Worth the wait
It all made sense at the time, and to hear Melodica Festival founder Wanz Dover tell it, it still does. The annual festival had been left homeless when The Argo finally closed down after threatening to for months, so Dover decided to relocate to Austin. He had already planned on making the move anyway, eventually turning Melodica into a traveling festival along the lines of Terrastock, spreading its message in a new location every year. And Austin seemed like the perfect place to start, the only other place that would welcome a festival that features, as Dover says, "post-rock, drum-and-bass, electro-acoustic, psych-rock, noise, ambient, psychedelic folk, psychedelic garage, prog-rock, fusion, free jazz, free improvisation, doom-metal, experimental hip-hop, jungle, No Wave, psychobilly, avant-anything, record-collector-rock, and, of course, good old-fashioned Texas space-rock. You know, whatever."
Moving Melodica south seemed practical as well. After all, considering much of the festival's audience and several of its performers had made the almost four-hour drive north for the previous two installments, bringing the festival to them seemed like the right thing to do. Besides, there wasn't really another venue in Denton prepared to host Melodica, and Dallas and Fort Worth didn't have many options. But, as Dover learned, sometimes the only right answer is the wrong one.
"It just totally didn't work," Dover confesses, on the phone from his Denton home a week before the festival. "I wasn't down there to take care of all the mess, and the people who were down there who were supposedly taking care of it for me didn't. They didn't put up fliers until the Monday before it happened. It was just a mess. I lost my ass last year, big time." He laughs. "Well, I lose my ass every year. But I lost my ass more than usual last year."
Dover has been losing his ass since the Melodica Festival debuted in 1996 with sets by bands such as The Sea and Cake, Tortoise, 5ive Style, Sonic Boom, and Brad Laner (Medicine, Electric Company), among others. That first festival started as joke between friends who'd smoked too much pot to realize what they were getting themselves into. Dover told a few friends about the idea, and all of a sudden, he found himself booking bands. He never thought Melodica would become a regular occurrence, but "people expect it every year, so it keeps happening."
The subsequent festivals have been more Texas-centric in their focus -- this year, in fact, every group on the lineup hails from North Texas or Austin -- but the lineups have been every bit as stellar. The upcoming showcase is no exception, including Tripping Daisy, Captain Audio, Sub Oslo, Mandarin, ...and you will know us by the trail of dead, The Ditch Kids, Coals to Newcastle, Yeti, and many more, along with two of Dover's own outfits, The Falcon Project and The Wild Bull.
For Dover, that's the whole point of Melodica, proving that "for every Tortoise, Stereolab, Dead C, Sonic Youth, or DJ Shadow, there is a Texas band doing it just as well, if not better." He believes Melodica is doing it better than ever. The festival survived last year's failed road trip, and the experience helped Dover make an important decision. That's why Melodica is back in North Texas for this year's edition, which happens on October 22 and 23 at Fort Worth's Ridglea Theater. Even if the club that hosted Melodica last year, the now-defunct Electric Lounge, were still in business, Dover wouldn't have returned to Austin. Or gone anywhere else, for that matter.
"It was kind of an idea to first launch it to another city, and if it worked out there, then try to launch in a different city, like outside of Texas," Dover says. "But if anything, I realized more last year that, man, there's so much good stuff in Texas, it's probably going to be best to keep it a Texas thing. I truly believe in my heart Texas has one of the greatest, most overlooked indie scenes in the country. At least this way, once a year we can get together and celebrate it."
Now that Melodica is back in the area, Dover can oversee every last detail, adding the problems inherent in making sure a two-day event with more than 30 bands and DJs involved goes off with as few hitches as possible to his already full schedule. Dover laughs at how ridiculous it all is, trying to work and attend his classes at the University of North Texas and organize a festival at the same time. "I'm taking three midterms the day before Melodica," he says. "It's like, 'Aaahh, shoot me, please.'"
There is one thing Dover isn't worried about: the Ridglea Theater. "It's the single most incredible live-music venue in the entire metroplex," he says. "It's a palace. The first time [The Falcon Project] played there, I wanted to go up and kiss the owner's feet and say, 'Thank you for blessing us with your place.' For a band to go in and play in a room like that...it's really overwhelming. After playing at Ridglea, I almost didn't want to play live anymore unless it was just that good, just as good as that."
As the festival approaches, Dover is only now finalizing the roster of DJs who'll be performing upstairs at the theater on Saturday. But the rest of the lineup is set, and though he hasn't heard all of this year's performers yet, Dover is certain that at least "10 of my new favorite bands will be there." They're the kind of groups he thinks people in the area don't get to see often enough, and he's right. While much of the North Texas New Music Festival offers the same collection of bands playing the same sets, Dover and Melodica offer a real alternative. He didn't plan to compete with the NTNMF -- which takes place on the same nights as Melodica -- but he couldn't be happier that he is.
"The one thing about the Melodica Festival is that probably close to 90 percent of the bands playing never play Dallas," Dover says. The environment there is not real conducive to people doing different stuff. That's the reason why Melodica Festival has to exist. The great irony is that it's going on the same weekend as the North Texas Music Festival. I heard that, and it almost tickled me pink. I was like, 'Man, that's awesome.' When it comes down to it, no one gives a rat's ass about a lot of those bands outside of this area. Melodica has a reputation that goes overseas. People from Japan to Italy to Germany -- people know about it. It's going into its fourth year pretty strong."
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