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Pop-rockers return from the dark side of the Moon Festival

Mention the name Moon Festival to those who know or care about such things, and probably they will half-remember the name, maybe even a song, but little more. If the band ever made an impression to begin with, it has been washed away by tides of new bands and new sounds. It did not help that for more than two years, the Moon Festival was AWOL from Deep Ellum. But on the verge of the release of the Moon Festival's second album and the band's first since 1991, lyricist Salim Nourallah is anxious to prove the band also is not DOA.

"In Dallas right now there are two main groups of people who go to shows," Salim says. "You have the SMU fraternity type of crowd who find us too radical, and you have the grunge, dick-piercing group who think we are 'fag rock' or something. We don't belong to either group. We're somewhere in the middle. We're the antithesis of the clique thing. But there are many people in Dallas who don't belong to those two groups, either, and this is our audience."

When they sit back and reflect upon what has happened during the past six years, Salim and Faris Nourallah sigh and say they have spent most of that time fighting odds always stacked against them. They begin their tale recalling their days in Denton in 1989, when the two began the Moon Festival, a very unfunky band in a town where most anything without a P-Funk groove was considered unhip or worthless.

A couple of years later, the brothers continue explaining, they moved to Dallas, where they say they were promptly swept to the sidelines by a newly sprung grunge contingent. Their perfectionist pop melodies and obsession with the Beatles got them labeled too wimpy, too out of place; at some point, they were even tagged as a Gothic band, among many other things--some very good, some very bad.

But despite being unable to fit in, the Moon Festival landed a record deal with local indie Dragon Street Records, which, to that point, had been releasing moderately successful--but hardly financially rewarding--albums by the likes of Stranglmartin, the Shagnastys, and the Spin. The Moon Festival's debut, Shine, was released in December 1991, and it was a moody affair, packed with well-crafted hooks, intricate textures, and lyrics by Salim that shouted their poetic ambitions. By that time, they had built up a decent but by no means overwhelming local following, but critics were not quick to praise them, reviews being polite at best.

With comparisons to The Church abounding, the national music press was a little more generous with its applause. Reviews in the CMJ New Music Report and The Gavin Report were flattering, and the band took that as an indication to try their luck on the road, playing 128 shows in 1992--performing at the annual CMJ conference in Manhattan, touring the East Coast, driving from Texas to Colorado to California, trying to build a regional and then national audience that would launch them to stardom.

"It was exhausting," Salim recalls of the experience, but it was also necessary.

But by the end of the year, just as it seemed the fruits of their labors might soon pay off, the extensive touring began to take its toll on the band. And to make matters worse, the band and Dragon Street were soon to part ways. Drummer Brad Robertson, now in 39 Powers with Spyche, decided he had enough and turned in his walking papers.

"At the time, we were told that we're going to do another album for Dragon Street," Salim says. "But apparently, the label had run out of money, and it wasn't going to happen. Brad got burned out from the touring and became very disillusioned when he found out that there wasn't going to be another album."

David Dennard, the president and owner of Dragon Street Records, says Moon Festival was simply dropped from the label, and not over a lack of funds; after all, not long after the Festival was off Dragon Street, Dennard had cash enough to release Tripping Daisy's Bill, the Nixon's debut EP, and Hagfish's Buick Men. Rather, Dennard says, he and Patrick Keel simply were not happy with the material the band was writing and recording for their second album. Dennard, who stresses he still likes the band personally and musically, simply didn't hear a hit among the material the Festival was recording, and told the band Dragon Street couldn't afford to release yet another album that failed to get played on the radio and move copies out of record stores.

"Nothing was rockin'," Dennard says of the material the band submitted for the second record. "We called it 'The Gloom Festival,' this moody stuff. As artistically interesting as it was, we weren't going to do it. The next record we did was Tripping Daisy's, and we needed a home run. We put a whole lot of money into the Moon Festival, and they wouldn't compromise artistically to make that jump between what they wanted to write and what they needed to write to get on the radio. We agreed to disagree about their direction, and after trying a bunch of demos we said, 'Let's part ways.'"

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