By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
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.
But she's been to London, just this month, where she played the O2 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park. If, as part of the smaller Bella Union Stage lineup, she wasn't exactly on the same stage with Morrissey and Beck and Jay-Z, she was at least on the same patch of land. No doubt, those three men were awed by the prospect.
Leaving, Jaffe says, has "been on my mind for a while. I live in Denton, which, as we all know, is a comfy, cozy place full of talent. But I am one of those people who doesn't like to stay anywhere for too long. I get anxious. We'll see. I don't know."
For now, we have time yet to celebrate Jaffe as the area's best solo performer, female vocalist and folk/acoustic act—the three Dallas Observer Music Awards she receives this year, among many forthcoming should she choose to stay. And it's only appropriate that she clean up on the 20th anniversary of these accolades, as Jaffe fits so beautifully alongside others who've won these honors in years past—from Sara Hickman to Michelle Shocked to Edie Brickell to Kim Pendleton, all of whom, like Jaffe, proved timeless and timely upon their arrival in a music "scene" now fragmented but no less viable today than a thousand yesterdays ago.
Jaffe's music seethes and longs and hurts; it hangs itself from the cello and guitar strings as she wails and whispers in a voice that traces its raw, confessional ache back to the distant age of performers such as Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Patsy Cline. But it's also funny and wise: "You're on your way to the bottom/At least you know where you're going," she sings on "Black Hoax Lie," from the John Congleton-produced six-song EP Even Born Again due out next week.
"I always like to say age isn't a hindrance or a factor," says Jaffe, who is all of 22. "I've always felt like, whether I am 16 or 40, it doesn't matter when you experience something, it affects you all the same. That's what comes through in my shows and music. I love what I do, and I try to experience everything to its fullest."
Perhaps you've seen Jaffe around; she's often at other folks' shows, looking inconspicuous, like she's trying to disappear. Such is the offstage demeanor of the performer who gives you everything onstage and on disc (she'll begin recording a new full-length in the fall).
"I feel like I've made myself vulnerable for an hour, and I want to hide after that," she says. "It's like reading my fucking journal entries from seventh grade"—she laughs—"and then I have to get offstage and be on, when I just want to go home and take a nap. It's great when people come up and are grateful and complimentary—it's part of why I do this—but I just want to crawl into a hole and cry. It's a weird sense of relief I don't get from anywhere else. I get intense anxiety before shows, because I love it so much—and want it to be over with."
On her new album, Jaffe sings, "I'm invisible," and it sounds like both a complaint and a desire. But in a perfect world, Sarah Jaffe would be everywhere.—Robert Wilonsky
It starts slow and heartbreakingly so: a quick acoustic pluck or two, a yearning vocal, a desperate lyric. Soon enough, the guitar strums pick up and, then, with a flutter on a snare drum, the buildup starts, crashing around you. You're drowned in sound—Wurlitzer, harmonica, more guitars, a cello—and you might as well give up already; this song is engulfing your soul.
Then come the lyrics—about a time long gone, a better time, the good ol' days, when you were young and innocent—and it's suddenly obnoxious how much your mind is racing with flashbacks. Are you even listening to the song anymore? Tough to say, 'cause though you've never heard it before, it sounds like you're remembering it. You're confused, lost. Is Doug Burr scoring your flashback?
And then, almost abruptly, it ends.
The silence is deafening, and the song's sentiments about nostalgia ring even more true. You're hooked. And then you concede the fact that Burr's dramatic "Slow Southern Home" is a beautifully composed song, a masterpiece well-deserving of this praise. —P.F.
It's tempting to compare the two bands that tied for Best New Act, as they appear to share a few superficial similarities—beyond having the exact same number of DOMA-voting fans.
The Tejas Brothers and The Whiskey Folk Ramblers are both country acts, but both of them season this distinctly American form of music with some decidedly non-American influences. And both make liberal use of the squeezebox—not the first instrument that comes to mind when you envision a country band. But the similarities end there.
The Tejas Brothers walk the borders between country and conjunto, Texas and Tejano, blues and pop without settling into one genre long enough to be neatly pigeonholed.
"We thought we would play a little of this, a little of that: a little blues, a little country, a little rock with a Tex-Mex influence. We didn't realize they'd all jump into some of the songs at the same time," says accordionist frontman Dave Perez, who was entertaining diners at Los Lupes in Duncanville when bluesman Chris Zalez asked to sit in and play alongside him.
