By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
It's a good time to be playing music in Dallas.
Disagree? Well, sorry there, bud, but you're just flat-out wrong.
Here's your proof: This year, thanks in large part to a massive upswing in online and text voting, we received more votes than ever in the history of these little Dallas Observer Music Awards. Some three times as many, in fact. That's an impressive feat, considering that we've been handing our trophies out for, oh, going on 22 years now.
But what does it mean, exactly? Well, for starters, there's a receptive audience around town—a mass of fans not only willing to go out and see a performance or buy an album from their favorite act, but also a group of people willing to go the extra mile, show their support and make sure they do their part in helping their favorite musicians perform well in contests such as this one.
Let's not make any bones about it: These awards don't necessarily crown the best music the town has to offer—that's too tall of an order for anyone in these bountiful times for impressive local music. But let's not discount these honors, either, for they do something perhaps just as important. These awards show us who's the best in town when it comes to actively engaging their fans. That much can be accomplished through a few means—the two most effective of which are 1.) actively campaigning to get fans to vote as soon as the ballots are released, and 2.) creating music that is so powerful that, even without campaigning, fans can't help but support it on their own.
Looking at this year's list of top vote-getters, it's clear that each of those roads was taken by many of these acts—and, in many cases, both of these factors came into play. Without any doubt, given the sheer volume of votes we received this year, each of this year's winners is deserving of its nods.
For years now, local musicians have rallied behind the ever-annoying every-city complaint that there just aren't audiences to support a thriving local scene. Well, it's time to stop the bickering, folks. Thanks to this year's winners—from the already-deified Sarah Jaffe and the insta-juggernaut of Ishi to the long-deserving RTB2 and internationally adored Midlake—the crowds are finally here.
And, oh, what a sweet chorus they're receiving in return. —Pete Freedman
Best Solo Act • Best Album • Best Song
Best Folk Act • Best Female Vocalist
Apologies to the many musicians forced to square off against Sarah Jaffe in this year's Dallas Observer Music Awards ballot. Guess we shoulda seen this coming, but you never really stood a chance.
With this year's sweep of the five categories in which she earned a nomination, Jaffe's dominance over these awards stands as the big story of not just this year, but of the past three. Indeed: The five trophies she's earned in this year's awards, added to her three wins apiece in 2009 and 2008 (both years, she earned honors in the Best Folk Act, Best Solo Act and Best Female Vocalist categories) not only give Jaffe a whopping 11 awards over that time span, but they also show her as an unfathomable wrecking crew. For three years running now, Jaffe's walked away with a trophy in every single category for which she's been nominated.
Uh-huh: North Texas sure loves it some Jaffe.
Thing is, with the release of Suburban Nature, Jaffe's debut full-length, released on Kirtland Records in March, the indie folk singer has proved herself a cherished commodity beyond our region. Paste Magazine named her "The Best of What's Next." National Public Radio picked her song "Clementine" as a song of the day back in June. USA Today has written endearingly about her, too.
So what could possibly be next for Jaffe? Why, how about her first headlining tour?
Come August, just in time for the vinyl release of her stunning Suburban Nature debut (which includes a heart-stopping alternate version of her song "Vulnerable"), Jaffe will embark on just that, joined by her seasoned, trusty and incomparable backing band of Robert Gomez, Scott Danbom and Jeff Ryan.
"Just me and the boys," she says with a laugh. "I'm excited, but I'm also a little timid."
Well, Sarah, consider this year's voting an emphatic "There's nothing to fear!" from your adoring North Texas fans whose voracious appetites for your songs have them already clamoring for more, just four months after your first LP.
Fortunately, Jaffe concedes, there is more on the way—an EP she hopes Kirtland will release in the fall, and one that she recorded herself at her Denton home.
"I've just made it a goal of mine to become a better musician," the already tasteful guitar player explains. "I bought a drum set. I bought a bass."
And, slowly, she's teaching herself to play those instruments—maybe not as well as her bandmates play them, but well enough to feel comfortable recording her own backing parts.
"I'm just learning," she says with her token nonchalance. "And that's just really, really appealing to me. I'm fucking up on my own, and I'm learning the basics. It's exciting when you know that you're not the best, but that you're getting better."