By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Now that we've officially kissed goodbye to 2008 and all, let's get all cutesy and name the eight biggest area music stories of 2008—the ones we might actually still be talking about a few years from now—and maybe toss in some honorable mentions along the way too.
I mean, it's 2009, y'know. We now have the luxury of a little thing called "perspective."
So, yeah, let's do it. Let's go ahead and count 'em down. It'll be like New Year's Eve all over again!
First came Ghosthustler—although, OK, maybe that was more of a 2007 story. Then came the resounding support Fight Bite received before it even finished recording its debut release. Then came the support for Centro-matic/South San Gabriel's Dual Hawks. And then the support for The New Year's self-titled release. And then the support for Matthew and the Arrogant Sea's debut release, Magic Magic Magic Meets the Family Christian, which, OK, probably got an extra push because people wanted to talk to Midlake's Eric Pulido and learn what they could about his band's upcoming 2009 release. But still, you notice a pattern here, right? Music lovers of every shape, size and influence—people who didn't know these artists from Adam—went out of their way to give some shine to area artists this year. At the very least, it was assuring: Maybe we aren't crazy for thinking there's some talent in DFWd after all! Honorable mention: Rockwall native Jason Castro got his share of anonymous support this year too, as American Idol viewers and voters carried his hippified folk to fourth place in the reality competition.
In a year filled with ups and downs in Deep Ellum (more on that later), the one consistently well-attended venue along the hallowed roads of Elm Street, Main Street and Commerce Street has been the all-ages venue The Door, located in the Gypsy Tea Room's old ballroom facility. It's just one of four such-named clubs around the region, with sister locations in Plano, Fort Worth and Canton, and sure, it's largely teens who go to these shows. But the support from the kids who attend the shows run by The Door (and by others, including Third String Productions, which hosts shows in Farmers Branch and Plano) has turned the metroplex into something of a launching pad for the national mall-punk audience: Local power-pop act Forever the Sickest Kids had a big year with its major-label debut, Underdog Alma Mater, which boasted a substantial radio hit in "Woah Oh (Me Vs. Everyone)." Oh, and FTSK? Just the tip of the iceberg. Other area acts such as Ivoryline, Artist Vs. Poet, PlayRadioPlay! and the now almost grandfatherly The Rocket Summer are also reaping the benfits. Honorable mention: It wasn't just the Hot Topic-looking kids who scored with the major labels in 2008: Soulful Dallas Observer Music Award-winning blues rock act Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights signed to Atlantic Records, Sachse R&B singer Dondria Nicole turned YouTube fame into a deal with Island Def Jam and Fort Worth alt-rock act Green River Ordinance scored a deal with EMI/Virgin.
Deep Ellum, by far the most storied music neighborhood in DFW, had itself a turbulent year, but for the most part, it all evened out: There were closings (The Darkside, Red Blood Club, Club One), re-openings (The Darkside became The Lounge on Elm Street, Club One became Excuses Café) and changes in ownership (Club Dada). But Expo Park wasn't as lucky: Longtime favorite punk hangout Bar of Soap shuttered its doors for good and upstart DIY venue Sloppyworld was closed before it had the time to reach its full potential. None of the year's closing news was welcome—but thanks to the openings and the new, energized booking policies at The Lounge, Club Dada, The Prophet Bar and even Reno's Chop Shop, things just east of downtown could certainly be worse. And with the DART rail's impending completion and with Scott Beck promising to purchase 14 acres in Deep Ellum without changing much about the neighborhood, that's all anyone could realistically ask for.
After enduring a three-year bout with a writer's block that she feared she'd never outgrow, Erykah Badu released New Amerykah Pt. 1: 4th World War, her fourth full-length release in eight long years. And, boy, did the national media eat it up. And not just recently. I'm sure Badu's pleased with the recent spat of outlets (Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Spin, USA Today, MTV) who've named New Amerykah Pt. 1 to their year-end best music lists (not to mention the top video honors her lead single "Honey" earned at the BET and MTV award shows), but the hype surrounding the disc's release was fairly substantial too. Hell, even The New Yorker ran a piece on Badu at the time. But, most impressive, Badu decided to make the release a largely local affair by hosting a midnight release party at Bill's Records and flying in her famous friends (Dave Chappelle, ?uestlove of The Roots) to join in on the fun at her House of Blues album release performance. Honorable mention: The Toadies also returned—and in surprisingly good form—to release No Deliverance, its first album in seven years.
After a 2007 in which Ozzfest competed with a growing number of similar metal-themed touring festival bills by offering audiences free admission, Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne decided to switch formats once again—this time by changing the touring festival into a one-off, one-day, early August concert in, of all places, Frisco. No, seriously. And it went off fairly well too: In October, Billboard announced that the 2008 Ozzfest was the third-highest-grossing concert of the year. So will Ozzfest return in 2009? So far, Sharon, the Prince of Darkness' wife and manager, has remained mum on the topic. But even if Ozzfest doesn't return, it will at least have served to prove that North Texas can be a viable, if relatively untapped, hub for similar destination festivals in the future.
Lil Wil, Fat Pimp and Lil Shine started off the year with a string of instructional dance tracks that got Dallas nightclubs bumping and regional radio markets listening. As the year wore on, Them Gspot Boyz and B-Hamp kept the trend going strong with their own set of hits. The somewhat gimmicky style (each song's instructions offer up a slight variation on the same set of dance moves) could provide Dallas with a launching pad into the national spotlight—or it could just be the next chapter in the long line of embarrassing blips and never-weres in Dallas hip-hop history.
Denton kinda stopped being a secret in 2008, thanks to being named Paste Magazine's Best Scene of '08 and The New York Times stopping by to give the town a write-up (so what if it was in the travel section?). But now that it's out in the open, the real questions begin: Was anybody listening? Will newly arrived vagabonds clog up the scene? Will labels swoop in to sign bands to its roster and cash in on the buzz? So far, um, no, none of the above. But at least the bloggers are noticing: When a Denton band gets mentioned on the Internet these days, you can rest assured knowing that its name is quickly followed by the words "from Denton, TX." Honorable mention: Don't forget that Dallas got its fair share of shine in '08 too. Spin put the spotlight on the city in its "_______ Rock City" feature, Billboard named the House of Blues the top music venue in America and StubHub named Dallas as America's No. 7 most rockin' city (whatever that means).
It became quite clear earlier this year that the Disney corporation had no problem repeatedly returning to the Dallas area to cast for Disney Channel shows—but who knew the area's tweens could turn up golden for the corporation's musical entities too? This year, both Plano's Demi Lovato (star of Camp Rock and dubbed "the next Miley Cyrus" by MTV) and Grand Prairie's Selena Gomez scored mild radio hits, with "Get Back" and "Tell Me Something I Don't Know," respectively. But that was just the tip of the iceberg: In July, The Jonas Brothers—the biggest stars on the planet for kids age 16 and under—moved to Westlake. So what does this mean for the future? Perhaps a cadre of washed-up, coke-addicted has-beens in, oh, six years or so. Or maybe it's a happier ending, where the stable of area stars continue to shine bright. Who knows? Either way: In five years, we're looking back on this story and shaking our heads. And that means, yep, that's the biggest Dallas music story of the year, folks.