Last year’s 'til Midnight at the Nasher series, the popular (and free) Friday evening concerts at the Nasher, looked different from years past. For the first time, it seemed as if the music, which even the Nasher bills as the primary focus of these events, had been carefully curated.
Since the series began, the music has always seemed like an afterthought to what was really more of a community-centered event, which attempted to be all things to all people: an opportunity to see art for free, a spot for Friday night drinks or a general cultural event for families (a kid-friendly movie is usually screened in the garden to conclude the evening).
The only consistent thread running through a typical 'til Midnight concert series was that we could count on the bands being local(ish). Other than that, the music ranged from garage rock, to swing, to a lot of alt-country and indie rock, which is really a pretty good generalization of the Dallas music scene. So, what is there to complain about? Here we have an event that successfully brings families and the nontraditional museum-goer through the art museum’s doors while supporting local music. In Dallas fashion, this is a kudos all around situation.
But given the Nasher’s commitment to new music through their impeccably curated Soundings series, it always seemed surprising that the 'til Midnight concerts did not really seem to have been given much consideration. Similar, more popularly informed music series at major museums such as the MoMA in Manhattan and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art have been hugely successful at bringing the coveted, culturally engaged young audiences into the doors of the museums, where their passion for music would hopefully spark a similar interest in art.
The commitment to local music is laudable, but most of the bands we saw at the Nasher over the years were bands those of us engaged (even those of us not so engaged) in the music scene here have had countless opportunities to see at festivals, arts events and venues over the years. Lucky for us, we have a great community of local musicians and fans.
Last year the Nasher seemed to finally catch up to the rest of the art community’s recognition that popular music forms can and should be considered and curated. For the first time, the Nasher’s 'til Midnight concerts were on the radar of the broader music community. The musicians who were invited to perform were artists whose careers many have been watching for years but who had never (or at least rarely) played in Dallas. Not only was the Nasher putting itself into a new conversation, it was extending the museum’s mission to introduce Dallas audiences to new art by providing a platform for Dallas audiences to discover new music, specifically the kinds of music taking place outside of the art gallery or concert hall.
Maybe apart from Martin Rev, who gets a pass because he is a legend, the mostly dream-pop, ambient and lo-fi music of the artists who performed was consistent across the series and provided an aesthetically perfect accompaniment to the sculpture inside the steamy summertime garden. These weren’t noise bands or country bands or even rock bands (most performers weren’t bands at all). Instead, Mary Lattimore’s harp and Julianna Barwick's gently looped vocals, This Will Destroy You’s anthemic post-rock, and George Clanton and Chulita Vinyl Club’s dance-heavy sets created a scene different from anything else happening in Dallas. For the first time it felt like not only did we know what to expect from these concerts, but the Nasher was extending its mission and brand to encompass all forms of music.
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The Nasher put itself in an entirely new conversation last year without seeming to sacrifice the audience it already had. The question is whether the museum can keep it up.
True to (old) form, Rhett Miller is playing February’s 'til Midnight at the Nasher. Again, I get it. Dallas loves Rhett Miller. He’s a hometown star. But that also means he has his pick of Dallas venues and dates, something he and his band(s) have taken full advantage of over the last couple of decades. Does he really need the platform of the Nasher? Does the Nasher really want to offer it to him?
Lucia Simek, communications manager at Nasher, says Nasher hopes to replicate last year's event this year.
"You’re right, last year’s programming for ‘til Midnight was indeed really interesting and a great way for the Nasher to experiment and engage with new audiences, and we look forward to continuing to explore that direction throughout the new year," she writes in an email. "The goal of ‘til Midnight is to open the doors of the Nasher for free to the widest public possible, providing access to a rich museum experience — a memorable, accessible encounter with the museum’s exhibitions, collection, garden, and with the vibrant shared community of others within this space."