The Conversation: Which of the Three Major North Texas Cities is The Hottest Right Now?
That red part's us, y'all.
The three major cities that make up North Texas (Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton, duh!) have always taken part in a sort of friendly competition with each other. There's always been trash talk from apologists of each music scene, of course. But, in the end, each scene seems to reluctantly coalesce into the larger North Texas music community.
Still, it seems that seems that when one city's music scene is experiencing a good spell, the other two become mediocre or dry.
For example: The Fort Worth music scene. It's stronger right now than it's been in years -- maybe ever. Meanwhile Dallas carries on at a comfortable pace and Denton is a little dry.
A few years back, though, all those positions were swapped.
So, this week, we invited several representatives from each scene to discuss which city currently appears on top of its game and which is a little cold. Together, Andy Odom of Dentoneer, Cory Graves of Subservient Experiment, Mark Schectman of KDGE 102.1-FM The Edge, Anthony Mariani of Fort Worth Weekly and I each shared our thoughts on the matter. It turned into a pretty interesting discussion about the cyclical nature of each music scene.
Hit the jump to check it out.
Daniel: So, let's cut right to the chase, guys. Which city is hot snot right now and which one is cold buggers?
Andy: I'm not sure any one city is "hotter" than any other at the moment. The Dallas Observer Music Awards nominations released a few mornings ago show evidence of that, I think. Generally speaking, the nominations are pretty evenly distributed between Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton, whereas the last couple of years it's been heavily slanted towards Denton. Pete Freedman -- or maybe it was DC9AtNight -- tweeted a couple of weeks ago that "The Dallas music scene comes in waves." That's true about every scene. Denton, for example, is in a bit of a low period right now, but has always been cyclical. With a few exceptions like Soviet or Bethan, it looks like we're all in North Texas going to be stuck with the same few bands (Telegraph Canyon, The O's, RTB2) for a while. It's just natural.
Cory: I'll go out on a limb and say that I think Fort Worth is pretty hot right now, and the number of Fort Worth bands on the Dallas Observer Music Awards ballot is a testament to that, I think. Personally, I've known very little about Fort Worth's scene despite going out to quite a few shows all over the Metroplex the past few years. But, in the last few months alone, I've not only found myself going to a lot more shows out there, but I'm also discovering a lot of good bands from there (Fate Lions, Calhoun, Orbans, Convoy and the Cattlemen, Luke Wade, My Wooden Leg). Perhaps the issue is not who has the most talent but who does the best job letting everybody know it. Because, far as I know, there aren't really any good blogs or music publications based in Fort Worth. And a lot of these bands don't play as much in other parts of the Metroplex. Their scene is a little more closed off/under the radar.
Mark: I'm going to have to agree with Cory here that crazy Fort Worth is having an especially good year comparatively. But I would argue that it's not really the shear number of good bands (although there are a lot), but that there are a few bands that are releasing some really stellar music right now. The new Burning Hotels record will do a lot to continue their legacy and probably gain them a lot more exposure. I don't know if anyone has released a better album this year than Calhoun. I do think that there is a disconnect in Dallas and Denton, so some of these bands have a hard time getting booked or heard in those cities. There's also the misconception that all bands in Fort Worth are country. But it does seem that bands in the Fort do a better job of getting out of town to tour and build a fan base, whether it be just to Oklahoma or beyond.