The band's self-titled debut masterfully blends those influences into the kind of music that could only come from Texas, the state that birthed Freddy Fender and Freddie King, The Texas Tornadoes and Willie Nelson. Sharing bills with Eleven Hundred Springs, which owned every category for which they were eligible at this year's DOMAs, helped bring The Tejas Brothers in front of the right audience too. Perez says he prefers playing for country fans who enjoy "real music," listeners who know better than to fall for manufactured Nashville treacle.
Whereas the Tejas Brothers head south of the border for inspiration, Denton's Ramblers go east, west and back in time a century or two. They'll frequently jumpstart a country folk song with violins and accordions, klezmer and European folk music, sounding like something you might have heard around the bonfire if a gypsy caravan and a cattle drive happened to cross trails and ended up sharing a barrel or two of whiskey. A song later, they'll score the theme from an imaginary spaghetti Western with an Ennio Morricone-inspired suite. It's not an obvious progression from the members' punk-rock pasts.
Nonetheless, the band's debut CD, Midnight Drifter, earned a warm reception from local critics who loved the left-field take on traditional country and the full-throttle, spontaneous, youthful energy they bring to such a dusty old genre. —Jesse Hughey
Like many bands, THe BAcksliders make the claim that it is a group best experienced live. Normally, this might point to the shortcomings of a particular studio release, but in the case of Kim Pendleton and the rest of this spry quartet, a sweaty club is the best place to see what makes THe BAcksliders so special. Seeing that the band has played more than 300 gigs in its brief two-year existence, it's obvious that the members see the value in getting in front of an audience as well.
"The live act comes across pretty rocking," says guitarist Chris Bonner. You're Welcome, the band's recently issued sophomore effort, is a fine party record, a throwback to everyone from early Elvis Costello to Blondie to David Bowie, an album that makes the '80s sound like a better time than it actually was.
Pendleton's soulful voice garners much of the attention, but it's guitarist Bonner (Pendleton's husband) who writes the songs and sets the band's mood in the studio, as well as onstage.
"We play blues and hard rock," says Bonner, "but we are really more of a power pop band."
THe BAcksliders is the kind of band folks want to perform at their backyard barbecues, playing music packed full of hooks and sing–along choruses, songs that touch on just the right amount of retrospection without sounding like an oldies act. —Darryl Smyers
How the hell did this happen? The winner for this year's Best Rap/Hip-Hop Act as judged by Dallas Observer readers a) beat out Lil Wil, who just dropped his major-label debut and has a single that's generated video spins, radio airplay and even its own signature dance nationwide; b) makes music that can only be called rap or hip-hop if you're using a very broad definition for the genre; c) did nothing to encourage his fans to vote for him (at least as far as I can tell); and d) hasn't lived in North Texas for five years. It might almost seem suspicious if you've never heard Astronautalis, aka former SMU theater student Andy Bothwell, a Jacksonville, Florida, native. But if you listen to the narrative rhymes and genre-blending beats on You and Yer Good Ideas or The Mighty Ocean and Nine Dark Theaters or, better yet, if you catch one of his riveting live performances, it will finally make sense.
This fall, Astronautalis will release a John Congleton-produced CD, which will include collaborations with several area stars including Midlake drummer McKenzie Smith and fellow DOMA winners Sean Kirkpatrick and Sarah Jaffe, to name a few. He says he'll be promoting it heavily by the end of the summer, but given that Astronautalis can win a DOMA from another time zone without so much as posting a MySpace blog about the contest, he might not have to promote the release too hard around these parts. —J.H.
Speaking from his home in Flower Mound, 23-year-old blues wunderkind Jonathan Tyler is boyishly modest, but still confident and almost giddy. And for good reason. He and his band, The Northern Lights, are getting ready for a lengthy tour, and an album deal with Atlantic Records is, according to Tyler, "really close."
"Just to get nominated for a Dallas Observer award is pretty awesome," Tyler says. "I certainly can't complain about how good the reaction to my music has been."
