More than five years ago, Stefan González embarked on a new project that subconsciously continued a tradition his family has held on to for generations. Through his weekly showcase of avant-garde music from Texas and beyond, Stefan has espoused the virtues and beauty of music that defies definitions and common descriptors alike. But as of this April, with a deep sense of guilt, he has decided to step down as the booker/promoter of the Outward Bound Mixtape Sessions.
One of Dallas’ longest-running musical showcases of genres both abstract and defined, Outward Bound got its start in 2014 at the now-closed Crown & Harp, before moving to its current location at RBC at the tail end of 2015. In that time, it has hosted acts such as Lily Taylor, Bobb Hatt, Samantha Riott, Schmekelhead and CJ Boyd, just to name a few. And in González's absence, Outward Bound will continue, under the leadership of his older bother and longtime musical collaborator, Aaron González, who has been involved with the weekly series since its beginnings.
Of the many reasons Stefan says he’s decided to step down, the word "burnout" sums it up nicely.
“I found myself at a breaking point recently with close friends and mentors dying, relationships ending, a family business going under, family illness being rampant, chemical dependencies deepening, and feeling very stressed about always having to take care of performers who traveled a long way to play for us,” González says. “I keep myself so busy with playing music, but hadn't really been feeling connected to it as I was five years ago, and I think I had to throw in the towel so I can get that going again.”
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During what Aaron describes as an “unofficial, unannounced adjustment/transition period,” this change has been a long time coming for González. He says he hopes that by freeing up his time he’ll be able to surrender to his creativity and begin to unknot some of his own personal struggles. And Outward Bound will continue to present what Aaron calls their bread and butter: no wave, electronic music, free improv, performance art and taking chances on new artists, as well as unique touring and international artists.
“Aaron is very detail-oriented and has believed in Outward Bound since the beginning,” González says. “He's very good about the specifics of accommodating out-of-town bands and is very knowledgeable about music and its history. He is such an angel for helping me out.”
All in all, it would appear that the change amounts to a net positive for all parties involved, including Dallas itself. Nevertheless, it was a difficult decision for Stefan González to make — especially considering the passion he has shown for highlighting experimental music over the last five years.
“It was like an addiction at first,” González says of the beginnings of Outward Bound. “Things were so ripe for exploration and challenging the general close-mindedness that is all too prevalent in Dallas. It has been maddening and invigorating, sometimes all at the same moment. It's a huge challenge to curate something that hosts local, national and international musicians on a weekly basis, but (it) has been rewarding the whole time to see people come out as believers in expression that is not necessarily seen as straightforward or accessible.”
Local musician and host of KUZU 92.9’s BandwidthTX, Lily Taylor says Outward Bound has been an integral part to her personal development as an artist. From 2014 to 2015, Taylor performed at the showcases as part of various bands as well as a solo act and went on to book and promote her own weekly showcase of the avant-garde, Harper's Revue, at Crown and Harp. (The showcase is now known as Run With Scissors, held Thursday nights at Tradewinds Social Club). She credits González for a boom in experimental music here in Dallas.
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“Touring acts have the opportunity to hit Denton, Fort Worth and Dallas before heading to Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Tulsa, Albuquerque or New Orleans. Local acts have multiple outlets to develop work or get inspired, and we have Stefan González to thank for that, being the anchor for so many years,” Taylor says. “Counterculture in Dallas has been alive and well for decades, but never really reached mainstream culture like in Austin or Denton. This is partly why the feeling of a cultural renaissance in Dallas is so strong; you just have to know where to look, especially because the vibrant scene doesn't get a lot of substantial press coverage.”
Whether Outward Bound’s showcases were sparsely attended or packed to capacity, it was the friendships and overall camaraderie found at the weekly showcase that González says kept him going, even as his difficulties mounted. But with his brother taking the helm, Outward Bound will continue to serve its function within the local music scene. Expanding the minds of audiences and providing a platform to those who dare to break the boundaries of musical expression. Aaron says it’s the culmination of what he and his brother have been pushing for, socially and artistically, for decades.
“I consider (Outward Bound) an addendum of sorts that bridges the gap between the deeper, more legitimately DIY scene, and the more mainstream club scene,” Aaron says. “There are perhaps limitations that we must adhere to that a DIY (event) could take more risks on."
But, the elder González brother is also quick to pay tribute to Outward Bound's long-running home at RBC. "On the other hand, we have all the resources a legitimate club affords us, including access to very quality sound and lighting professionals, access to equipment and space and, if necessary, production possibilities," Aaron says. "Plus an awesome management and bar staff that has been incredibly supportive of our artistic directions.”