20 Bands 7 Days

For one week, Sarah Hepola saw every band that invited her. God help her.

In the end, the judges pick the right winners: Runner-up is Josh Weathers, a likable fellow with a pageboy cap who offers some of the night's only up-tempo numbers and finishes one with the refreshing explanation "So that song's about a soap opera." The night's winner is Kristy Kruger, a longtime Dallas fixture who plays every other Wednesday at Club Dada. Alternating between guitar and piano, with a little harmonica thrown in, Kruger's set is like low-rent Tori Amos, serious-minded and sometimes impressive. And though I didn't care for a ham-handed song about Afghanistan ("In God's name we kill, and in God's name we trust/Oh, Mommy, I'm hoping God gives a damn about us"), she was unquestionably the most talented singer-songwriter of the bunch.

"I'm always amazed that our finals are lightly attended," says owner David Card. "Sara Hickman played here when she was starting out, and so did the Dixie Chicks." But unlike Austin, which practically gold-plates its singer-songwriters, Dallas is iffy on the crunchy folk scene. The people who like it don't go to Deep Ellum. And the people who go to Deep Ellum don't like it.

Not surprisingly, Poor David's is moving to South Lamar Street, beside the new Gilley's, in two months.

Friday-night happy hour at the AllGood: Max Stalling and upright bassist Aden Bubeck play to a packed crowd.
Mark Graham
Friday-night happy hour at the AllGood: Max Stalling and upright bassist Aden Bubeck play to a packed crowd.
Ian McRoy plays his own birthday party at Across the Street Bar. Inset: The author gets refreshed.
Mark Graham
Ian McRoy plays his own birthday party at Across the Street Bar. Inset: The author gets refreshed.

Wednesday, 10:30 p.m., the Elbow Room Bassist Clay Pendergrass is the former sideman to Davíd Garza and Vibrolux and (poor thing) Jackopierce. Future Sound is his band, a trio of solid jazz musicians who incorporate loops and samples into the live mix. It's a clever idea, fusing the disciplined but somewhat stale art of jazz with the exciting but scattershot conventions of electronica.

Except tonight, it's not working. Throughout the set, Pendergrass is preoccupied in front of his Apple laptop, playing with the distraction of a man talking to his wife during the big game. The band loses the groove it had going and, eventually, its critic.

11:45 p.m., I-30 to Denton The drive to Denton is a 40-minute snoozer of white lines and snarled construction. In a perfect world, there would be a supersonic portal device--some serious Star Trek snazziness--connecting the two cities. In an OK world, there'd be a lousy train. In my world tonight, it's just me and the road, baby, and I'm struggling. I'm determined to catch Silver Arrows, a band I've seen and enjoyed before, but my vision is starting to blur, those white lines before me veering off to infinity. I slap myself awake, but after a truck swerves past and I veer close to the ominous concrete embankment, I make the decision to turn back, along with a personal vow: No more pasta for dinner.

Thursday, 10:30 p.m., Curtain Club The day after his band's show at the Curtain Club, Dreamt lead singer Christian Dille e-mails me: "I watched a videotape of the show and must apologize for my out-of-tune guitar that was turned up too loud during the portion you saw," he writes. Dille doesn't mention the band's other problem--namely, they suck--although he does point out it was the group's third show. I'm always surprised when beginners submit to such scrutiny; it took me years to convince myself I had the talent for publication. And even now, some days at 4 a.m., I wonder. Yet every day I get e-mails from amateurs, clamoring for attention.

This story disproves the anecdote I'm about to share, but it somehow seems relevant. When I or my colleagues do those panels about alternative weeklies at South by Southwest, it's always full of the same people--the go-getters armed with guerrilla publicity tactics, business cards and one question asked 10 different ways: "How can I get in your paper?"

There's only one answer: Be good. Friday, 7 p.m., AllGood Cafe Max Stalling is a tall, thin man with a smile so honest he could sell a bicycle to a buffalo. His Friday-night happy-hour show is standing room only, with every table at the AllGood cluttered with beer bottles and half-eaten queso.

Stalling is the performer I most looked forward to seeing. He has a strong fan base and three CDs (Comfort in the Curves, Wide Afternoon, One of the Ways) that each sell well, unusual for any singer-songwriter. After a tongue-in-cheek story I wrote about the Dallas Observer Music Awards last month, one fan (who turned out to be a band member's girlfriend) wrote a furious letter to the editor in defense of Stalling, a string of all-cap frustrations in which she managed to misconstrue pretty much the entire piece. I was so busy that I didn't append an editor's note explaining that I never accused Max Stalling of cheating. I only accused Max Stalling of rocking.

Which he does. Stalling's songs blast along on a two-lane highway of slick guitar and bass. Crowd favorite "I-35" name-checks the cities along that great scar of an interstate, and it deserves to be a classic, or at least a traveling mix-tape classic.

"We're rollin' now," Stalling tells the audience, the dimples in his cheeks showing. "Anything you got in mind?"

Loosened up by booze, the crowd starts shouting out song titles. Someone hands him a napkin with the words "Running Buddy," and he launches into a good-natured tune about losing a pal to true love in San Antonio.

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