Music Cities

Texas has its own brand of March Madness

Most of the time, those three things are all the Overflow Fest performers are looking for — or could even hope for at the present stage of their careers. Even if they have secured an official SXSW showcase, most of these artists exist on the very bottom rung of the music business, often unable to afford everything from booking and management to promotion and merchandise sales except by doing it themselves.

Although this year's Overflow Fest is full of promising performers such as Phil ­Spector-ish Brooklyn trio Girls at Dawn, Alabama stoner-metal crew Wizzard Sleeve and Minneapolis indie-rappers Parallax — to name but three examples — the only artist with any sort of widespread name recognition at all is wrestling-mask-clad, X-rated Miami rapper Blowfly, who plays March 12 (and, ironically, is not playing SXSW). Sometimes, Arthur admits, he doesn't realize who has just played his venue until well after the fact.

"A lot of times bands I've never heard of will play here and the next year I'll see them in Spin magazine or on the Bonnaroo schedule, like Girl Talk and Dan Deacon and Tapes 'n Tapes," he says. "They've all played this festival and I had no idea."

Allen Hill says that gigs like this one — on the sidewalk in front of Rue's Antiques on South Congress — are rare instances in which Austin lives up to its self-proclaimed title as Live Music Capital of the World.
Courtesy of Allen Hill Entertainment
Allen Hill says that gigs like this one — on the sidewalk in front of Rue's Antiques on South Congress — are rare instances in which Austin lives up to its self-proclaimed title as Live Music Capital of the World.

SXSW's 2010 slogan is "Tomorrow Happens Here." But these days the truth is that the music business comes more for the A-list private-party performers (Jay-Z and Mötley Crüe are among this year's top rumors) than to give some fledgling artist or band their big break.

In a way, Overflow Fest has become what SXSW used to be, a platform for virtual unknowns to take their first steps toward bigger crowds and better paydays. It's also like what SXSW has become, chuckles Arthur, in that "there's virtually no chance of a band getting signed at our festival."

Still, Arthur says local attendance for Overflow Fest can be "hit or miss," depending on who's playing on any given day. Ironically, it's entirely possible for Overflow Fest to give all these touring artists a favorable impression of Houston without a single Houstonian showing up.

"You get a show with ten bands on it and you've got 40 people in your audience already, so you've got a show no matter what," Arthur says. "And even if there's not a whole bunch of people from Houston here, the bands still have fun."

SXSW's little cousin gets bigger,
better bands and a lot more
problems in Year Two

By Daniel Rodrigue

It had all come down to this. Months of hard work and planning, bookings and meetings with Denton city officials, sponsors, band managers and promoters — all just to get North by 35 up and running again. If Chris Flemmons didn't fix things by tonight, it could all fall apart.

It's Sunday morning, two weeks before the March 11-14 music festival, and Flemmons, the crucial force behind the Denton music festival, is driving about 20 miles outside Oklahoma City. Brunswick, his 12-year-old mutt and constant companion, is along for the ride. They left Denton earlier that morning in a rental car because Flemmons is convinced that if he doesn't meet face to face with the manager of Flaming Lips, the festival's headliner and big draw, he can kiss the biggest rock spectacular Denton's ever hosted goodbye.

He doesn't even have an appointment.

Flemmons hopes that by showing up in person he can work out some sort of deal with the Lips management because, while booking The Flaming Lips proved a huge coup for the second-year event, it also meant a last-minute venue change to accommodate the potential crowd. That switch caused NX35's costs to skyrocket, and Flemmons doesn't know if NX35 will be a sellout. Flemmons has to tell the band that there won't be enough money to meet a down-payment deadline. If some sort of deal can't be reached, then NX35 will have to cancel the band's show.

It all seemed like such a good idea a few months ago, so doable. It would repeat last year's successful four-day walkable music event around the heart of downtown Denton, only bigger, much bigger. A Saturday-evening stage featuring Oklahoma acts The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs with Denton's own Midlake was hands down the largest draw that Flemmons and company had booked for this year's North by 35 Music Conferette.

Flemmons added his made-up word "conferette" to the title last year as a tongue-in-cheek riff on the festival's diminutive size and less-refined persona, playing off other much larger music festivals like SXSW and Miami's Winter Music Conference. Last year's NX35 garnered mostly positive media buzz, though some criticized it for relying too heavily on local bands, but this year the goal of the event's programmers was to attract some bigger names while still featuring a large percentage of homegrown acts.

Even with the more than 200 acts booked in more than a dozen venues around downtown, the loss of headliner The Flaming Lips could trigger a domino effect and possibly cause NX35 to lose bands or, worse, sponsors.

After a barrage of text messages on Sunday afternoon, Flemmons manages to get an appointment for the next morning at 9.

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