Born in Alabama, Tyler has been a part of the Dallas scene for seven years. In that time, he's perfected his sweaty mixture of hard, electric blues and gospel-tinged, Southern soul. Hot Trottin', Tyler's debut effort came out last year and quickly garnered radio play on Austin's KLBJ-93.7 FM. Meanwhile, the album's lead single, "Gypsy Woman," has become a concert favorite as Tyler's flamboyant stage persona kicks the song into high gear when in front of a well-lubricated crowd.
"If you're a purist, you probably wouldn't call what I do the blues," Tyler says. "But I want to carry the baton for the tradition of the blues."
Citing influences as varied as Hank Williams, Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix, Tyler and his capable crew bring it all together with fire and panache. "When I saw The Rolling Stones, I knew what I had to do," Tyler says. "I know those guys are freaking old, but they do it because they love it." —D.S.
Like System of a Down or Mars Volta, Fair to Midland often gets lumped into the metal category simply because the music is so damn loud. Progressive art rock would be a better descriptor as singer Darroh Sudderth and crew blend all sorts of influences into a complex and intimidating stew that consistently draws a large (mostly male) audience eager to relate to the stimulating proceedings.
"I don't know if I would say we're a metal act at all," says guitarist Cliff Campbell. "We don't want to get lumped into any meathead category."
Eccentric and dynamic almost to a fault, Fair to Midland can be maddeningly grooveless; yet the over-the-top spirit and ace musicianship save the day most every time. Winners of the DOMA Best Metal Act for two years in a row now, and with legions of fans across the country and across the Atlantic, Fair to Midland is a band already in the midst of the big time.
"The songs are really about the common man," Campbell says. "And with lots of blue-collar workers in Dallas, I can understand why we've done well."
Just back from a European tour opening for Serj Tankian, the band is set to record the follow-up to Fables from a Mayfly, last year's magnum opus. Certainly the new effort will continue the trend of intricate, long-winded epics like "A Wolf Descends Upon the Spanish Sahara" that somehow manage to live up to their titles. Not bad for a bunch of farm boys from Sulphur Springs. —D.S.
After teasing area audiences with its impressive live show for the past two years, Dove Hunter finally got around to releasing its debut album, The Southern Unknown in late June. Now, a month later, the album's still right at the top of the local sales charts—and deservedly so, thanks to a jangly rock sound well-blended with healthy doses of roots influence and impressive songwriting.
It's vocalist/guitarist Jayson Wortham, a nominee for Best Male Vocalist this year, who pens the songs that bassist Chad DeAtley, guitarist Marc Montoya, drummer Quincy Holloway and pedal steel/banjo player Josh Daugherty sonically, and so absorbingly, dance around.
"We've gotten a great response from everyone," DeAtley says, before laughing: "Even from my mom and her friends—which I can tell is honest because they used to tell me they didn't like my other bands."
The reward? More demand. No worries, DeAtley says.
"We're just beginning to work on the next album, but we've already laid the foundation there," he says. "We're just gonna keep working on it and record as we go. We'd really like to capture the essence and excitement of it."
Given the live set, that's fine by us. —P.F.
Damn right the accolade goes to Erykah Badu—one tough mother who, only last week, took to the Interwebs to shout down some anonymous message-boarders displeased with news of her latest pregnancy. Noted the self-styled ANALOGUE GIRL, unabashedly unmarried: "if i loose you as a fan because i want to continue to have children then FUCK OFF...WHO NEEDS YOU....CERTAINLY NOT ME." And best sign-off ever: "if this post is not clear kiss my placenta."
The lady's got brass balls, each one weighing in at 492 pounds, not counting afterbirth.
Then, it doesn't take the eyes to remind you what the ears already knew: Badu's fuck-you fearless, willing to take as much time as she needs in order to concoct double-disc doses of spaced-out space-age soul as out there as when the U.S.S. Enterprise shot at Warp 12 through a black hole.
Badu's latest five-year mission into the final frontier was New Amerykah, Pt. 1 (4th World War), released to universal, head-scratching acclaim in February. Equal parts old-school funk (opener "Amerykahn Promise," which sounds like it was recorded in a shotgun barrel, hit single "Honey" and shoulda-been single "The Cell") and sweaty, overwrought soul ("The Healer," "Soldier" and the epic, dirty "Telephone" call), it took Badu to parts both warmly familiar and profoundly foreign.
Upon its release, she told the Observer, "I feel like this is the album I wanted to do all my life."
