My dream version of spring break--less shirtlessness, more music and just as much drinking--is officially underway in Austin. I'll talk about our city's presence at the South by Southwest Music Festival in next week's full review (and the impatient can find daily fest updates this week at Unfair Park, the Dallas Observer's blog), but on some level, I'd rather be home right now.
In the six years I've attended, SXSW has grown from a semi-intimate affair (with some obvious, crowded exceptions) to a hideous beast, proven last year by a massive increase in showcase sellouts. More overcrowding is expected this year, and headaches for the common fan--the music-obsessed kids who plunked down cash for a wristband, only to be left in the cold while Matt Pinfield and other press blowhards (like yours truly) waltz in with shiny badge passes--will result in more people raising the complaints I had last year.
Rather than suggest improvements, I'm more interested in how Dallas can steal the big fest's thunder--the time to strike is now, while the beast's rep is wounded. Three local festival ideas come to mind, each with a stupid, prerequisite acronym:
Hip-Hop, Destination: Dallas (H2D2)
Want a rock festival? You don't have to drive far wherever you live in the States, thanks to CMJ, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Voodoo, Austin City Limits, etc., but the same cannot be said for hip-hop. Why pop music's most popular genre settles for fringe stages at rock festivals is beyond me; the Toronto Urban Music Festival has run steadily for nine years, but other than that, North America's best live collections of hip-hop come from one-off nationwide tours.
Since Dallas is a major urban-music market, it's a prime spot for a hip-hop and R&B fest that celebrates backpackers as much as grill lovers. In some ways, groundwork has already been laid by the folks at Who's Got the Juice? In its last iteration at Fair Park, the dance/tagging/rap-battle competition proved that the organizers have nailed its identity in a short three-year run, but there's plenty of room for expansion--namely, by inviting singers, rappers and DJs to put on showcases.
A strong mix of local and regional up-and-comers could attract a hearty presence of national underground champs; then again, Houston and Dallas alone could fuel the entire thing. Such an endeavor would take a few years to build steam, but if the ratings at K104 and 97.9 the Beat are any indication, there's no shortage of desire for that endeavor in our backyard.
Metroplex Attacks Sonic Hardware (MASH)
Electronic and laptop music fests aren't in short supply--Dallas' Tree Wave has been invited to a few in New York and Europe, for example (and ran its own in Dallas as well). But the success of Mwanza Dover's Laptop Deathmatch series, which was given a glowing national review by The Associated Press in February, is proof that more electronic currents are running through our city than the average music fan ever suspected.
A once-a-year Super Deathmatch, one that invites electronic musicians from across the country and globe to compete, judge or even play their own showcases, would help Dallas assert itself as an unexpected source of challenging, computer-based sounds. Folk, country and jazz fest ideas might draw more patrons, but MASH would be so batshit-crazy that it'd surpass those other three genres combined.
Guitars and Grandeur (GaG)
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This whole idea is a little redundant--dozens of rock fests already take place in the metroplex, but there are right ways and wrong ways to pull them off. Wrong way: April 1st's Deep Ellum Community Music Fest, which must be an April Fools' joke gone awry.
Let's look past my personal bias against these boring, "I wish Ayo would put my generic rock song on the rotation of 102.1 The Edge" bands and look at the real problem with the fest. The butt-rock brigade schedule--Deaf Pedestrians, Fallen From the Nest, Frolic, Sidekick Mafia, Monkeyshyne, Smooth Choppy--doesn't help, but more important, Deep Ellum didn't get its initial reputation by sticking to a narrow vision of what rock music should sound like.
Remember when Edie Brickell built her career in that warehouse district? Course of Empire? Deep Blue Something? Only one of those three would "fit in" on the hard-rock-focused DECMF roster. Compare that with the forthcoming Wall of Sound Festival, which sees alt-country, space-rock, jazz, folk, twee, whiskey-fueled country and all-out hard-rock share the Ridglea Theater stages on April 8 and 9. Best of all, the region's varied local acts will share the stage with nationals like Low, Starlight Mints, Austin's Okkervil River and semi-Dallasites the New Year.
Those faves will attract an entirely new (and all-ages) crowd to the best unknown bands in Dallas, Denton and Fort Worth, and that's what I want in a community.