By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Last year, at our 20th annual Dallas Observer Music Awards, there was a distinct theme of tradition behind all the festivities. And rightfully so: 20 years is indeed a long time. Countless great acts have passed through and risen up in Dallas during that time period.
But there's just something youthful about turning 21, isn't there? Something inherently exuberant. Something perhaps a little self-centered.
So pardon me if this year's music awards introduction isn't about the storied past, or about the promising future. Rather, let's discuss the state of how things are today in the regional scene.
Make no mistake, this is a regional scene we're talking about here, folks. Dallas bands travel to Denton and Fort Worth with regularity. Denton bands travel to Dallas and Fort Worth. Fort Worth bands...well, you get the idea. Point is, this is no longer just Dallas' scene. And, consequently, it's no longer just Denton's to bitch about. Or just Fort Worth's to rebel against.
A large part of this transformation? Technology. Heard a band namedropped while standing in line for coffee this morning? Look 'em up online; they're likely playing somewhere in the region in the near future. Hear about a great new singer-songwriter from another part of town? Plug that name into a search engine; you can probably stream (if not download) most of the artist's catalog if you're Web-savvy enough. Wanna know exactly how a show up in Denton is going? Hop onto some band or blogger's Twitter feed to find out. Point is, it doesn't matter if you're from Dallas, Denton or Fort Worth; the information's all out there. And it's easy to access.
But it's also easy to provide: This year, in addition to online voting and print balloting, we allowed music fans to send us their picks for DOMA winners via text message; at least one winner in this year's awards, Best Funk/R&B Act Backside Pick, likely won its category thanks to cleverly picking up on the fact that it was winning fans at Saturday's DOMA Showcase on Lower Greenville and asked the audiences to text vote their support. Pretty much the entire patio at Zephyr's—from gray hairs to pretty young things—responded by texting upon command. (Turns out, 15 percent of all the votes we received this year came via text messaging.)
But, at Zephyr's, those texters didn't vote because they saw promise in what they heard, or because they were so familiar with the band's local history. No, they did so because they liked what they were hearing and were simply enjoying the moment.
With other DOMA winners this year, like the exuberant Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights, the heart-wrenching Sarah Jaffe and the schizophrenic The Paper Chase, shouldn't we be pretty pleased ourselves?
Here's saying we are. And here's celebrating those who've helped us realize it.
It's been a long year since Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights, then still a relatively new act, walked away with an award for Best Blues Act at the 2008 Dallas Observer Music Awards. Of course, things tend to happen to bands over the span of long years like this one—lots of things.
In Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights' case, that includes getting signed to a major label (Atlantic Records) and touring the country (first with Cross Canadian Ragweed, later as an opener for Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd) while playing some 230 shows.
Y'know, nothing major.
What's crazy, though, is that, for Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights, this next year should be an even more eventful 365 days—and the madness is set to start as soon as two weeks from now, when the band will head to Nashville to hit the studio with producer Jay Joyce (The Derek Trucks Band, John Hiatt, The Alternate Routes). If all goes according to plan, the session should produce the band's major-label debut, a disc the talented frontman for whom the band is named hopes will see the light of day come February 2010.
And before that disc's release? More local performances and, yes, more tours (including an upcoming cruise with Lynyrd Skynyrd) for the blues-jam act—which is fine by Tyler. And well it should be: Onstage is where Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights truly shine, captivating audiences with their high-energy performances and recalling a young Black Crowes—or maybe another mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom: Almost Famous' Stillwater. Of course, eliciting such comparisons hasn't always been easy, the affable Tyler explains.
"We work hard," he says. "We've always been pushing forward, and we've always been very ambitious."
Now add "important" to that list. With or without being voted the region's Best Group, this much is indisputable: When it comes to area acts most likely to succeed in the near future—at least, by following the old tried-and-true major-label route—there's Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights and, well below them, everyone else.
Which—no surprise here—has Tyler champing at the bit for what's to come: "I get anxious," Tyler says in his cigarette-sculpted and whiskey-drenched voice—a voice that's blatantly not an act. "Not to the point where I'm losing sleep, but I do get anxious.