It sounds like it—a majestic re-imagining of its predecessors, a quadraphonic version of records that now sound positively monaural in comparison. And she's Dallas', now and forever: "I will never leave this city. I feel very responsible."
Or you could just kiss her placenta. —R.W.
Considering the success of Mom's 2007 EP Little Brite, it's not really surprising the duo walked away with this award—after all, Mom's sound is just as accessible as it is experimental, running delicately plucked acoustic guitar, cello and violin through a vast array of samplers and pedals to create instrumental music that's endlessly compelling and staggeringly beautiful. And with shows opening for Beach House, Efterklang and the legendary Steve Reich (at this year's SXSW) already under their belt—and an East Coast tour on the horizon—it's likely the band's fan base will only continue to grow in the coming months.
In fact, guitarist/cellist Joel North and violinist/sample-master Bruce Blay are already working on a full-length follow-up for Western Vinyl Records, home to like-minded Austin acts such as Balmorhea and Bexar Bexar, who along with Mom form the nucleus of a burgeoning Texas folktronica scene.
"I'm not really sure why we're all making music at the same time, but I'm glad we found each other," Blay says. "The Texas landscape surely plays a factor in the acoustic, folky side, but we're not cowboys, so we get to make something modern."
They call it modern; we call it timeless. —Noah W. Bailey
With its ranks sometimes swelling to include more than a dozen players, it's tempting to call Snarky Puppy "The Polyphonic Spree of local jazz." Such a comparison, however superficially lazy it might be, does come close to describing the general spirit of this Denton collective.
Dallas isn't exactly known as a jazz hotbed, so it's intriguing that Snarky Puppy, playing such unconventional music, has developed such a devoted following. Formed in 2004 by bassist and primary composer Michael League, this talented group of instrumentalists only hints at traditional jazz, favoring instead a heady blend of funk and fusion with occasional diversions into rock.
The diversity of the music is matched by the varied nature of the band's audience. At any given Snarky Puppy performance, it's not uncommon to see youthful Rastafarians bobbing and swaying alongside music professors and metalheads. Along with the expected jazz influences (Pat Metheny, Chick Corea), Snarky Puppy is just as comfortable incorporating James Brown and even some Björk into the mix. With a new CD ready for release in September, League and his ever-shifting collection of talented nerds are likely to be raising the area's IQ for many years to come. —D.S.
Perhaps more so than any of his fellow Best Instrumentalist nominees, Sean Kirkpatrick plays his instrument like a man possessed, pounding maniacally at his piano, wringing beauty out of dissonance and tension, and creating something dark and memorable in the process.
He's been known near and far for his stellar work with local darklings The Paper Chase for several years—complimenting the songs of frontman John Congleton with whatever sinister and cinematic touches they might need—but with the release of 2007's Turn on the Interference, Kirkpatrick unleashed the first set of his own material since the days of Maxine's Radiator, the psychedelic Denton combo he fronted in the mid-'90s. A mesmerizing collection of dark-hearted balladry, Interference was "largely influenced by the ridiculous barriers that people will put between themselves and the possibility of feeling pain and discomfort," says Kirkpatrick, who also notes he's in the writing stages of another record with his new bandmates. There's no timetable for release, unfortunately, although you can hear new demos like "Bad Neighbor"—a song about his neighbor's surveillance camera and the "god-awful shrieking noise" it emits—on his MySpace page.
In the meantime, you're sure to find Kirkpatrick punishing the ivories everywhere from Vienna to J & J's, sharing stages with everyone from Explosions in the Sky to local compatriots like The Great Tyrant and Daniel Folmer, at times threatening to outshine damn near all of them. —N.W.B.
Let's face it—this category was stacked with talent this year, from Stuart Sikes (Cat Power, Dove Hunter) to John Congleton (Mount Righteous, Black Mountain) to Matt Barnhart and Matt Pence of the Echo Lab (Shearwater and Centro-matic, respectively).
But once again Salim Nourallah walked away the winner, no doubt thanks to his status as one of Dallas' most revered pop tunesmiths and his work on the new Old 97's disc, Blame It on Gravity. Ask Nourallah the albums he's proudest of working on, however, and he's just as quick to name one with a much lower profile, like Flat People's self-titled debut or The Cut*Off's Packaged Up for Beginners—two albums no doubt recorded with the aide of his trusty Telefunken 251 microphone, perhaps his favorite piece of gear.
