Dallas Music District Festival
With Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights, Somebody's Darling, ArcAttack and more
Trinity Groves, Dallas
Saturday and Sunday, May 16 and 17, 2015
If organizing a festival were easy, everyone would do it. Many festivals get off to a rough start and for many reasons, the Dallas Music District Festival certainly struggled through its inaugural event on Saturday and Sunday. They had more than their fair share of bad luck, but they contributed to some of their own woes with an ambitious (three stages and two days of music) and somewhat scattered plan of action.
The organizers couldn't be blamed for the two weeks of rainy, overcast weather that caused DMD to be relocated from its original spot on the Trinity River to a private, wooded lot tucked away in Trinity Groves. The clouds threatened rain all day Saturday and that likely scared some folks away. There was intense rain Saturday night, which probably made people worry about mud on Sunday. The organizers clearly poured a lot of effort into making things happen and had their hearts in the right place, so hopefully we will see them again next year.
Thanks to the last-minute change of location, DMD Fest had more of an outdoorsy feel than many other festivals. But in a crowd that never seemed to surpass 100 people at any one time, it felt like being out in the middle of nowhere. There were only nine acts scheduled on day one, so there was certainly no need for three stages. Not only that, but two of the acts cancelled and by the time LEV kicked off the festival it was already clear that ArcAttack were having troubles with the hoped-for run at the Guinness Book of World Records.
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The performance art group was scheduled to perform both nights, but the Tesla coils needed for their set were not erected on Saturday. In fact, the white stage was never even used. The blue stage was barely used and what was left of the lineup performed on the red stage in the back. There were long gaps in the music, which basically defeated the purpose of having more than one stage, and the schedule was thrown out the window.
Even the vendor situation presented a bit of a mystery. Ben & Jerry's gave out free samples of ice cream on both days, while Steel City Pops was there on Saturday but not on Sunday. In fact, on day one there were tents with jewelry, a hot dog truck, a beer table, mobile boutique, jewelry and artwork, but at least half of them didn’t show up for day two. Music is Our Weapon, one of the event sponsors, also went missing; they were standing at a table next to the Ben & Jerry’s truck for a few hours on the first day, but quickly disappeared and didn’t bother setting up shop on day two. (However, a few freaks with confusing shirts that said FEAR GOD on the front and TRUST JESUS on the back showed up with cryptic literature, but they didn’t even last as long as MIOW.)
But it must be said that the sound was quite good, the intimate setting was a nice departure from the dense crowds that make many festivals so trying and the event may have served as a good test drive for local acts looking to break out of clubs. Jessie Frye, for example, definitely brought her A game. She danced and sang her heart out, enjoining the crowd to have a good time and reminding them it was a festival.
Another plus was that performers were free to play longer sets. This was of utmost importance when it came to Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights at the end of the night. They single-handedly saved the first day, no question. Tyler detoured from an acoustic opening slot on a national tour to play the show. Fueled by Adderall and excited to play electric with his full band, he drove several hours to make the gig. The band played their heart out for an hour with Tyler smiling from ear to ear. Upon realizing that there were no other bands playing after them, they happily played past their hour commitment, launching into an incredible cover of “I Am a Pilgrim” from the Byrd’s classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. It was the highlight of the festival.
When the second day started, the Tesla coils were still hadn't gone up. Dreamers and Mainland played fun sets back on the red stage. From Fort Worth, the Phantom Sensation rocked the white stage — or rather the tarp on the gravel in front of it. Later on, Quentin Moore and his large band played a funky, soulful set before heading to another gig. On the blue stage, Leopold & His Fiction were great. A cover of the Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” was especially nice, and their banter in between songs was hysterical.
Somebody’s Darling, back in their hometown after having moved to Nashville, were the real deal. Dome Dwellers, Nite and Ishi were all in top form; they showed up to play a fest and passed the test. At the end of the night, the Tesla Coils stood erect. They filled the air with music and electricity for about 10 minutes. Citing the noise curfew, the music stopped after that. But the coils turned up the voltage extra high and made like Edison frying an elephant for another five minutes, filling the sky with electricity in front of the Dallas skyline. It wasn't quite the spectacle that had been advertised, but it was a spectacle nonetheless.