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Could Houston Ever Have a Great Music Scene?

A scene like this one at the Free Press Summer Fest 2013 gates was unimaginable a few years ago.
A scene like this one at the Free Press Summer Fest 2013 gates was unimaginable a few years ago.
Photo by Groovehouse

Houston is changing fast; that much we all know. Doesn't matter if it's the new housing sprouting up all over town, rampant job growth, the city making yet another "best" or "hottest" (or even "coolest") national list, or even the Texans' status as (possible) Super Bowl contenders, Houston isn't the same place it was just a few years ago. So it seems perfectly reasonable that same rising-tide logic would apply to the local music scene.

After all, Houston now has a legitimate big-time summer music festival and has made great strides towards erasing its reputation as a hostile touring environment. The city was once practically a must-skip for all too many performers; now we see one sold-out roadshow after another. (How those crowds behave is a completely different matter, though.)

So how much have things really changed? Certainly "the scene" (whatever that is) has made great strides, but many of the problems that have plagued the city's musicians and music venues for years and even generations have hardly vanished in this recent flurry of back-patting, positive headlines and fatter gate receipts.

This 2012 H-Town Presents CD is a rare official acknowledgement that Houston even has a local music scene.
This 2012 H-Town Presents CD is a rare official acknowledgement that Houston even has a local music scene.

That's why recently, after one too many people told us just how awesome Houston was getting, Rocks Off decided to put the whole thing up for debate and ask our contributors, "Could Houston Ever Be a Great Music Scene?" Not even "Is it now?" but simply, "Are we close?" Of course we expected a variety of answers, but perhaps not so many that we could spread them out over a few posts throughout the morning.

We hope you enjoy the responses, and encourage your own. After all, you readers are part of the local music scene too. (We certainly hope you are, anyway.) Let us know what you think.

Sadly, Houston Might Be Too Diverse Houston is a wonderful music town. It has been for a long while, but not always (or ever) dominated by the kind of music that gets coverage in the mainstream media. Blues, Latin, country, hip-hop and jazz musicians from Houston have deep roots here. But for more mainstream, popular music, we are hampered by a combination of geography and demographics making it hard to believe Houston will ever have the kind of dominant music scene found in places like Austin, Chicago, Seattle or New Orleans.

Houston is huge with no zoning and no centrally located entertainment district. We are also wildly diverse, which is great for us as a society, but tough for the popularization of a local music scene. That diversity creates a bunch of small pockets of interesting music, but no one overriding, singularly popular genre -- it's tough to imagine a salsa group on the same bill as alt-rockers and a Western swing outfit and have it fly with an audience.

Those factors seem to doom Houston to a fractured if still brilliant at times music scene. JEFF BALKE

Built to Spill's October 2010 House of Blues audience was an especially egregious example of an obnoxious Houston crowd, but hardly unusual.
Built to Spill's October 2010 House of Blues audience was an especially egregious example of an obnoxious Houston crowd, but hardly unusual.
Photo by Jason Wolter

Want a Great Scene? Show Some Respect. Since moving to Houston, I haven't exactly been silent about my general disdain for the crowds at concerts big and small. There are certainly exceptions that have been more involved than others, but my experiences here have mostly been dominated by disengaged and disenchanted audience members who don't show a lot of respect for or interest in the bands playing.

I also hear all the time, "None of the good bands come here." Uh, what? Really? Two things: 1) Yes, yes they do. You are the fourth-largest city in the damn country. Start acting like it. Also, you have a kick-ass local-band scene, so start enjoying it and supporting it. 2) If they don't, it's because you were so lackluster in your participation the last time they came, they are now skipping H-Town most likely for Austin and, even more sadly, for Dallas.

The solution here is simple: Show the bands some damn love. Get involved. Get excited. WORK for your encore; it's isn't something you deserve just for buying a ticket. In the wise words of Sly and The Family Stone, dance to the music. It will bleed into the whole scene: fans supporting bands, bands supporting one another, people going to shows for the fun of it.

It's up to you, Houston. The scene is already here. Do you know it? SELENA DIERINGER

 

The Media Matters. This may seem like an odd or even ungrateful complaint for someone in my position, but my major axe to grind with the local music scene is not with the scene but with the mainstream media that, with rare exception, completely ignores it. The local TV stations apart from Channel 39 almost never feature a local musician even in a bottom-of-the-broadcast segment, unless that local musician happens to be a contestant on The Voice or American Idol.

Almost from the start, CultureMap cast its lot with red carpets over rock and roll (let alone rap), and, with all due respect to the good work that Andrew Dansby and Joey Guerra do, frankly it's always rankled me the way local music obviously ranks among the very lowest of the Houston Chronicle features/entertainment department's priorities.

Of course we do have a few fellow travelers like Day and a Dream and Space City Rock, whose coverage is generally well-informed, thorough and passionate. (We hope ours is too.) Channel 39, to its eternal credit, regularly features Houston music and musicians twice a week on its "Tuned In" segment, plus thoughts from the one and only Bun B a couple of times on top of that. And yes, we've had our issues with Free Press Houston over the years, but at least the Montrose monthly is well aware the local scene exists.

As for Rocks Off, we do what we can, and we love what we do. We know all too well the thinking of our editor and producer colleagues across town: there's simply not enough widespread interest in Houston music to merit more regular coverage. To them we quote Aretha Franklin: who's zoomin' who? It's hard to believe that the music scene can grow all that much further unless more outlets start paying more attention to it, even if only a little more. At the risk of letting the proverbial cat out of the bag, we can promise them there's plenty of worthwhile, compelling, click-friendly stories out here -- dare we say, enough to go around. CHRIS GRAY

deadhorse at the When We Ruled H-Town reunion at Fitzgerald's, August 2012
deadhorse at the When We Ruled H-Town reunion at Fitzgerald's, August 2012
Photo courtesy of Rich Adler

It's Already Happened Once... Of course Houston could have a great music scene. In fact, I've seen it: in last year's eye-opening documentary on the early '90s scene, When We Ruled H-Town.

Could we see that again anytime soon? Hard to say. Live music, especially rock, was en vogue back then in a way that it simply ain't today. But there are signs of hope that something new could soon be brewing. Plentiful jobs and cheap living are still Houston's main draws, but they're working: More talented young people appear to be moving in than ever before.

We could be approaching critical mass as a culture, but to become "great," the scene may require an entirely new musical movement with new instruments (and new drugs) to call its very own. NATHAN SMITH

Watch for more on the subject later this morning.

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