Lone Star Texas Heritage Festival
With Old 97's, Black Angels, Grupo Fantasma, Dale Watson, LaTasha Lee and the Blackties, and the Deathray Davies
Saturday, August 22, 2015
If a festival is thrown but nobody goes, is it still a festival? The answer is, “Yes...but,” and that “but” is usually followed with a litany of excuses as to what went wrong for the event and how it was really no one’s fault. This is of course bullshit. If an event falls flat there’s usually a good reason, even if sometimes it's something uncontrollable like the weather or the Rangers suddenly making the World Series — both of which happened to a festival featuring the Old 97’s that took place in Carrollton back in 2010.
Five years later, and the Old 97’s are yet again the headliners of a festival that fizzled when many thought it was going to be a surefire hit, and this time it wasn’t the weather or baseball at fault. Yes, the Lone Star Texas Heritage Festival that took place Saturday afternoon in the parking lot of the Gilley's Dallas complex was a dud, and it was due to a combination of factors.
The thing that doomed this festival? Marketing, or the lack thereof. A FREE festival featuring one of Dallas’ most beloved groups, not to mention one of the best groups on the planet (Austin’s Black Angels), should by all accounts be a rowdy, raucous affair that’s packed to its absolute limit. That’s hard to accomplish when the only apparent marketing effort is a Facebook event. There weren’t billboards along the local highways or radio spots like the ones Homegrown Festival splurges on. No one knew it was happening.
It's also possible that we've hit our saturation point with Old 97's for the summer. They've headlined the free Ticketstock concert, played Homegrown Festival and headlined the Twilite Lounge anniversary party on Fourth of July (which, like the Lone Star fest, was free). There are only so many times a person can carve out time to see Rhett Miller drenched in sweat and strumming his guitar while singing “Timebomb.” Hell, 1310 The Ticket, who love the Old 97’s harder than a 34-year-old white lady with a degree from SMU, didn’t even mention the festival was happening.
That’s not to say the Old 97’s were anything less than stellar on Saturday. They played the usual set you’d expect, with well-loved local hits mixed with cuts from their fantastic new album, but you got the feeling the band was so underwhelmed by the attendance that their energy was turned down a few notches. Everyone seemed to be just going through the motions on stage and in the crowd. The mom-dancing was even lacking its usual alcohol-fueled luster. Maybe Lone Star just doesn’t get you there like frozen wine-a-ritas do.
You also couldn’t help but feel bad for the Black Angels, who manage to bring thousands of people to their own festival every year, as they stood on stage in the early evening heat playing slices of their well-praised catalog to maybe a hundred people. (Other notable acts like Dale Watson didn't fair any better, either.) This didn’t appear to bother them, as Black Angels seem really into performing their songs, and they have a dedicated fan base who made up much of those hundred onlookers. But they deserve better.
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While the Black Angels played their psych-tinged garage rock to fans dancing like no one's watching, to the left sat the bored vendors at the El Come Taco booth, bewildered by the lack of turnout. To the back, a group was practically begging people to pose for photos in their makeshift booth while merch vendors checked their phones and various media people and PR flacks were furiously tweeting and taking crowd shots for Instagram, hoping their activity would hide what a disaster the whole day was.
But there wasn't much to be done about it. It’s generally not a good sign for a music festival if, when your headliner is playing, your security staff is taking turns trying to find new ways to show off how strong they are on the High Striker feat of strength game. The Texas Heritage Festival was a good time for the dozens in attendance, but it’s a shame it wasn’t like that for thousands.