By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"Dallas fans, you have been wonderful, and we will miss you dearly," Belafonte lead singer Brian Hedenberg wrote to the Dallas Observer in July. It was perhaps the only nice sentence in an insult-loaded farewell from a pop-rock band that said it was moving to--go ahead, guess--New York City.
"But the politics of this town have become more than music," Hedenberg continued. "More than art. It has become about ego, and we have no patients [sic] for it anymore." This closing statement comes after countless complaints about the band's former Dallas booking agent, Elizabeth Eshelman (one of many women featured in Andrea Grimes' "She's Got the Book" feature in our August 10 issue). Hedenberg, after expressing disgust over "several months of the worst shows we've ever been booked on," called Eshelman "defensive," "slanderous" and "a great thorn in our side" (along with everyone's favorite feminine c-word).
Behind the insults, the actual beef seems undercooked. Belafonte (whose debut, Any Place Is Better Than Here, I ranked as "decent at best" in January) told a story about an early '06 gig "in Denton--middle of country Texas to those that don't know--in a bar on a weeknight where we played to the bartender." Uh, dude, slow gigs around town happen. And since when is Denton "middle of the country"?
Eshelman (admittedly an old friend of mine, but you wouldn't know it based on what I've said about bands she's booked) says that rather than being fired by Belafonte, as they state in their four-page letter, she herself ended the relationship after Hedenberg...erm... e-mailed her a naked photo of himself.
"It was pretty much the last straw," Eshelman says about a working relationship with the band that she described as increasingly "hostile," including instances where the band would publicly badmouth venues it'd performed at and be rude to fellow bands on bills. After another band she books, Titanmoon, chose not to play a gig with Belafonte, the aforementioned farewell e-mail was broadcast across MySpace.
Hederman affirms the naked photo allegation: "Not really all that ashamed of it to tell you the truth," he writes via e-mail. "Who knows, might even get me a few winks. LOL. I've even told people about it. You guys act like it is some sort of blackmail material. LOL. I'm sure it will come out one day anyway. What I appreciate is how Liz has made herself a victim. I remember a lot of dirty talk and flirting, and suddenly I've violated her."
Beyond the salacious stuff and the he-said-she-said is a more universal theme (and I don't mean naked Internet photos). The bright lights have attracted countless Dallas musicians over the years; Ben Kweller, the Secret Machines and Corn Mo (in town this week, mind you) each had their fair share of post-Dallas success. Thing is, each of those were good, but if tone-deaf '00s radio clones are blowing up in NYC, then Belafonte has a shot. Their latest MySpace single, "We Made You," sounds like they rigged a microphone in my shower and caught me singing privately. Ouch. But irony sells in New York, right?
Belafonte insists that support from fans in the UK, along with cities such as Chicago, N.Y.C. and Lawrence, Kansas, is proof that their move is a step in the right direction. And I've certainly been wrong about what formula works in attracting major-label success. But if the band thinks its current complaints--lack of support in the press, proper booking agents who land the guys huge weekend gigs--will be addressed by moving to an even more aggressive musical city, they'd be stupid to leave the Dallas dealer that is getting them so very high.
And things really ain't so shabby around town, with growing audiences catching more good bands in our city. Independent music success takes time, work and a lot more patience than any decent human being should be subjected to, a lesson that's as relevant in Brooklyn as it is in Bedford.