At its best, this past weekend's Melodica Festival was inspiring and, well, surprisingly engrossing.
At its worst, it was inaccessible, self-indulgent and pretty boring.
Now, in the days following the event, the most appropriate summary of this three-day Exposition Park/Deep Ellum affair lies somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, with a healthy lean to the "worst" end. And the blame mostly lies with that whole "self-indulgent" thing. We'll get to that again later on.
First, let's discuss the positive aspects of Melodica, because there were plenty of those. From a sheer numbers standpoint, at least, the festival was quite a success. Consider the following: Parking spots were minimal along Exposition Avenue, sidewalks were busy and cries of "wait—what's going on here this weekend?" were easily overheard. So were the electro-synth beats that brought nose-in-the-air hipsters by the hundreds to this little intersection just outside of Fair Park. Business was good in those parts on these nights. Rare is the night when minc, the Amsterdam Bar and Fallout Lounge each enjoy a steady flow of patrons; rarer is the night when they're able to do so as music venue Sloppyworld and art gallery Avenue Arts draw crowds too; rarest is the night when each has a crowd and doesn't take business away from the area's other non-participating hangouts (Exposition Park Café, the Meridian Room and Bar of Soap). That alone is a notable accomplishment.
A few other notches on Melodica's belt, according to one-man festival organizer Wanz Dover: the fact that Avenue Arts was approached numerous times over the weekend about hosting upcoming local art exhibits; the fact that reunited-for-Melodica local act Light Bright Highway has decided to stay reunited; the fact that out-of-town artists brought in to play the fest approached Dover, inspired to host similar DIY-type festivals in their own hometowns; the fact that Dentonites walking the streets became aware that a place like Exposition Park, where their breed of eccentricity can often be embraced, actually exists in Dallas; and the fact that people had smiles on their faces all weekend long.
And then there's the number of thank yous Dover received over the course of the weekend. "There were a shitload," Dover says. He's especially proud of those.
Want more positivity? OK. Take Amanda Newman—who books and partially owns Club Dada in Deep Ellum, which hosted the all-ages third day of Melodica—and the number of bands she learned about in the seven or so hours in which the festival ran on two stages in her venue. As the day (and night) wore on, Newman continually took notes on the acts performing throughout the day, finding at least six she planned to invite back to her stage.
"I'm appreciative of what's happened here," she says. "My eyes have been opened. I can't help but believe that others' have been opened too."
Dover's right there with her.
"I did the impossible," he says. "I made Dallas cool."
A little pompous-sounding? Sure. Dover concedes as much, expressing regret upon the moment that sentence leaves his lips. But, to his crowd, yes, he did just that.
And that's all fine and good. Great, even.
But let's figure out exactly what this all means, because I'd venture to say that, no matter how fun or eye-opening an experience Melodica may have been to a certain set, it's not going to amount to a thing in the end.
Re-enter the whole "self-indulgent" matter. Sure, people came out. Sure, bands came from Denton and Fort Worth and Austin and New York City and Los Angeles and Philadelphia to perform because of their allegiance and ties to Dover (who, it should be pointed out, went into pretty serious debt in order to put up his festival). Sure, Dover ended up breaking even (or coming real close to it) on the whole thing.
But here's where things went wrong (and it was evident pretty much from the start of the festival on Friday night): The Dover-thanking was egregious. It came fast and it came furious, evident at every turn, especially from those onstage:
"Can we just take a minute to thank Wanz for putting this on?"
"Let's hear it for Wanz!"
It's not that Dover wasn't deserving of thanks. It's that the adulation started making him out to be a Bob Geldoff-like martyr—an observation only bolstered by comments such as "I made Dallas cool," by adamant claims that there will be no more Melodica festivals and that this is Dover's "goodbye gift to Dallas" should he leave the city within two years, as he's planning to do. Worse, though, was the insight it gave on the audience at Melodica. Everyone knew Dover. No one turned to the people standing around them in the wake of those shout-outs and asked who the hell the band members were thanking.
This wasn't a crowd of Dallas music fans or scenesters. This was an audience of Dover's 400 closest friends.
And that's where this festival loses steam and where comments from Dover start to ring especially poignant.
Like how he rejects the suggestion that maybe it should have been called the Wanz Dover Festival, not the Melodica festival: "No," he says. "It's the festival of someone who has been paying attention to the [local music] scene for the past 15 years."
Like when he admits that his festival isn't for everyone and that it's "left of center": "Ninety percent of the acts here are not for public consumption. This was for the die-hard, the music lovers."
Like when he describes how he went about selecting the bands to play the bill: "I invited all my friends to play a show."
No, this wasn't a festival at all. It was Wanz Dover's bar mitzvah. He's finally a man.
Mazel tov. Except, you know, not really.
Offering a presentation of his friends' bands to a crowd of Wanz's friends and an audience of listeners already familiar with these sounds—what's the point? What does this offer Dallas in the long run (discounting the merits of being considered "cool" for a weekend by the Denton arbiters)?
Nothing. And that's a shame.
Because, were this not a one-off in Dallas (Dover held similar festivals in the '90s and early 2000s in Denton, Fort Worth and Austin), it would have some merit. It would allow the word-of-mouth praise for this event to expand beyond a crowd of maybe 30 newbies to this scene. It would allow the at-times interesting and educational experience of this festival to ripen a bit.
Then, maybe, over time and subsequent festivals, Melodica could have been a bigger and bigger draw. It could have helped ensure that the Dentonites who came this weekend return to Exposition Park. It could have helped these kind of electronic shows to continue to draw crowds in the future.
It could have excused the self-indulgence of this first go-round at Melodica in Dallas. It could have kept Melodica from being forgotten in eight months. It could have meant Dover actually accomplished something with all the effort he put into the thing.