Frisco's Building Its City on Rock & Roll
The sidewalk outside is white and new—way too clean for the outside of a bar. The entryway is adorned with stained glass, and in the back of the room, a guy with a guitar strums loudly. The further you get from the snotty chatter at the bar, the better you can hear him. He's not well known—just a guy with a guitar playing some mediocre original Americana songs.
But it's nearly impossible to get close to the stage. The room is packed.
Funny thing is, this isn't some bar in Deep Ellum—or even, for that matter, in downtown or Lower Greenville. And it's not in Denton, either. This scene exists well beyond the outskirts, in the suburb of Frisco, some 30 minutes north or south of any proper North Texas music community. But the bar, Lochrann's Irish Pub & Eatery, has become the center point for a music scene—an unlikely one, at that.
Can a music scene really exist here? In Frisco?
Many of this suburb's residents already think so. And even more are starting to believe, thanks to the steady stream of live acts both local and touring that have graced the one-foot-tall stage at Lochrann's. Telegraph Canyon, The Soft Pack, Matthew and the Arrogant Sea and many more have made the free shows held Thursdays at Lochrann's a regular night out for many of Frisco's music-loving residents.
The biggest fan of them all? Entrepreneur Matthew Harber.
"This is ground zero—the grassroots level," says Harber, dressed in a Brazilian soccer club jersey. "We're trying to form a community one person at a time."
That's been Harber's initiative since the beginning of 2009, when he, a self-proclaimed fan of all things indie-rock, first had the idea to bring original live music to Frisco. He knew it wouldn't be an easy task and that he'd have to start at the grassroots level, but that's the way he's always done things—even when he moved to Frisco to start a new career.
Five years ago, Harber landed a job working for Major League Soccer. He waived an offer to go to one of the best teams in the league, choosing instead to start a career with FC Dallas—one of the league's lower-rated teams. He took the job because he wanted a challenge.
"I was a soccer evangelist," he says of his time with FC Dallas. "At the beginning of last year, it became evident that this wasn't the place to invest my entire life."
Still, he had a mortgage on a home in Frisco, and, for better or worse, he was stuck with it. So, instead of being satisfied going to Dallas or Denton, where music communities are thriving—or at least surviving—he decided to bring the music to him, right in the heart of the suburbs.
His first step in doing so was to start Wellhouse Co., a collaborative made up of an exclusive group of knowledgeable and talented people. David Bartholow, a contributor to the nationally revered and locally based music blog Gorilla vs. Bear, signed on to help with marketing, and the man behind Spune Productions, Lance Yocom, became the group's primary booking agent.
"I always wondered at what point was someone going to start tapping into Frisco," says Yocom. "There's so many people out there."
He's right, too. See, the median age in Frisco is 33, and the median household income is just north of $100,000. And with the nearest large-scale entertainment district at least 30 minutes away, Frisco is a prime location to develop a music community.
Already, thanks to FC Dallas' home of Pizza Hut Park, the city of Frisco boasts a massive concert facility drawing fans in to shows like last weekend's KISS-headlined blowout. Harber and his cohorts aren't quite working on that level, but that's also not where they see the need. The need, they say, is on the streets themselves.
"Whether or not people know that they need it, there's a massive need for live music and culture and art in Frisco," he says.
Of course, Frisco's not alone in that kind of need. Nor is it the only place with people trying to do something about it. Several other metroplex suburbs are attempting to inject themselves with life through live music.
The Cadillac Pizza Pub in McKinney is packed each weekend with performances from well known local blues bands like The Stratoblasters and Andy Timmons. It's not exactly your standard indie-rock scene, but "it's definitely a music destination," owner Rick McCall proudly says.
Meanwhile, other towns, much like Frisco, are tapping into the allure that the word "indie" has on a younger crowd. The city of Grand Prairie is gearing up for a city-sponsored film and music contest called the Fall Indie Fest in October. Independent bands have submitted their music into a competition for a chance to open for DFW favorites Reverend Horton Heat, Telegraph Canyon and Mount Righteous in downtown Grand Prairie, and also for a shot at an enviable grand prize—a record contract from Kirtland Records, home to the Toadies and Sarah Jaffe. It's a pretty surprising festival by a city best known for a horse-racing track and the Verizon Theatre, but Grand Prairie is trying to attract young people to see the newly revitalized downtown, and to maybe convince them, y'know, to live there, too.
Unlike his counterparts in Grand Prairie, though, Harber isn't in the business of hawking real estate. Actually, Frisco's already one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., surpassing the 100,000 population mark in 2008. That's a substantial amount of people—enough, Harber believes, to create a demand for live music.
But tapping into that demographic hasn't been easy.
"The disposable income is there," Harber says. "The challenge is getting them to know about what's going on, and them being able to break away from their spouse and their kids."
An even bigger problem lies in the complete lack of Frisco-based bands playing original music—or, rather, any noteworthy ones. Lochrann's band schedule until now has mainly tapped into its neighboring scenes when searching for talent. And, though he understands that it will take some time before the first Frisco bands start popping up, Harber says he's in it for the long haul.
For the foreseeable future, though, the Frisco music scene will continue to comprise a steady stream of Dallas, Denton and Fort Worth bands coming to Lochrann's—which, for many, remains quite a drive.
"For Fort Worth bands, it feels like they're going to an out-of-town show," says Yocom, who calls Fort Worth home.
How long will Harber shell out cash to keep these bands coming to Lochrann's before the idea catches on in Frisco? Will he—and his Wellhouse—eventually run dry?
"I don't think we've really tapped into Frisco yet," he says. "Unfortunately, there's not a way to say, 'Hey, Frisco music community, pay attention to what we're doing,' because [the Frisco music community] doesn't exist."
He hopes, though, that the free Thursday night shows at Lochrann's will lay the groundwork for his company's first big event. On Saturday, Lochrann's will host an impressive all-day bill that will take place on two stages. Included among the performers are Rhett Miller, Bowerbirds, Efterklang, Telegraph Canyon and a whopping 16 other acts. It's an event, Harber hopes, that will make Frisco's residents more aware of what Wellhouse and Lochrann's are trying to do.
But when all those bands pack up their gear and leave town, the scene will again find itself back at zero.
Harber isn't sweating it, though. A line from an e-mail sent by a fan of his efforts affirms his efforts: "Thank you for making suburban life bearable."
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