Dallas is Running Behind the Rest of the State in Texas Country
Randy Rogers is No. 1 in the hearts of Dallas country fans, but what about the Dallas talent?
Just about any night of the week, you can hear fine Texas country music in Dallas. This month alone, Randy Rogers, Sunny Sweeney, Bri Bagwell and Western swing kings Asleep at the Wheel will make their way through Dallas, each playing their own unique interpretation of country. But when you start to look hard at the calendar, a pattern quickly emerges: None of those Texas country acts is from Dallas.
Not many of them, anyway. McKinney’s Zane Williams is a highly sought-after songwriter, and the Old 97's are beloved by locals. When it comes to the big-time names, though, your Cody Canadas and Randy Rogers, all of the artists finding success in the world of Texas country are coming from somewhere other than Dallas. And that’s a problem we’ve got to figure out how to fix.
Lubbock (Josh Abbott, Amanda Shires), Tyler (Whiskey Myers) and College Station can all boast better Texas country scenes than Dallas, which sort of makes sense when you consider the party-driven, beer-drinking nature of the genre. But there's still plenty of partying and drinking and clearly a deep love for this kind of music here — Rogers and Josh Abbott and Wade Bowen frequently sell out large venues all over North Texas — yet we have very few local artists to show for it.
Fort Worth is the exception. Grady Spencer & the Work, Calhoun and dozens of other smaller, yet equally talented acts create a vibrant music scene that Dallas, at this point, can only dream of. Perhaps it's the more rustic aesthetic and the Stockyards setting that makes Fort Worth a better home for Texas country music, but there is no reason why Dallas can’t do just as well. Why don't Texas country acts start up here? Or why do they flee to other cities?
For the past few years, Somebody’s Darling has taken home the Observer’s award for Best Country Band at the Dallas Observer Music Awards. Even though Somebody’s Darling wasn't the only country band in Dallas — or even all that country to begin with — they’ve (not undeservedly) been heaped with all of the alt-country praise that this city has to go around, even as artists like Williams and Madison King bang it out at the Twilite Lounge and Vagabond. Meanwhile, Somebody’s Darling has already fled to greener pastures in Nashville, leaving some mighty big boots to fill.
The immensely talented King, who recorded “Feel Like Falling in Love” with Rhett Miller of the Old 97's earlier this year, gave Somebody’s Darling (and Amber Farris' raw and unique vocals) a run for their money. Despite her massive talent (if you’ve ever squeezed into a packed, tiny bar to see King belt those ridiculously emotive vocals and show off her songwriting chops, you understand), it makes absolutely no sense that she hasn’t either built up an impressive following in Dallas — one that helps her sell out Trees every time she wants to play there and spends money on her actual records in the same way that local fans have supported acts like Leon Bridges and Sarah Jaffe.
It also makes sense that artists would run off from Dallas to Austin or Nashville, where you're more likely to be noticed by a record label. But there are plenty of bands that run off to Austin from all over the country (Dallas included), realize that they don’t yet have their shit together, and end up disbanding or continuing to make mediocre music instead of really growing. A receptive Texas country scene in Dallas already exists, so why aren’t more bands trying to figure out how to grow their audience in the country’s fifth-largest media market?
Take a look at the concert schedule at Adair’s, where free live honky-tonk music is on the stage every single night. That schedule should be full of Dallas artists, and not just a couple, like John Tipton and the Dirty Irv. At Henderson Avenue Country Club, who claimed to be “Dallas’ best honky tonk” upon opening last year, the schedule is now full of DJs (some country) — they don't host much local talent. Where exactly are local bands supposed to hone their talents if not at bars like these? The Ice House in Lubbock, the small stage at Billy Bob’s and Hurricane Harry’s in Bryan-College Station are happy to have them.
If Dallas wants to maintain a robust Texas country scene — one where the artists aren’t being shipped in from across, and out of, the state — it’s important that venues and fans alike step up and support these artists, like Madison King and Zane Williams, until they’re ready to fly on a more national (or hell, regional) scene. Once they find their footing, we’ll be able to fight over sold-out shows at small venues, and we’ll consider ourselves lucky.
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