Is Houston a Good Place to Be a Music Fan?
These folks, seen at FPSF 2016, would almost certainly argue that Houston is a *great* place to be a music fan.
Photo by Jay Tovar
Many dissertations could be written (and may well have been) about Houston’s puzzling lack of self-esteem. With everything this city has going for it, and all the “FYHA” branding of recent years, the image persists that it is simply too humid, too congested, too energy-dependent, too bourgeoisie for people to take seriously, at least people of alleged taste who likely live far, far away from Texas's largest city. Just look at the extensive and expensive PR campaign Houstonians were subjected to in the runup to Super Bowl LI, a message that effectively boiled down to “Houston: We swear we like ourselves, and really hope all you out-of-towners do too.” Nice try, but “Houston, It’s Worth It” will forever remain the gold standard of half-apologetic municipal slogans.
And so the chip on Houston’s collective shoulder remains, even extending (of course) to our music scene. Although objectively speaking, things aren’t quite as bad as they used to be, this inferiority complex has been notoriously difficult to shake, especially if the matter at hand is even remotely related to Austin. Even though in a side-by-side comparison of the two cities in any meaningful category – history, diversity, that elusive quality known as “authenticity” – Houston comes out way cooler, and probably always will, unless you’ve lived here for a while you might never guess.
And so major tours continue to bypass the city with frustrating regularity, for no fathomable reason except Houston’s reputation as a city of indifferent, talkative and occasionally bigoted yahoos must be even worse than we feared. Meanwhile, the more optimistic among us persist in the belief that it really is a good place to be a music fan; you just have to know where to look. Either way, it’s an excellent topic for discussion, so that’s exactly what we did. We certainly invite our readers to join in as well.
Two songs describe what it feels like to be a music fan in Houston, the first being Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting Around to Die.” Many musicians, bands, rappers, and artists — interesting ones, relevant ones — simply skip Houston. They always have. Who can say if that’s always a personal decision on their parts? Sometimes that call gets made by booking agents or managers; Houston talent-buyers have a rap for being cheap. It’s understandable, I grew up on off-brand groceries and meat ends — why pay full price when there’s always something else lurking nearby, certainly comparable?
But most musicians aren’t really in it for the money. Who could ever say why they’d rather do a nine-hour drive from Austin to New Orleans, than to play a mostly empty room in Houston (it’s worth it)? Maybe we’re missing some essential charms. As Louise Lasser says to Woody Allen in Bananas, when she’s breaking up with him, “lt has nothing to do with the fact you're short, or the fact that you're not bright enough. Nothing to do with the fact that your teeth are in bad shape.” To be a music fan in Houston, one must come to terms with the fact that to the rest of the world, we’re the waxy yellow buildup.
Cheer up. Many among us don’t really need music, not that kind of music, in such quantities, whatever the cost. For some, music is like a Highlander movie — one is enough. Others among us take a long view, confident that, sooner or later, whatever artists are still kicking around will come crawling back through here on the has-been circuit. So why be finicky? We’re only here for the ca phe sua da. Certainly, there’s an upside to being a music fan here; that is, there’s not much competition. No lines to wait in, no crowds to wade through. There’s a saying, it’s always Tuesday night in Houston. Riddle me this, all you complainers and feel-badders: where else do you have better odds of meeting up with your favorites — whether Goggly Gogol, Johnny Zhivago, or the Heaven 17 — bringing them home, and doing with them whatever you like? The other song about being a music fan in Houston? That oldie that goes, “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with." TEX KERSCHEN
Yeah, I tend to think so. Having lived in Houston, San Antonio and Austin – which is not the live music capital of the world, but whatever – Houston certainly offers everything I want. When a major act like Drake or U2 announces a tour, it’s a safe bet Houston will be on the docket. The local scene is pretty hot, and our city features a number of local and live joints that feature plenty of good local music. Houston offers the best of both worlds – infrastructure for major acts and a lively local scene. Can’t ask for more than that. Well, a more concentrated local music scene in terms of geography would be great, but this is Houston, so let’s just accept its sprawl and move on. CLINT HALE
Having covered music for other publications and cities in Texas (DFW, Denton and Austin), I can say that Houston is not terrible. It’s not great, either. Somewhere between those two extremes describe what Houston really is —somewhat okayish. Crowds can be ghostly and bands can play to cavernously empty spaces if they miss the magic formula for good attendance in Houston favorable weather, price, location and lineup, plus low frequency for touring acts. But because our attendance at national shows is spotty at best, many bands skip tour stops in Houston ALL. THE. DAMN. TIME. That is eternally frustrating for those of us who could stand to hear new music every night of the week. Worse, every time a band skips Houston but stops elsewhere in Texas, it erodes our legitimacy as a music scene.
