Is Dallas Suffering From Festival Fatigue?
It was pretty tight in the front standing section at the Granada Theater this past Saturday. My mother, an avid live music fan, usually prefers to stand further back at shows, but I grabbed her hand and led her up to the stage anyway. Behind the stage curtain, we could hear the faint clicking and tinkling of brass horns warming up. Rebirth Brass Band was about to go on. Mama Q, as she's often referred to, had seen them only once before, outdoors at the 2012 State Fair. "Trust me," I told her, "you're going to want to see this up close."
After the first few songs of a galvanizing set, she eventually backed up to cool off from dancing and to spare her eardrums. On the way home that night, she would tell me, "I've never seen so many people dancing in one place! Not just up front, but the whole theater. They brought the house down!"
"You were right," she gushed. "That was so much cooler than last time!"
Like any loving daughter, I love it when my mom admits that I'm right. But in this case, I knew that I would be. The State Fair show she was referring to wasn't bad, but the crowd wasn't into it the way they were engrossed by Rebirth at The Granada. There is something about the close quarters of a small venue and a crowd that showed up knowing the band that help you digest a live performance differently.
This energy is depicted in Ernie Barnes' neo-mannerist album cover for Marvin Gaye's 1976 classic, I Want You. The right combination of performance and venue will transcend an audience, turning a crowd of people into a single communal entity. The energy of the music bounces off the walls and flows between patrons like an ionic bond. One huge mass of people moving in time as one, revolving around the stage like planets around the sun.
The Dallas live music market is changing. The dog days of summer in particular, are becoming more and more saturated with music festivals every year. From mid-August to mid-September, Dallas will have seen Gorilla Vs. Bear Festival, The Mad Decent Block Party, Fort Worth Rock Assembly, Untapped, Dia De Los Toadies, Clearfork Music Festival, Breakaway Festival, plus a couple DIY startups. Index Fest and THRWD Fest are coming this October. Before you know it, we'll be making the drive down to Austin for Fun Fun Fest.
Festivals are appealing in this city because the population is so huge. They make you feel like you're getting more for your money with stacked lineups. When there's one every weekend, it seems less practical to pay for smaller, single-headliner shows here and there. People only have so much free time to spend on this kind of stuff. You can't count on Dallas music consumers to go out to more shows just because there are more to go to.
Festivals sell an experience, which is an enticing way to spend that limited free time. But the reality of a music festival is more than the bands and the extra amenities. It includes shortened sets, worse sound, unpredictable weather, $6 water bottles and huge crowds. When faced with these elements, the likelihood that you'll even really connect with the performances you're seeing are lessened.
Dallas, I implore you not to forget about your small-show circuit. From the Granada to the Texas Theater, from Lee Harvey's to Doublewide, nearly every one of our neighborhoods has at least one or two ideal venues for an intimate and memorable live music experience. They need our support to thrive, and they'll help us thrive culturally.