The biggest buzz at the North Texas New Music Festival was the free parking. Concerned about Deep Ellum's tanking reputation and business, the city--along with the Deep Ellum Bar and Restaurant Association--has implemented much-needed safety measures and switched off those merciless meters on nights and weekends (see Zac Crain's "Deep Thinking" on page 15 for more information). But with 230 bands listed on the festival lineup--and not a headliner among them--only a few showcases generated much excitement.
"I'm looking forward to Radiant*," a friend told me near the Club Clearview concert stage where the band was scheduled to play. "I've heard really good things about them." Who hasn't? Radiant* is Dallas' buzz band of the moment; their performance at the NMF was plugged on the fest's Web site and in this paper. There was just one small problem: Radiant* wasn't playing.
"We would have played," said vocalist Levi Smith, inside Clearview with drummer Daniel Hopkins to see Denton's Midlake perform a terrific set despite the sound problems that chronically plague the club. But there was some miscommunication--Radiant* never agreed to an appearance, and by the weekend, their name had been yanked from the Web site (along with Calhoun, a Wilco-inspired Fort Worth band that would have been a welcome addition).
But where were the marquee names? Where were the bands that would have pulled in the crowds and gotten people talking about the festival? It's not every weekend you can see so many acts for so little money (or none at all, if you got tickets early). Except the North Texas New Music Festival did feel like any other weekend in Deep Ellum, and that was its problem. It wasn't special or much different. The list of bands read like a namecheck of same-old Saturday nights. When I asked a local musician with a healthy following why his band wasn't playing, he shrugged. "Why play Deep Ellum for free when you can play any other night and get paid?"
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That said, I did see some acts I was glad to catch. Like Puerto Rican-born Zayra Alvarez, an arsenal of sex and strut. A beautiful woman with a voice made for power ballads, Alvarez ripped off her shirt near the beginning of her set, revealing a black bra and a stomach worthy of hip-hop videos. Formerly signed on Brando Records, Alvarez recently put out her full-length debut, Ruleta, on Sony Music Norte. She's a transfixing performer; even the hipsters on the sidelines couldn't take their eyes off her. It doesn't matter if you don't like her particular brand of Spanish-language radio pop; Alvarez is something to see.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was Record Hop and their vocalist/guitarist Ashley Cromeens, like the snarling PJ Harvey to Alvarez's shimmying Shakira. Record Hop, a hard-driving Denton rock band, put a nice exclamation point on Saturday night's Spune showcase: Their set was loud, aggressive and fun. But the guy sitting next to me was sort of disappointed. He'd been to the festival the year before and seen a lot of bands he liked better than this year's lineup.
"Like what?" I asked.
"Well, I remember Radiant* played," he said. "And they were great."