What Houston lacks and other cities boast, like guaranteed national tour stops or centralized concentrations of bars and venues, Houston makes up for in its wide variety of musical genres. On any given night (if you’re willing to drive across our great and sprawling metropolis) you can hear Southern rap, Screw, alternative hip-hop, experimental noise, blues, Tejano, death metal and country. Try that in Austin or Dallas and come up drastically short. Sure, they exist in those other places, but not in our abundance.
One more thing that is great about being a fan in Houston is the music community. Because Houston isn’t a nationally-known musical mecca drawing fans from parts unknown, the community here is small and tight-knit. It’s easy to run into friends and colleagues at nearly every show no matter the genre, no matter if the acts are national or local. Even better, our musicians work harder than other locations to gain attention. Ask any musician about their hustle around here and you’ll hear of several day jobs, projects, charity events and an entire portfolio of impressive work. KRISTY LOYE
Personal Bias: Houston is the only city I've ever lived in. I feel like this is important to mention because perspective matters when it comes to answering a question like this. Before I lived in Houston, I lived in a small-ish Texas town that rarely got touring rock acts. Living in a place where going to a concert doesn't involve a two-hour drive back home on a regular basis still blows my mind sometimes. Yeah, there are things about Houston that are problematic: the venues are so far apart; getting to shows on a week night can be a pain because of traffic; there are a lot of indie acts that don't make it this way for whatever reason; and Houston crowds talk too damn much.
But year in and year out, I get to see most of the bands I want to, there are plenty of music stores on the rare chance I want to hold an album in my hand and there are bands I've grown a real fondness for (until they breakup becaue apparently me liking someone is a jinx). Is Houston the perfect city for a music fan? Of course not. But it's not a bad place to be at all. CORY GARCIA
Much like its food scene, Houston's music venues are diverse enough for just about anyone. Want to listen to some indie music while you down a few strong drinks? Head to Boondocks or Rudyard's Pub. For some of the best blues in the city, check out the Big Easy. Feeling a vintage vibe? The Big Top and Continental Club have you covered. Relative newcomers The Nightingale Room and White Oak Music Hall have further bolstered this list of intimate venues with a hometown ambiance.
Fitzgerald's' recent controversy notwithstanding, Houston's longest-running music venue has undergone quite a few transformations in recent years, and it's still standing. Between House of Blues, Revention Music Center and Warehouse Live, renowned chart-toppers and niche artists alike have plenty of places to perform when they visit the Bayou City. And the newly-minted Smart Financial Centre provides a third option for amphitheater-filling artists, alongside the Toyota Center and the Woodlands Pavilion.
Clearly, Houston is a great place to be a music fan. Can things improve? Always. Especially on the local/regional level. But that doesn't mean that what we have isn't already great. We're a spread-out city, and not everyone who lives in Kingwood will be able to make it to a Wednesday night show at Satellite Bar. But for music lovers, the options are almost endless - even more so if you've really got your ear to the ground. MATTHEW KEEVER
Yes and no, as Houston is the fourth largest city in the country and the majority of major acts come through for people to see. For some weird reason a good number of big acts (Rolling Stones) seem to skip the city, though, so that sucks. My favorite musical artist, Neil Young, put forth the proposition that “live music is better bumper stickers should be issued” on his 1980 song “Union Man” and I tend to agree that live music is indeed better; unfortunately Neil doesn’t seem to play Houston much so that is a bummer for me.