"Because I use it everyday and I had to sell two songs of mine to be able to afford it," Nourallah says.
And with a full slate of projects under way at his Pleasantry Lane studios, including albums by Jayson Bales and Fate Lions, don't be surprised if his name pops up here again next year. But considering the growing national reputation of North Texas studios and producers, don't be surprised either if the competition's even stiffer then too. —N.W.B.
It doesn't even matter that Boys Named Sue's last album The Hits, Vol. 1 is comprised of original tracks from start to finish, or that they've got The Hits, Volume Sue in the works for next year.
No, Dallas will not be swayed by some silly full-length effort. We refuse to stand idly by and salute originality. We want covers! We want Johnny and Hank and Buck to be spliced with Bowling for Soup and radio hits for supreme ass-shaking and shot after shot of that godforsaken Tuaca.
Bassist Dub Sue, aka Ward Richmond, says the band does find a certain pleasure via their mash-up madness in exposing the similar chord progressions and melodies between hip-hop, rock and country.
Plus, chicks dig it (Richmond would like to note that all the Sues—except for him—are single). After packing the biggest, baddest room of the House of Blues during the House of Sues show last December—one of the band's favorite Sue-related memories of the past year—the Boys proved they still draw the party crowd.
And they're certainly crowd-pleasers, juxtaposing original tunes with the demanded tributes for an average of 45-song sets (these days only 15 percent is Cash covers). But, still, winning this award is a bit awkward after winning Best Country/Roots Act DOMAs for the past three years.
These Boys (very good musicians, technically...especially fiddler Bobby Sue, aka Rob Stave, and front-Sue John Pedigo) harnessed their passion for beer-swilling country—transcending the cover-band label—and yet they actually won the award for the exact opposite category they were probably going for. Call it name recognition. —Merritt Martin
Burlap kicks it jukebox-style; no scratching, no mash-ups, no "running my pie hole" over the music. Less action, more reaction. More Willie and Hank than ones and twos.
"I do work the crowd with my tunes, but in a more subtle way. I can get the crowd up dry-humping on whatever dance floor is available, crying in their beer and everywhere in between," DJ Burlap explains. "It's basically a record party with a little more thought and preparation put into it, but I am definitely not overthinking any of this."
That gets him a weekly residency at The Double Wide, some wedding receptions, the occasional out-of-town gig—you know, enough to occupy Burlap (aka Steven F. Berg) when he's not staying busy with his regular gig as the bass player for Eleven Hundred Springs.
"My work with Eleven Hundred Springs does create a situation where I can harness the marketing muscle of Eleven Hundred Springs and spread the good word about the DJ Burlap show," he explains. "Which, in turn, enables me to win awards like this." —P.F.
Now, Good Records stands bigger, brighter and chock-full of more new vinyl than most people could have wished for. The store opened a vinyl annex upstairs in April of this year and now sees not only a third of the store's shopping area devoted to "wax" (a term the store's music guru CJ Davis uses fondly), but also 30 percent of its overall sales coming from the elder format.
Penn credits indie labels with keeping vinyl alive, but the store has always stocked on demand from customers and in appreciation of the "warm sound" vinyl offers.
"Most importantly, 'You Can't Roll a Joint on a Digital Download,'" says Penn, citing the slogan emblazoned across store T-shirts sold at its eighth anniversary. Davis says some customers even purchase vinyl before investing in a turntable. But it's not all wax and needles at Good. The back wall (listening centers that showcase 45 new titles each month) and the patented Good Records in-store events (from Grandaddy to Enon to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' first in-store) have made casual customers regulars and made regulars become addicts.
Penn, Davis and Mark Church's inherent ability to provide recommendations based on customers' tastes doesn't hurt popularity, either. A trip to Good is a bit of a journey, and that's no accident.
"The main goal of Good Records is to offer our constituency a continued adventure in listening," says Penn. "We are always looking for new and old artists that raise our skirts and perk up our ears."
