By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
A few years ago, you'd hear the happy-go-lucky, impossibly supportive local music fans shout their rallying cries, and you'd smile because, much as you wanted to believe that what they were saying was true, you knew in your heart that it wasn't.
Still, you listened to their rants: "There's just so much talent here," they'd say. "I don't understand how these bands aren't more famous."
Diligently, as a fellow local, you'd do your part and halfheartedly agree — compassion and support are important to fostering a scene, y' know — but, mostly, you tried not to roll your eyes. The honest-to-goodness truth was that, entertaining as it may have been for what it was, the music scene four years back just wasn't very strong. Deep Ellum was a distant memory, there were serious divides between the music communities in Dallas, Denton, Fort Worth and all points in between, and where there should've been collaboration there was competition — not a particularly friendly brand of competition either, as there just weren't enough fans to go around.
This year, thankfully, has very little in common with the North Texas scenes of the mid- to late-'00s. There's little doubting that this year has been a great one for local music. From the big, familiar names (Old 97's, Erykah Badu, Toadies, Centro-matic) still doing their things to the mid-level favorites (Sarah Jaffe, Seryn, True Widow) on the verge of national stardom to the fresh-faced newcomers (Datahowler, Sundress, Soviet, Sealion, A.Dd+, Maleveller) fast making names for themselves locally, the scene is more vibrant now than it has been in a long, long time.
Credit Deep Ellum's resurgence for the comeback if you must, but the fact is that the traditional music neighborhood of Dallas wouldn't have been able to make its comeback were it not for the suddenly substantial audience demanding its existence.
The true stars of the Dallas music scene in 2011 are the fans, the ones who still go to shows, the one who still buy merchandise and the ones who giddily approach local band members on the street or at a bar and make them feel special in the process. Yes, you all. Not because you simply show up and blindly support, either. Rather, it's because during the down years you made it clear: If bands wanted your support, they'd have to earn it.
In 2011, you finally got your wish. The bands heard you. And at this year's Dallas Observer Music Awards, we're happy to honor your bidding. This year's winners are deserving — not just because of talent, but because of the ways in which they've fostered your support. And boy, did they: The number of votes received for this year's awards is the most we've ever received, by almost four times.
Yes, the scene is stronger these days. The following winners, along with you all, are the reason why.
Best Group Act, Best Album (This Is Where We Are), Best Song ("We Will All Be Changed"), Best Male Vocalist (Trenton Wheeler), Best Instrumentalist (Chris Semmelbeck)
Last year was when Seryn formally introduced themselves to the music lovers of North Texas. This was the year they became fully embraced. After losing out on all three nominations the band received in our 2010 Dallas Observer Music Awards, this year Seryn takes home victories in five of six the categories in which it was nominated. And their label, Spune Records, takes home the award for Best Label this year.
It's not hard to see why the band has so endeared itself. Despite two band members taking home individual honors at this year's awards (Trenton Wheeler as Best Male Vocalist and drummer Chris Semmelbeck as Best Instrumentalist), Seryn truly is a collective, with the group providing myriad onstage focal points, each member singing and performing every word and every note like it could be their last.
That's the whole idea behind this band, actually — that there are greater forces at play than any one individual can provide. The band's name, a reference to their serendipitous formation, and their sound, a rousing brand of indie folk that swells and swoops and lulls and roars, back this up. This year's Best Song winner, "We Will All Be Changed," mines this territory brilliantly, as do the rest of the songs on the band's January-released Best Album winner, This Is Where We Are.
That album's title, perhaps, best explains this band's draw. Seryn is just starting out and, for now, simply happy to be a part of the conversation. This humility, paired with the collective's supreme talent (guitarist Nathan Allen, violinist Chelsea Bohrer and bassist Aaron Stoner each could've given Semmelbeck a run for his money had they been nominated in the Best Instrumentalist category), bodes well for their future.
Best Solo Act, Best Folk Act, Best Female Vocalist
Different year, same accolades: Surely, a meager Dallas Observer Music Award win — or, say, three, the number Sarah Jaffe wins this year — must be old hat at this point for Jaffe, the adored singer-songwriter who wishes she were "a little more delicate," as she opines on her breakthrough single, "Clementine," from her 2010 Suburban Nature debut LP. But let's not discount these facts: Jaffe made Dallas music history at last year's Music Awards, taking home five victories and becoming the first-ever nominee to reach a total of 11 awards without ever suffering a defeat; this year's three-for-three take only further cements her place as one of the most decorated acts in these awards' 23 years.