The one major complaint I have about Houston concert audiences is that many times I get stuck sitting next to inconsiderate loud people who think a concert is the perfect time to talk to each other and ignore the act onstage, ruining the experience for everyone else around them as they discuss what they had for dinner last night. Maybe I didn’t notice this as much when I was younger, as I went to mostly punk and metal shows where the music is played so loud that it drowns out all conversations. Or, people have just grown ruder as the years have passed. Also, it seems like Houston audiences can be a bit boring and passive sometimes; a concert is supposed to be a celebration and a party, right?
As far as local music goes, I like to go out and give Houston bands a chance and support them when I can; there are a lot of good artists playing in our city and going to see them is a lot more affordable than U2 tickets. and the seats are always better too. DAVID ROZYCKI
I'm hesitant to say yes on this for more than a few reasons. I've been to concerts in cities across the country to watch different types of bands perform in venues ranging in size. Houston, unfortunately, is the only place I've been where I've seen bands call the crowd out for talking too much. At our own Warehouse Live, I saw one of my absolute favorite artists stop mid-song due to a disrespectful crowd and refuse to finish, and in turn, the entire vibe of the evening was pretty much shot.
Additionally, with recent issues with booking agents and club owners making racist and transphobic comments, it can be understandable how some people might not feel as comfortable or welcome to a space simply for the person that they are. When anyone loses out on their sense of security, pride, or comfort, we all lose out. And though this may seem like a local issue, people often forget that Houston is one of (if not the) most culturally diverse cities in the nation, and the fourth-largest city in the country. To think that issues that happen on our home turf don't make ripples on a national wave is simply ignorant. You can argue all day that people should "get over" things like talking, or personal politics, but crowd behavior and the way that business owners conduct business directly affects which labels send their artists on tour in our massive state. ALYSSA DUPREE
Like everything else about Houston itself, the answer to whether or not Houston is a good place to be a music fan is complex and muddy. The simple answer is, it depends on how you look at it. Houston is a great place to be a music fan if you cherish old school hip-hop, particularly if you grew up in Texas. Right or wrong, local gods like Pimp C and Bun B fill Houstonians with pride; helping spread the word of Houston and its "trill" culture by way of its unique and gritty chop-and-screw scene. Houston is also a great city for fans of heavy metal, with a dedicated local scene of performance-ready bands with connections that also pull in big national acts. And, of course, Houston has a rich country-music heritage that lingers and thrives come rodeo season.
The foremost reason that Houston is a good fan city is that on most nights it is relatively easy to find some kind of live music, as long as you're inside the Loop. What happens within shows, however, is an altogether different story that ultimately makes Houston a crap city for actual, real music fans: most of Houston's music "fans" totally suck. Picture a crowd that constantly complains about everything, from drink prices to venue to sound to opening acts to headline acts and more. Now, imagine that at least 50 percent of these complainers are almost entirely glued to a cell phone, taking selfies or loudly talking or altogether ignoring the artists.
Then imagine that these tech-addicted complainers are also total a-holes, pushing and yelling and talking over bands and not in it for the greater good of the show. Good music fans are at a show together, as a supportive and involved crowd. Maybe it speaks to Texas's overall "individual over the greater good" mentality, but I think Austin might disagree with that based upon its music culture. Maybe these traits are partly why so many national acts are now systematically skipping Houston, the country's FOURTH biggest city, for Austin and now *gasp* Dallas?!?
Houston, in so many ways, has massive amounts of potential. Its problem, as illuminated by the unpleasable fans of its music scene, is that its sense of entitlement won't let it get out of its own way. Houston needs to be easy, celebrate its good, and continue being proud — while being a hell of a lot happier. Seriously, Houston, pull it together. SELENA DIERINGER
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