Houston Has a Great Music Scene. Just Keep the Musicians In and Hipsters Out.
Recently Rocks Off asked our writers if Houston could ever have a "great" music scene,whatever that means. The answers were so wide-ranging we had to divide them among several posts.
Bun B: Thanks for staying.
Photo by Marco Torres
I want to preface this by saying that I am in love with Houston's music scene, and think it already is the greatest in the world, but no: it will never be New York, Chicago, Nashville, Austin, San Francisco, New Orleans or Seattle. Why? Several reasons, but the biggest one being Houston's lack of musical history. Yeah, we have ZZ Top, Lightnin' Hopkins' Destiny's Child and UGK, but I could name 20 acts from each of those cities that has as much or more cultural significance than any act from Houston.
Another major problem is that whenever anyone starts to get a little bit of nationwide exposure, they seem to leave Houston immediately. Robert Ellis lives in Nashville, Hayes Carll lives in Austin, Jana Hunter lives in New York. One major exception is Bun B -- he's a boss, and should be Mayor-for-life of our fair city.
The final issue keeping us from having a "great" music scene is touring bands' lack of stops in Houston. Every day, I get publicity emails announcing that so-and-so band announced a string of dates, but they're not coming to Houston. For many years, bands would play here and either have no one at their shows or a rudely talkative crowd.
Many of those bands never came back. Phish hasn't played here in 15 years. Arcade Fire, despite having roots in The Woodlands, played Mary Jane's in early 2005 and then not again until after their third über-succesful album The Suburbs came out.
Hell, I can think of several bands who've never even played here -- here in the fourth-largest city in the nation. While I think that's starting to be a problem of the past, as Houston crowds have been noticeably swelling these days, it still hurt our scene for quite some time and we're still feeling the effects.
We do have a great music scene, though, and that is evident if you step foot in any of our local venues. On any given night, you can catch a bevy of talented musicians peddling their wares. Many bands from Houston are starting to get national recognition as well, and that is showing with their crowd sizes each and every time they play in town. The Tontons nearly sold out Fitz a few weeks ago, and the Suffers packed Cactus Music from front to back just the other day. Buxton play to huge crowds every time they take a stage; Wild Moccasins do the same.
Unfortunately, we'll never be known as a music city, especially with the smaller yet more musically proficient Austin just down the road. Wipe out Austin and maybe New Orleans, and we'll finally get our due. Until then, we'll just be known as that huge oil city where Beyonce is from. At least we're better than Dallas. JIM BRICKER
The Lightnin' Hopkins historical marker dedication in Third Ward, November 2010
Photo by Matthew Keever
This question always gives me a headache. What is the definition of great? Does it mean the same thing to everyone? What are we comparing to? In other words, this is an unanswerable and unmeasurable question.
I first came to Houston in 1968. By 1970 I'd seen Lightnin' Hopkins, Josephus, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Endel St. Cloud and the Rain, Johnny Winter, Minnie Ripperton, Jacque Loussier's Play Bach, Captain Beefheart, Ry Cooder, John Bartlett, Don Sanders, Bruiser Barton and the Dry Heaves and another hundred Houston hard-hitting blues-laced acid-trip bands that preceded ZZ Top.
The funny thing is, I don't recall anyone ever even mentioning a "scene." You were either out there and knew what was happening, where and when it was happening, or you didn't. It was like the old pot smoker's riddle used to determine who imbided and who didn't: You're either a head or you're behind, right?
All the clamoring for a scene today is mostly just the same 25 local indie-rock bands who chase each other's tails in smaller and tighter circles week after week and wonder why there's not a bigger audience for their work. The white middle-class that constitutes 99 percent of what are referred to as hipsters in particular seems unable to break out of its little virtually closed rings.
I've seen a few hipsters at blues gigs, jazz gigs, country gigs, but it's pretty rare, because for the most part they all seem to like to dress alike and hear the same four bands over and over. Will that ever make a "great music scene?" I hope not.
That disturbing sociological phenomenon aside, I'm actually quite happy with the Houston scene. I have no problem finding local, regional, and national acts of interest almost any night of the week. To me, it's not "the scene," it's the people and the choices they make.
I was just having this very discussion recently with James Red from Born Again Virgins. Hipsters, quit telling me the Trimms or the Beans "are great" and get out of your closed yuppie loop, get out of MKT or Fitz or Walters once in a while, and make some rounds to places you never go. That'll be a start.
Personally, though, I think we've already got a strong scene. It's the people going to the same shows over and over who doubt it. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
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