right in the middle of a room where everyone is peering directly at you, just works. There's a mix of love songs, hard energy fight songs, self-love and a section of the show where you just dig into plenty of the hooks he's touched. A Future show swings for all the emotions, and gets them in spades.
"March Madness" blared, putting fans in an understated trance for which they knew every word. Ditto for "Shit!" which lifted everyone into a raucous, fist-pumping moving body. Future has vastly improved as a stage maestro over the years, moving back and forth, and engaging the crowd at every turn.
He looked happier too, clad in a black and white shirt and pants combination with a mock Vivienne Westwood hat. DJ Esco stood behind him at all times. Future has been a bit of a thing for the better part of nearly five years now and his set list showed it. An hour plus worth of material stretching from his debut album Pluto to Honest to his recent string of widely acclaimed mixtapes, 56 Nights, Monster, and Beast Mode.
"Commas" may have closed the night out but it felt far more like a preemptive strike. The Arena theater began filling out, people strolling to their cars, yelling at one another looking for where the party was downtown. One girl hollered, "FIFTH!" to which everyone near her nodded in approval. Night one of HAW was set to end like every other night until Monday morning, posted in a club, keeping the party going.
Though he didn't directly appear on stage, Drake was around -- seemingly comfortable. It was a far different scene than what was given when preparing for Coachella. Here, in this space where he can merely be a fan of someone such as Future and to an extent show opener Kirko Bangz, he's a bit more when he's in Houston.