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Open Doors

All access: "I just wanted to expose more bands than my bands to that market," Buzz-Ovens Aden Holt says (with Dallas team leader Mary Frances Poston), "because it seems like it's a really tough market to get into for most bands."
Stephen P. Karlisch

Andy Richardson is 17 years old, a student at North Mesquite High School in Mesquite, a skinny kid just this side of geeky who plays guitar in a band just this side of punk rock called Dogs in Heat. He's also a "buzzer," one of a few hundred high school and college students in Dallas and Fort Worth (and Lewisville and Garland and Denton and Plano and Arlington and...) who spend their free time promoting local music. They wait near the doors after concerts and hand out fliers, tack up posters outside classrooms, bug video jocks at GameWorks, whatever it takes. "You really have to get out there to find the kids that really care," he says.

Richardson's a recent convert: He went to his first local concert just over a year ago, a gig at Trees on December 2, 2000, with Baboon, Chomsky and Lucy Loves Schroeder on the bill. The show was put together by Buzz-Oven, the collective Aden Holt started in early 2000, and when Holt first came up with the idea, Andy Richardson was exactly whom he had in mind. Not Richardson, specifically, but him and people like him, high school kids in the Dallas-Fort Worth area weaned on bad radio. Holt's plan was to show them that the good stuff was right here if they wanted it, that they just had to know where to look. For almost two years, he's been pointing the way: Buzz-Oven recently released the fifth volume in its series of local sampler CDs (this one has songs by The Burden Brothers, The Deathray Davies, [DARYL] and Bee) and is set to host all-ages shows on April 6 and 13 at Fort Worth's Ridglea Theater and Trees, respectively.

Holt knew the potential was there; Buzz-Oven got its start when he noticed how many under-18s turned out for the all-ages showcases he assembled for the label he owned and operated at the time, One Ton Records. (After more than seven years, One Ton went out of business last July.) A few months later, the basic structure of Buzz-Oven was in place: Holt compiled a disc with two songs each from Slow Roosevelt, Red Animal War and Valve, booked a pair of all-ages shows and assembled a network of young fans (the so-called "buzzers") who wanted to be involved. "I just wanted to expose more bands than my bands to that market," Holt says, "because it seems like it's a really tough market to get into for most bands."

Although it was a noble idea, that didn't mean it would work. Chris Lewellyn tried the same thing (basically) a few years ago with his pair of Dos Sensenseos compilations and accompanying all-ages shows at the now-defunct Orbit Room, and his efforts, unfortunately, were met with varying levels of indifference.

To get everyone up to speed: Exasperated with the lack of support for the all-ages shows in the area and the absence of Dallas-Fort Worth-area artists from local radio playlists (sound familiar?), Lewellyn, then working at Last Beat Records, put together Dos Sensenseos. The disc was loaded with tracks by local acts, and he distributed about 1,000 free copies to a dozen or so area high schools. Each copy of Dos Sensenseos also included a calendar of upcoming all-ages shows he had booked, each gig featuring a handful of the groups that appeared on the disc.

"I thought that there were a lot of bands that they [radio stations] were neglecting," Lewellyn said in 1999, a year after he released the pair of local compilation discs. "But I was also frustrated with the all-ages crowd, because, basically, all the kids that I wanted to come to the shows weren't coming. And it was only because--what I felt was the reason--they didn't know about these other bands that they weren't hearing on the radio. These other bands are almost 10 times better than a bunch of stuff they're hearing."

Compare that with the mission statement found on the Buzz-Oven Web site (www.buzz-oven.com): "As commercial radio becomes less diverse, the opportunity for young music fans to get involved in their own music scene has become even harder. Very few young people are exposed to the wealth of talented bands that exist in their hometowns. Most bands that become radio favorites spend up to 10 years playing concerts and recording music before their music is heard by a younger audience. Buzz-Oven's mission is to enhance traditional methods of music distribution and bring it straight to the fans themselves as it is happening."

Like Lewellyn, Buzz-Oven attempts to do this by seeding area high schools with music, distributing free CD samplers with a pair of songs by three or four local bands. The discs are basically invitations, audio fliers for the low-priced, all-ages shows Buzz-Oven hosts a month or so later, featuring the same groups on the sampler. Most of these gigs happen in Dallas or Fort Worth, but Buzz-Oven also goes to where the kids are, setting up shows at Eisenbergs Skate Park in Plano, Lone Star Country Club in Coppell and, recently, Grapevine's Palace Theater.

