Could Houston Host a Large-Scale EDM Festival?

Are the problems worth the profits?

Hey, the Kids Like It

Both men say Houston isn't ready to host hundreds of thousands of dance-music fans.

Following the troubles at Miami's Ultra Music Festival in late March, the city's mayor considered banning the event.

More than 100 people were treated by paramedics and nearly that many were arrested, including 30 on felony charges. Those problems were amplified when a security guard was trampled by festival-goers, suffering serious injuries from which she is still ­recovering.

EDM festivals like Ultra Music Festival bringalong cash and controversy.
Phillip via Flickr
EDM festivals like Ultra Music Festival bringalong cash and controversy.
The end is coming for RBC Music in Houston.
Jef With One F
The end is coming for RBC Music in Houston.

Miami's leaders have since had a change of heart and decided to keep the event in South Beach for now.

But while they were considering the ban, major American cities must have considered bidding on the lucrative Ultra. Last year alone, it infused more than $200 million into Miami's economy and generated thousands of jobs.

If it came to pass, would Houston be a good relocation destination? Local artists dj NIMBUS and Jason Walsh, a core member of live electronic act DEAD P.A., have attended Ultra festivals and the Winter Music Conference, also part of Miami Music Week. They both agreed Miami is the best place for Ultra and its peripheral events.

"The bar has been set too high for too long," says dj NIMBUS. "Honestly, I don't know anywhere that could reproduce what Ultra or WMC is and is as appealing as Miami. Our city's rules are way too strict for such an event. Most of the events go well past 2 a.m., and some of them start at 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. and roll over till 10 a.m. or later. Noise restrictions would kill it alone. Not to mention, no sunrise cruise parties or beachfront events."

"Houston certainly has everything necessary to handle an event the size and scope of Ultra, but the cultural and economic potential will remain in question until city officials come to realize what the music industry has known for some time: [that] electronic music and festivals mean big money," says Walsh. "Local authorities and city officials have traditionally impeded progress for the growth of the culture, but this would be no surprise to anyone that remembers the original Westheimer Street Festival or the subjective 'enforcement' of the Houston noise ordinance.

"If Wakarusa in Ozark, Arkansas, can draw tens of thousands to their electronic stages, I see no reason the fourth-largest city in the United States shouldn't be competitive," he adds. "Houston has been considered a mecca before in regard to certain subgenres of EDM and bass music, and with the talent and infrastructure we have, it could easily host a thriving annual event."

Walsh's act formed in 2003 and features original electronic music, with onstage vocals, percussion and synths; he's now preparing for a slate of summer tour dates. dj NIMBUS is a fixture in Houston house music and a featured DJ on the website But both men say they feel Houston isn't ready to host hundreds of thousands of dance-music fans or the weeklong parade of parties that come with an event like Ultra. They did agree we have some strengths to build upon, though.

"Houston is no stranger to bringing international talent, but events of this scale tend to create a lot of peripheral benefits for regional artists, DJs, promoters, venues, sound and lighting companies, and venues in their wake," Walsh says. "This means the tide rises for everyone, and one of the cool things about this scene is that commercialism will never crowd out the underground revolution of the music because there is a fresh batch of artists and DJs pushing a completely new sound ­every ten minutes."

"The best arguments for Ultra here would only be for U.S. residents, in terms of Houston being central to both coasts," counters dj NIMBUS. "My honest answer for the value of bringing Ultra here is that if Houston struggles with NBA All-Star [games], the Super Bowl and other large events due to never-ending construction, lack of late-night entertainment, ample hotels in close proximity to said events, I think Ultra and WMC, combined or separately, would be a bit much.

"Part of the big draw to Miami is the total experience, culture and nonstop action," he continues. "Those things, I'm afraid, are held back by the same people issuing out $2,000 noise-ordinance violations during 'normal club operating hours.' I think Houston as a major metropolitan city needs to get its house in order in the way of hosting large events, much less facilitating the cultures that would make such an event viable on a regular basis."

Only in Houston

Final Notes
RBC Music, Houston's last full-service sheet-music provider, closes this month.

Jef With One F

After 21 years in the Houston area, RBC Music will shut its doors on May 15. The city's last full-service sheet music store, RBC had previously partnered with H&H Music to supply a wide selection of piano, guitar, instrumental and choir music to all the stores in the chain.

In Houston, there was always a main sheet-music center, mostly based in the H&H location on the Katy Freeway, where teachers and parents would flock from all over the city to obtain method books, audition selections, solos for the UIL competition, concert and marching-band program literature, and more. But upon H&H Music's bankruptcy eight years ago, RBC (where I've worked for the past 13 years) opened a store on Blalock and continued serving the community as a standalone enterprise. It was still one of several businesses in town that sold sheet music, but online sales and digital downloads had begun to erode the sheet-music business and force consolidation.

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