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It's safe to say that John Evans is no fan of the recently enacted smoking ban. To him, the municipal stubbing out of our collective ciggies is another step in a long process of pasteurization that is making Houston less, well, Houston.
"This has always been a 'Screw you we're from Houston' kind of town, the last frontier," he says. "Let everyone else be all tight-ass, but now we're just like everybody else."
What's more, he believes it is harming his bottom line. "The smoking ban is kicking our ass," he adds flatly.
For one thing, despite his 15 or so Houston Press music awards over the past seven years, he's finding it harder and harder to get people to come see him play. "My shows are still decent; I can still drag people out to them," he says. "But it's not as easy as it was. You don't just walk into a packed house anymore. And that sucks."
He pities the bands that are just starting out, as it's his view that the only shows that are guaranteed to do well are event-type shows, like a recent bill his band shared with Jesse Dayton's Road Kings. "It rained like hell and that place was still smashed," he says. "People were gonna go see that show no matter what."
But in his experience, there are few surprisingly well-attended gigs these days. And that, he believes, is all because of the ban. "If it's just someone who plays town all the time, people just aren't going out the way they used to," he says.
Evans believes that the ban has crushed what desire the casual, on-the-fence music fan had in going to shows. Instead of hitting a bar at happy hour to get prepped for an evening on the town, more people today are just picking up something to go at Spec's and kicking back in their backyards or in front of their TVs. Once ensconced, they lose their inclination to head back out again.
"They can't smoke and drink and talk and drink and smoke some more, so it's just like, 'Screw it, I might as well stay home.'"
Evans claims that Beaumont's smoking ban has virtually destroyed that city's music scene. And for what? "I mean, how can you not smoke in Beaumont?" he scoffs, and he does have a point. Banning cigs there seems a bit like banning microwave ovens in Chernobyl.
He goes on to say that the once-burgeoning club scene on Crockett Street in downtown Beaumont is flagging now, and that his favorite club there seems to be running out of steam. "The Vortex there was a killer bar, where you could play country shows, punk shows, honky-tonk shows, rockabilly shows. Now, it's just the same people, the guaranteed draws. And even then all the people are all on the back porch smoking."
Some clubs there are trying to do more shows on outdoor stages, but if recent history is any guide in Houston, those just won't fly here. The hordes of new suburban transplants to Montrose, the Heights and Midtown are ever ready to phone in their complaints to the cops.
"What screws you with outdoor shows is you can only play until ten and then they'll shut you down," Evans says. "That's gotta hurt bars as far as the late-night crowd. As for all these assholes moving into town because it's chichi, they've ruined what was cool about the Montrose and Midtown — you could raise hell and you didn't have to worry about it. The West Alabama Ice House is like one phone call away from not having live music anymore. There's so many people griping and moaning about noise over there that now they've got the volume so low, you can barely hear the band."
"It's getting like Big Brother is taking over everything," he says. "Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to be living in the United States. There's no place I'd rather live, except maybe Mexico. But Good Lord, man, let people have the option to do what they want to. Most of the people who don't wanna smoke and wanna bitch about loud music are staying at home anyway."
"Now you don't even feel like you've done a gig," he adds. "My pearl-snap Western shirt still smells like Bounce."
With Evans's rant in mind, I decided to call a few more people in the Houston music scene to gauge opinion on the first 90 days of the ban. Here are their responses:
Pam Robinson, owner, Walter's on Washington: It really hasn't had much of an effect on overall attendance. It does create some management issues, though. The customers are always trying to walk outside with drinks, and they want us to leave the doors open so they can still watch the show while they're outside. And I predicted this would happen, but my bartenders keep trying to run outside with their smokes and their cellphones. But as for the shows themselves, I think it's better. Most of the bands like it. The air conditioners seem to work better, it's easier to breathe and we don't have to pick as many cigarette butts out of the urinals in the morning. I do wonder, though, how if smoking is banned we still find so many butts on the floor. We will adjust to it. The kids seem to be doing fine with it. The older people are the ones who seem to have a problem with it.
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