 

Buzz-Oven, however, has taken Lewellyn's concept and put a bit more muscle behind it, thanks, in part, to a sponsorship deal Holt set up with Coca-Cola at the outset; the added funds allow Buzz-Oven to manufacture a minimum of 3,000 copies of each sampler. It doesn't sound like much, especially when you consider that Creed's latest effort (and that term is used as loosely as possible) sold about that many copies a week--in D-FW alone--during its first month in stores. But it all adds up, all helps: If you want to defeat a giant, you need a good slingshot and a big pile of rocks. Or rock, as the case may be.

Coke's sponsorship isn't as important to the success or failure of Buzz-Oven as the buzzers are, the volunteers (like Richardson, a team leader for the Mesquite area who joined before Volume 3) who do the grunt work, distributing the discs, putting up posters, handing out fliers, whatever. They post messages on the Buzz-Oven site daily, letting each other know where they'll be promoting the shows, what kind of help they need. "We've got about 60 heavy-participating buzzers," Holt says. "Our list is, like, 300, but it rotates from volume to volume who is really active--depending on who their favorite band is, basically. But we have at least 50 to 60 hard-working ones every volume."

Though Holt is nominally in charge, the project is essentially controlled by the buzzers--even down to who appears on the CDs. "We have about nine or 10 leaders in different regions across D-FW, and I basically let them vote on which bands they want to select," Holt says. "And then we also have to make sure that the bands somewhat go together; you know, that we're not putting a country-rock band and a metal band on the same one. But I try to keep my opinions out of it and let them do all the selecting." So far, those choices have included a respectable variety of established groups and up-and-comers; Baboon, Chomsky, Lucy Loves Schroeder, Clutch Cargo, Doosu, the pAper chAse, Hi-Fi Drowning, Macavity and southFM have all participated, and many more are clamoring to be included. It's not hard to see why: "Free" and "publicity" are two words that go together better than downtown developers and tax abatements. And Whitney Houston isn't the only one who believes that children are our future.

"It helped to reach the next generation of kids," Slow Roosevelt's Peter Thomas says. "It also brought those kids into the local music scene and quite possibly fueled the next generation of local musicians or even Observer music critics. Which is a wonderful thing in my opinion."

If it works the way it should, it can be. In theory, Buzz-Oven acts as sort of a local-music pyramid scheme: The kids who come to the Buzz-Oven shows will then, presumably, go see those bands somewhere else, exposing them to a few more local acts in the process. Maybe one of those groups will catch their ear as well, and they'll go check out that band, probably with a couple of other locals on the bill. Which could lead to another discovery, another gig to go to and more new bands. And so on. The bands with songs on the Buzz-Oven disc and their names on the marquee receive the most exposure, sure, but everyone gets a piece in the end. That's the idea, anyway.

The main problem with all this: the lack of all-ages shows in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Denton area. While Buzz-Oven is a good starting point for young music fans in North Texas, they can't take the next step until they turn 17 or 18. Since the Orbit Room's demise a few years ago, all-ages shows are few and far between, mainly found at The Door's outposts in Deep Ellum and Fort Worth. Galaxy Club is one of the only other clubs to offer all-ages gigs on a fairly regular basis, and its schedule is sporadic at best. The result is a bit like handing someone a hundred bucks for a shopping spree, then kicking them out of the store until next week. Which is not Buzz-Oven's intention, and certainly not its fault. Buzz-Oven, at least, gives these possible customers directions to the store in the first place. It fills a necessary void, reaching out to the kids in Garland and Grapevine bored to distraction, close to Dallas and Fort Worth, but not close enough. "I would have killed for something like this to have been around when I was in high school," says Mary Frances Poston, Buzz-Oven's Dallas team leader.

 

There have been some setbacks along the way. Volume 4, featuring Hi-Fi Drowning, Macavity and southFM "took a small step down," Holt says, "because we didn't have a really big drawing band on that one." Yet in its short existence, Holt has already started to see Buzz-Oven's dividends. After all, if only a few more people pick up local albums and go to local shows, Buzz-Oven has done its job. He'd like more than that, but it's enough for now.

"Lucy Loves Schroeder and Macavity and some of these bands that, when we worked with them, were more baby bands, you know, it definitely jump-started more of a draw for them," Holt says. "Now, you know, most of the kids that come out to these shows are underage. So it's hard to see a huge difference when they do their next show at Clearview, because they can't get into their shows. But I think it's definitely made a big awareness difference for sure. I mean, we do a minimum of 3,000 CDs, and they go out to everyone. I think it's a win-win for everybody. The bands enjoy it, because they're hitting a market that they can't hit. The kids love it. Coke enjoys the exposure. Nobody's making any money, but nobody's losing any money." He laughs. "So it seems to work. I'm going to keep doing it."


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