A few weeks ago, I wrote that the Dallas Music Fest was the city's best-organized and least interesting festival. Well, I was right on one count. In only its second year, the Cleveland-owned DMF proved to be a disaster of confusion and mediocre music, with bands playing to empty houses and panels delayed by hours. Jeff Blue, senior vice president of A&R at RCA, was reportedly so frustrated that he ditched the festival early, leaving his assistant to handle his Saturday-afternoon panel. (Blue could not be reached for comment.) Say what you will about the music--which skewed young and heavy--the organization left a lot to be desired.
"We were originally told we were going to play at 7 p.m.," says Paul Salfen, whose band Far Star was one of the festival's more reputable acts. "Then they told us we had to go on at 6 p.m. We didn't even think we could get off work at 6 p.m., far less play. Lucky for us, the backline for [headliners] Brides of Destruction never showed up, and they threw a fit and wouldn't play, so we didn't go on till 8 p.m." This was the second year Far Star played the DMF--and the last. "We definitely wouldn't play it again," he says. "We'll pretty much play anywhere, but that's a stretch."
The festival was largely ignored by the media, including this paper. The event drew the sharpest criticism from--of all places--SMU's student newspaper, which crowned the DMF "a flop." I can't tell you why other media pulled their punches, but for my part, I had decided to more or less ignore the DMF and its fishy ticket-selling tactics like a bad smell. I figured it did more good than harm. I figured anything that got people in the clubs was a good thing. I figured it was a boost for some bands, especially if those bands played metal. But I'm starting to suspect I was wrong.
Here is the problem: The Dallas Music Festival values money over music. Owners John Michalak and Dan Bliss aren't bad people; they're businessmen who saw an opportunity to make cash in a major market full of unsigned talent. They are not from Dallas. They do not book according to talent. They book according to how many overpriced tickets a band can sell. This is not a new tactic--it's as old as Girl Scout cookie sales, and just as accurate an indicator of how well you play guitar. Now, just because they're opportunists doesn't mean good things can't come from the festival: Last year, Losa got signed to Metal Blade Records. This year, a jaw-dropping screamo band from Bowie called Autumn Silence became the festival's breakout success. The DMF is practically a rallying cry for modern-rockers Strangleweed, which sold the most tickets two years in a row. (Two things that will tell you everything you need to know about this band: Motto? "Universal groove with an edge." Lead singer's name? Starchild.) The festival is a perfect fit for Strangleweed; they are fame-hungry and artless. Perhaps the band deserves attention--hell, they're incredible salesmen. But to place that band in a showcase for industry reps and dare to suggest it's the best the city has to offer is a goddamn insult. Imagine if some A&R bigwig actually did catch the afternoon showcase--and that, in itself, is in question--and left town with the notion that Dallas' best group is a Creed cover band.
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The real fallout from the Dallas Music Festival is the way it knocks the wind out of the local music scene. People I know and respect don't feel good about it. Recently, New Music Festival director Teresa Hale wrote me an e-mail: "Since two weekends ago, when Sugarlight Productions hosted their second annual Dallas Music Festival, we are seeing mass quantities of local bands and music fans turning downright sour at the very idea of participating in future music festivals in this town." That is a problem. See, most local festivals are a good thing. For musicians, they are an opportunity to meet other bands and make new fans. For the audience, they are an opportunity to see new talent. With festival season inching ever closer--SXSW next month, followed by two Denton festivals (see And Another Thing) and the New Music Festival starting to take submissions next month--it's important that the DMF is recognized as the anomaly it is. No other festival in town asks you to sell tickets to play. No other festival in town costs $25 to $40 for entrants. Let's call it what it really is: at best, a heavy metal showcase; at worst, a cash grab.