By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Twenty years ago we launched this annual tradition called the Dallas Observer Music Awards—way back in April of 1988.
"Our stated goal with these awards is to narrow the odds a bit in favor of locally created sounds," then-music editor Clay McNear wrote at the time.
It still rings true. Today, Dallas, with some help from the surrounding cities of the region, boasts a bountiful collection of awe-inspiring talent. Sure, the names have changed, and so have the times—when our first music awards took place, this year's youngest winners were still in diapers—but the idea behind the concept remains.
Even so, there's a slightly different flavor to this year's winners. For one, there's a distinct Denton influence in the list—no doubt a reflection on the remarkable, nationally recognized crop of musicians who reside just a slight drive north on Interstate 35E.
There's also, you'll see, a distinct country feel to the roll—Eleven Hundred Springs, for instance, earned this year's Best Band, Best Album and Best Male Vocalist nods in addition to the Best Country/Roots Act award.
Perhaps most important, a number of this year's winners are taking home awards for the first time. So it stands to reason that not only is there a strong music scene in the region, but it's a healthy one with a bright future.
Perhaps, 20 years from now, we'll look back upon names on this list and recall them with the reverence we currently reserve for past DOMA winners such asEdie Brickell and The NewBohemians, The Reverend Horton Heat and The Toadies, just to name a few. Then we'll usher in today's newborns, comparing them to the long-admired favorites of the '00s—luminaries such as Sarah Jaffe, Doug Burr, Mom and The Whiskey Folk Ramblers.
That's a future worth looking forward to. And a present worth honoring.—Pete Freedman
To the 13 acts and artists that had the misfortune of being nominated into the same categories as Eleven Hundred Springs: Sorry. This was just Eleven Hundred Springs' year. No hard feelings?
Armed with a pure sound, a widespread appeal, a deserved respect and throngs of loyal fans, the band won every single award it was nominated for—even tangentially. Bass player Steven F. Berg also won the Best DJ award for his work under the DJ Burlap moniker, and past Eleven Hundred Springs collaborators The Tejas Brothers too managed a tie in the Best New Act category.
So, yeah. Pull weight much?
With Country Jam to hang their hat on, though, this isn't a surprise. Now, a few months after its release to critical acclaim, the disc's still earning heavy rotation on KZPS-FM Lone Star 92.5, proving what so many around town have known for so long: When it comes to classic country music—the good stuff, as in: country done right, country done well, country done fun (and not cheesy, for crying out loud)—Eleven Hundred Springs is the cream of the crop, local or otherwise.
And Berg, frontman Matt Hillyer, pedal steel player Danny Crelin, fiddler Jordan W. Hendrix and drummer Mark Reznicek all seem astonishingly humble about it, just happy to be playing music for their ever-loyal fans, which they do constantly.
"There's an old adage that says you're only as good as your last show," says Hillyer, who also takes home this year's award for Best Male Vocalist, "and we play a lot of shows. I try not to look forward or back."
Thing is: Looking back is exactly what Eleven Hundred Springs' sound inspires. There's an honesty to it all, a realness that inspires instant nostalgia, a genuine quality that transports its listeners into a slower, easier, gentler time and a place where the moonshine is served by the bucketful and everybody line-dances like a pro.
"People respond to country music because there's a lot of truth to it," Hillyer says. "And it's simple too, one of the genres of music where you don't have to be angry all the time."
So does this signal a return to form for a genre that's seen better days? You bet, says Hillyer. "Country music never went away. It's just that it makes people feel good, and right now, people seem to appreciate that."
As far as Eleven Hundred Springs' abilities to elicit such a response, Hillyer credits the band's latest lineup: "We all have our heads in the same place, and we're in it to win it," he says, laughing, "as cheesy as it sounds."
Accurate? Best Band, Best Album, Best Country/Roots Act and Best Male Vocalist resoundingly reply "yes." —P.F.
One day, just maybe, Sarah Jaffe will not live in Dallas—or Denton, where she resides now—and people will say, as they've said of many other greats who preceded her, I was there when. She has no immediate plans to vacate the premises, though; hers are, for now, the romantic visions of the singer-songwriter who imagines herself penning personal plaints while holed up in a New York City brownstone or a London flat; alas, "I've never even been to New York City," she says, laughing.