Anthony: I can't compare scenes, having been to Denton only once (for my wife's niece's high-school volleyball tournament) and to Dallas twice (for a show by John Price and one by, yes, Flickerstick) in my 10 years in Fort Worth. However, before I move on to supplying anecdotal evidence, allow me to enumerate briefly what's been happening in Tarrant County over the past several months. There's been a dramatic surge in relatively new bands. New good bands is the most obvious phenomenon. Just to name a few: Skeleton Coast, The Cleanup, Fou, My Wooden Leg, Stone Machine Electric, china kills girls, UNRAVELER (formerly Magnus), Wild//Tribe (guys from Tolar and Unit 21), Perdition, Badcreek (ex-Mockingbird Cartel), Tiger of Bengal, Slumberbuzz, The Skeeves, Gonzo City, Constant Seas, Most Efficient Women, Drift Era (helmed by JoCo), producer Phil Ford, Gunga Galunga, The Moonshiners, aneTIX, DJ Hyphy, The Apache 5, and more, plus grossly overlooked stalwarts such as Alan, Barrel Delux, Jody Jones, Joe & The Sonic Dirt From Madagascar, and Jefferson Colby, PLUS new albums by JJ & The Rogues, Tame ... Tame & Quiet, The Apache 5, Secret Ghost Champion, Phantom Caste, Quaker City Night Hawks, Wild//Tribe, Automorrow, Jefferson Colby, Calhoun, Whiskey Folk Ramblers, and EPIC RUINS. Plus, of course, the forthcoming album by Burning Hotels. And the young Hanna Barbarians, who also just put out a new album, a tasty slab of scuzz-rock, will be the cover story in this week's Weekly. Anecdotally, I can say that most weekend and weekday shows at Fort Worth's main indie venues -- Lola's, The Moon, The Grotto, The Where House, and The Aardvark -- have been packed throughout the summer. I also can say that our 2011 Fort Worth Music Festival, with 50 Fort Worth bands in eight different venues in the West 7th corridor on a single day in July drew about 7,000 people. And, yes, I'll let this one slide -- that there really "aren't really any good blogs or music publications based in Fort Worth." Yes, we Weekly folk do a lot of investigative reporting, but we also cover the Fort Worth music scene extensively. Some would say in fashion possibly describable as "good."
Cory: Right, but even with the number of freelancers covering local music for The Observer, they still can't cover every single band or relevant story. But between Quick (RIP) and the dozen or so independent bloggers doing their thing, the scene can be covered more thoroughly. To its credit, the Fort Worth scene has become and remained pretty vibrant and healthy without much blog presence. But it would be nice if it got more of the credit for this it deserves from folks outside the city limits. Just like the zine culture in decades past, the number of blogs in a city at any one time is typically a pretty good indicator at how well things are going. Take Dallas, for example. When Deep Ellum was at its lowest point, there were maybe two blogs covering the scene. Now that things are picking back up, more and more clubs are reopening and foot traffic is greatly increasing down there, well over a dozen blogs/local music sites that focus on Dallas proper can be found.
Daniel: The number of blogs is a good indicator of a scene, indeed. But I agree with Anthony, the Fort Worth Weekly has done a good job of covering Fort Worth bands. It's hyperlocal, though, which is probably why the rest of us aren't aware that it has a finger to the pulse of Fort Worth's music scene -- it doesn't pertain to us. Most other zines, blogs or weekly publications look at all three at the same time, while the Fort Worth Weekly largely ignores acts from the other two cities. I get it, though. It's a Fort Worth publication, so why cover anything outside of Fort Worth? And it is a testament to the Fort Worth music scene that Anthony has something to write about each week. Similarly, though, it really seems like each city's music scene bands together. You'll see Denton-does-Dallas nights, a Fort Worth show in Dallas, and likewise. For the most part, it's all friendly, but do you guys see a sense of competition between the three cities' individual music communities?
Cory: To me, music isn't a competition, and I don't believe that any of the bands or their respective scenes view it this way either. I think what you are seeing is more a testament to the fact that there are three pretty viable and steady scenes in Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton. Thus bands aren't having to drive 40 minutes to play a show and fans aren't having to drive across the Metroplex to catch a solid bill either.
