Welcome to the Jungle

There's been a shift in my party conversation lately. A few weeks ago, I was just another freelance journalist yapping about the same old things: what I did that weekend, what movies I'd seen, and can I get another beer? Then, I became the music editor at the Dallas Observer, and now everyone has a question for me. What music do I listen to? What plans do I have for the section? Name the best 10 local bands, in order, and defend your position. Sometimes, like a foreigner learning a new language, I just smile and nod. Other times, I've been less chaste. Take a couple of Saturdays ago when I went to see the Sparrows and Sorta at the Sons of Hermann Hall. After the lights came up, I was introducing myself to the band when a local label owner who shall remain nameless approached me.

"You're never going to change Dallas music," he said.

I was full of late-night vigor and vodka tonics. "Well, sucka, I'm gonna try." (I'm paraphrasing.)

"I've been around for a long time," he said, exhaling a long stream of smoke, "and nothing you write will change this town. It won't get people to the clubs. It won't sell records." He crushed his cigarette in the ashtray. Class dismissed.

So here is the truth: I won't change Dallas music. How could I? Musicians change Dallas music. Labels and venues and fans change Dallas music. What I can do--what I hope to do, at least--is to start a conversation about music with you here. We'll disagree at times; we'll bond over a few things. Maybe I can point you to a local band you didn't know. Maybe I can provoke debate: This weekend's Dallas Music Festival, boon or bust? (Discuss, page 73.) Maybe I can fill you in on news--that a certain band is releasing an album or that a certain lead singer of the Old 97's and his wife, Erica, had a baby boy named Max (for which we extend a hearty congratulations). Maybe I can tell you a story, like how I sat near Sparrows lead singer Carter Albrecht's dad that Saturday night, how proud his dad looked sitting among the yuppies and hipsters 30 years younger, how generous he was with his lighter and how he slapped me a few high-fives after the songs. How, after the band's raucous 2 a.m. encore, Albrecht's dad looked at me over the rims of his eyeglasses and said, "Hey, I'm ready for more!" You know, things like that.

I come to the Observer via Austin, where I worked for the past four years as an arts writer and editor at The Austin Chronicle, the local alt-weekly. Lately, since moving back to Dallas, I've been freelancing for the Observer. I grew up in the Big D, but the city looks mighty different on this side of 21--a lot more Deep Ellum, a lot less NorthPark. So for now, I'm still learning the scene. At least five times a day, I walk back to Zac Crain's office to ask another dumb question: Who do I call for tickets to such-and-such, and where can I get a decent slice of pizza in this town? He's patient with me; I hope you will be, too. And if you see me out at the clubs--whether you're a band member or a club owner or just a music fan--I hope you'll take the time to introduce yourself.

Before I go, let's talk about the column title, "Across the Bar." Technically, it's the term for when a chord or note is held past the end of a measure--literally, across the bar. But more generally, it's how music is experienced. In this town, as in most, we usually go to the bar to see a band. And with that comes all the noise and detritus and the great ripping times that bars bring--the late hours, the damaged ears, the withering bar tabs, the jacket that smells of funk, the forgotten conversations. This column will be about all those things--but most important, the music.

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Sarah Hepola