Houston 2020: The Future Is Unwritten
As you probably know by now, it's possible to find just about anything on the Internet. Nevertheless, Noise was shocked — shocked, we tell you — to run across the following article while we were looking for some Drive-By Truckers demos during our daily browsings not long ago.
We found it on a new music blog called Negative Creep. We had never heard of NC before, and for some reason the article is dated January 2020. This seems a little strange to us, but Noise figured we'd reprint it in its entirety and let our readers be the judge.
"HOUSTON — Ten years ago, this sprawling Southern city was awash in energy dollars but had little to no music scene to speak of. Certainly not in the eyes of anyone outside Loop 610, which at the time encircled central Houston like an eight-lane concrete fortress.
"Today, it's a much different story. The unlikely impetus was President Barack Obama's Alternative Energy Act of 2013, which caused Houston's economy to stagnate and led to widespread foreclosures, plummeting property values and corporations such as ExxonMobil and Reliant relocating to alternative-energy hubs like Tucson (solar power), Des Moines (biodiesel) and Bozeman, Montana (wind).
"Soon after, civic leaders led by Mayor Billy F. Gibbons — currently seeking his third term after deciding politics was easier than finishing another ZZ Top album — began an ambitious program of reforms aimed at using the arts, and specifically music, as not only a cultural resource but an economic engine to drive the city back to prosperity.
"The Gibbons administration's 'Tube Snake Boogie' economic package, a series of grants and tax breaks aimed at musicians, poster artists and prospective owners of both record labels and music venues (especially those willing to build outdoor areas to accommodate a 'Party on the Patio'), began to take hold after a series of events 200 miles to the west in the former 'Live Music Capital of the World' of Austin.
"Acting against the wishes of the Austin Music Commission, the Austin City Council approved a new sound ordinance in 2014, which forced more than 75 percent of the capital city's music venues to shut down and especially decimated the Red River District. Left with no place to play, dozens upon dozens of Austin musicians (exact figures are unavailable) had no choice but to move back to their hometown of Houston.
"Their timing couldn't have been better. These musicians were able to take full advantage of the Lower Westheimer Revitalization Project, which came about after most of the remaining businesses along the main Montrose artery were burned, looted or otherwise ransacked during the infamous Westheimer Street Festival Riots of 2012.
"The riots also led to Montrose's long-discussed, albeit ultimately brief, secession from the City of Houston, a plan that failed when the out-of-work musicians moonlighting as border guards kept nodding off at the security checkpoints located at Westheimer's intersections with Bagby Street and Shepherd Drive. Former 'Mayor of Montrose' Omar Afra, whose arrest touched off the Street Festival riots and currently represents District 147 in the Texas Legislature, was campaigning for re-election and unavailable for comment.
"Gradually, a succession of bars, music venues, coffeehouses, Internet cafes, art studios, equipment stores and even record shops (bolstered by the continuing upswing in vinyl sales, which, according to SoundScan, officially passed CD sales in 2015) began springing up along lower Westheimer. Many houses in the area were converted to rehearsal spaces where musicians lived, practiced, recorded, ran small record labels and hosted frequent parties that lasted until the wee hours without being broken up by police.
"Anchoring the strip are a pair of familiar Houston venues that relocated to the area. Walter's on Washington became Walter's on Westheimer when, to the surprise of many, it took over the lease at Numbers after finally abandoning Washington Avenue around the time Ed Hardy stock plummeted and Washington returned to its former status as a warren of dive bars, taquerias and used-car lots.
"Although Walter's kept the popular 'Classic Numbers' and 'Underworld' dance nights, it became much better known for a string of sold-out shows by indie-rockers such as Vampire Weekend, Band of Horses, MGMT and Yeasayer. Many of these artists were surprised to discover how many fans they actually had in Houston, and fired their previous management in favor of the locally based Bayou City Booking, now recognized as the premier talent agency of its kind in the Southwest.
"At the other end of Westheimer, House of Blues prospered after moving into the old Tower Theater building in early 2014. Hit hard by the skyrocketing fuel prices that ravaged the touring business during the summers of 2012 and 2013 — especially large-scale tours that required multiple buses and semis — Live Nation Entertainment sold House of Blues to a group of investors headed up by the owners of Super Happy Fun Land, who had amassed a small fortune through sock-monkey sales.
"Live Nation used most of the proceeds from its sales of House of Blues and Verizon Wireless Theater, bought by a Mink/Continental Club consortium in late 2013 and rechristened 'The Downtown Island,' to finance its purchase of the Houston Astros from the McLane family, but it did not get out of the music business entirely. Still under contract thanks to the '360' agreement he signed in 2009, Jay-Z began curating biannual music festivals at Minute Maid Park after the rapper and wife Beyoncé relocated to Houston following the birth of their second child. 'Hova Fest' became a smash success, soon outdrawing counterparts such as Coachella and Lollapalooza.
"Aided by City Council's repeal of the smoking ban in 2016, House of Blues became the envy of music halls nationwide after establishing separate 'Talking' (in the upstairs balcony) and 'No Talking' (the downstairs general-admission area) sections at its new location. Today, the venue continues to host what touring shows are left, but makes most of its money off long-running residencies by a wide range of local artists including Robert Ellis & the Boys, Mike Stinson and Miss Leslie's Magnolia Blossoms, Roky Moon & BOLT, Muhammidali and blues icon Little Joe Washington, still going strong at 80 years old.
"Several other Houston artists have prospered over the last decade. After several successful tours with Vampire Weekend, Wild Moccasins signed to Merge Records in 2014 and are credited by many critics with spearheading the ongoing 'Paisley Underground Revival,' named after the jangle-rock sound pioneered by bands such as Redd Kross, Dream Syndicate and the Bangles in mid-'80s Los Angeles.
"Buxton became international rock stars when the Rolling Stones selected the La Porte roots-rockers to open their October 2015 Reliant Stadium concert. Guitarists Sergio Trevino and Jason Willis were forced to fill in for Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood for the rest of the tour after the two senior Stones each broke a hip during a bizarre incident at Rick's Cabaret the night before the Houston show.
"Although the city was saddened by the mysterious death of Z-Ro in fall 2016 (very few believed the coroner's official report that the talented but troubled rapper passed away due to 'natural causes'), Houston also maintained its status as one of America's leading hip-hop cities. Rhyming largely about the MetroRail, which underwent widespread expansion under the green-friendly Gibbons administration — with each train painted like a different ZZ Top hot rod — local rappers including H.I.S.D., Nosaprise, Fat Tony and Hollywood F.L.O.S.S. released platinum albums, and B L A C K I E's Grime Time > Crime Time was named Album of the Year at the 2018 Grammy Awards.
"Houston's ascension into the elite ranks of U.S. music cities was complete when SXSW announced the festival would move to Space City beginning next year, as would both New Orleans's Jazz & Heritage Festival and Essence Music Festival following the devastation of Hurricane Samantha. A music scene that was once an also-ran in its own state is now the envy of places like Brooklyn, Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco.
"Reached for comment, Mayor Gibbons would only say this: 'Uh-haw haw haw haw. They gotta lotta nice girls down there.'"
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