Andy: I don't think it's a competition in a negative sense, but I think there's a natural tribal mindset in some cases. Not that one scene thinks they're better than another, but friends and members of the same community band together, as Daniel suggested. Yet, as much as we think of there being a Fort Worth scene, a Dallas scene, and a Denton scene, there's a larger concept of a "local scene" that encompasses all of North Texas. We're not as distinct from each other as we are from, say, the Houston scene or even Austin. I think there's too much overlap from song swaps or instrumentalists sitting in with bands from all over the area for that. While no one has to drive 40 minutes to play or see a show, there's still a lot of that going on.
Anthony: One last thing about the Weekly, then I'll stop. Our circulation does not extend to Dallas and only minimally to Denton, and (not counting our blog) our music section consists of a single page for edit and about two pages for concert listings (and a couple pages for live-music ads, of course). As much as I would love to, I simply can't rationalize allocating space in our paper to artists not within our coverage area, especially when there's an endless amount of new, often cool 817-based things and people to write about. (However, we cover out-of-town artists on our blog and in our weekly newsletter, The Weekender, that goes out to a few thousand people.) As far as blogs go, easily the most popular blog in Fort Worth is The Stash Dauber, maintained by sometime freelance Weekly contributor Ken Shimamoto, but it only occasionally concerns local music. But are music blogs really that important to a scene's vibrancy? Either musicians are making music and people are experiencing it or not, no matter how many blogs there are/aren't in the area -- musicians, like the honey badger, don't give a shit. If the question is publicity, then I think we can all agree that Facebook has become the platform of choice, one to which hobby blogs look comparatively archaic. Plus, most blogs are horribly written, anyway, although I know bands don't care -- they'll take any little piece of publicity (no matter how hacked up) they can get and cling to it. And, of course, post it all over FB. As far as competition goes, look, I love Fort Worth, but it's always going to be a second-class city -- there'll never be any getting out from under Dallas' shadow. Two (small) steps in the right direction, however, will be arriving soon in the form of the remodeled Ridglea Theater on the West Side and the new Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge on the Near South Side, two venues comparable in size -- and, hopefully, in style -- to the Kessler. Now cool, hip, mid-level touring indie bands will have to choose between Dallas and Fort Worth, which probably hasn't happened since the days of the dearly departed Caravan of Dreams. For the average Fort Worth musician, the most obvious upshots include potentially opening for The Hives, Gomez or some other mid-level touring indie band and performing in a world-class facility. For the city, well, maybe yokels who love music but are too precious to enjoy it in a smoky bar -- and probably don't know The Orbans from Rivercrest Yacht Club -- will get exposed to some 817 talent.
Daniel: I think we can all agree that the Fort Worth music scene seems to be on the upswing in terms of number of good bands, records and, as Anthony mentioned, new venues. We've certainly taken note of such here at DC9 headquarters. But something else we've noted is Denton's low period that Andy mentioned. Oddly enough, the beer tap at Hailey's Club has been an indicator of such. So too has the waning number of Denton acts getting national attention. Andy: What do you think has caused this, and how will the Denton scene turn it around?
Andy: Well, for one thing, the beer tap wall at Hailey's is back at to full capacity. I think they have over 50 now. Plus, they've done some minor renovations to the stage, and completely renovated both restrooms. There are more actual shows there now competing with DJ nights for space. It'll be interesting to see how attendance is once school gets back in session. As far as a waning number of bands getting national attention, I believe Seryn is featured on a Disney movie trailer right now. That's pretty good attention, although I'm not sure if garnering an arbitrary amount of national press is an indicator of the health of a particular local scene. It does appear that things have slowed a little, although that could just be my flawed personal perception. There are a couple of reasons why this may be, and neither indicate any real crisis. First, like I said, Denton is primarily a college town. Within the calendar year, there will be busy periods and slow periods. It just happens. Second, I referenced a tweet from the Observer music editor earlier stating how local music scenes come in waves. Denton, like just about any other local music scene, is, and always has been, cyclical. There's always something new going on, but every so often it seems like the flood gates open. So, there's nothing to really turn around. And there's nothing really wrong.
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