Winning a Best Record Store DOMA is virtually a given for Good Records, but another division of the Good Umbrella came from behind to swipe an unexpected trophy: Despite Good Records Recordings not exactly being the most prolific of local labels (think fellow nominees Idol, Gutterth or even TXMF), the feel-good vibe of the Good family brought home the gold without any releases. Though, to its credit, the label's roster has included big names, such as the aforementioned Grandaddy, The Polyphonic Spree, Pilotdrift and even local darlings Centro-matic. If the past is any indication, the future for the label could be as bright as the future for a certain record store of the same name. —M.M.
It comes as no surprise that the Granada Theater ran away with the Best Venue category this year. For starters, it was by far the most spacious of the nominees on this year's list. But, then again, if size was the only thing that mattered, the American Airlines Center would have a lock on this thing year after year.
Instead, owner Mike Schoder credits the club's success to his background in the resort industry.
"We take a lot of time teaching the staff about care," he says. "We're a resort, not just an arms-folded club."
Booking high-quality acts certainly helps too. Schoder says his time behind the counter at his CD World store taught him a lot about local music lovers' tastes. In 2008 alone, artists ranging from Neko Case to Todd Snider to Roky Erickson to Del Tha Funkee Homosapien performed or are scheduled to perform at the theater.
Last year, Schoder brought local musician and man-about-town Kris Youmans to help pick out the cream of the indie-rock crop. That worked out well; Youmans is this year's Best Booking Agent winner.
While some of the city's newer, larger venues may land the occasional Wilco, Waits or Wolf Parade, they can't match The Granada's peaceful, inviting vibe, from the friendly staff of "serenity" guards to the enormous "Love Yourself" sign above the stage (not to mention the pristine sound system).
"We create an environment where people are comfortable," Schoder says. "It's more of a family feel than what they may get at other venues, especially now that we've got these big corporate venues like crazy." —J.H.
Most nights there's a show at the Granada, you'll find booking agent Kris Youmans there. And at some point in the night—several points, if we're being realistic—he'll be standing out in front of the theater clad in a guayabera, hair pushed back in his sunglasses, cigarette dangling.
He's a schmoozer, chatting up audience members, scenesters and musicians. And make no mistake; that's not a bad thing. Working local audiences and musicians (local and national) is needed to consistently book quality shows that wow audiences.
"You have to be up-to-date with what is going to be a draw," Youmans says.
Seeing as how he's been at the booking trade since he first booked Dallas' old Major Theater in the spring of 1995, that's a lot of keeping up. It also makes for a fair amount of success—and a few pans.
"Booking is always a gamble, but the most important thing is believing in what you are trying to book."
The behind-the-scenes also offers a fair amount of betting, he says.
"The hand is dealt from the agent when they give you dates to look at with an artist. You make an offer, and then once the show is confirmed you have to play the rest of the hand."
This past year, Youmans won a fair share, and some of it is because of his experience as a musician (he plays cello for The Paper Chase and Sarah Jaffe). He can relate to what artists need and want from a show.
With shows such as Neko Case, Roky Erickson, Calexico and others coming up at the Granada, it's clear Youmans has a knack for bringing Dallas more of the bigger indie shows it needs. But it's good to know he's also keeping an eye on locals—working the crowd, cigarette by cigarette. —M.M.
Spend more than a night or two in the North Texas music scene and you're bound to run into Chelsea Callahan. She heads up distribution and the online stores department for Crystal Clear Sound, where her duties range from getting CDs into sales bins to filling online merchandise orders for Erykah Badu, Forever the Sickest Kids and Bowling for Soup, among others. She's also a DOMA-nominated booking agent for The Double Wide, where in the past three years she's brought bands ranging from Riverboat Gamblers and The Sword to Dove Hunter and Will Johnson.
Above all that, though, she's a relentless promoter for local music, championing shows for the bands she loves even when she doesn't have a stake in them.
"It's a big city, but the attendance for shows—especially for local music—isn't as high as it should be," she says. "I just want people to go to more shows."
No wonder so many bands are eager to play at The Double Wide time after time.
Callahan gets particularly excited about bands that draw from various genres, which is why bands like blues-rock duo RTB2 and roots-rock act Dove Hunter are listed among her favorites.
"There are a lot of bands that are hard to put in one genre, and I think that's cool as shit," she says. "I think because it's Texas; [there is] alt-country-, bluegrass-, Americana- and roots-influenced music here, and that's especially interesting. I'm not saying this is the only place that happens, but I've really noticed it in the past couple years."—J.H.