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Houston Music, Back in the Day: Same as It Ever Was?

Satellite view of Houston at night
Satellite view of Houston at night

Houston is the largest city in Texas and the fourth-largest city in the United States, with a population that is increasingly culturally diverse yet maintains a strong social identity.

It's not especially well-known for its various music scenes (save rap, arguably) due to a combination of layout and luck. But clinically speaking, rejoicings and complaints about those scenes have varied and diversified throughout the years alongside Houston's population. What was once considered dissonant and rude may be seen as tame and harmonious now, just as some things may look boring today next to what they used to be. Things evolve with time.

The evolution of public communication and expression has guided the changes in our scenes, steering local tastes from a few variants of folk music to just about anything after the advent of the World Wide Web. In other words, now all kinds of music can be accessed and produced according to your personal taste. But this applies anywhere. Regardless of today's choice overload, and whether or not Houston itself has ever offered the grandest spectacles, there has always been something to see, whether popular or alternative.

The location of local '80s venue Agora Ballroom. It was recently a gym, showing how quickly Houston evolves.
The location of local '80s venue Agora Ballroom. It was recently a gym, showing how quickly Houston evolves.
Alexa Crenshaw

So yes, at the same time some current scenes may look boring next to what they used to be. Times change, and that being said, "alternative" wasn't really said to be a genre until about the late '80s. Recently my dad repeated that idea while excitedly sharing his views on Houston music, reflecting on clubs like Agora Ballroom, Numbers and Spit.

He described how Houston was smaller and generally more conservative then, while diverging into stories about teenage differences between kickers, jocks and jellies, and claiming that many cops actually pulled over anyone they saw out past bar-closing time. While because of this many bars closed earlier, I was told it didn't mean he couldn't enjoy whatever spectacles Los Angeles or New York City offered at the time -- just in Houston, while not staying out too late or something, I guess.

Houston Music, Back in the Day: Same as It Ever Was?

Whether my pops deliberately exaggerated that or not, I take it Houston music managed to pull it together, maybe somewhat like a teenager with strict parents who wanted to have fun and still get good grades. I looked up what curfews were set at the time, and I can see where he's coming from: Houston seemed conservative at the crust, yet still offered a variety of musical happenings.

Houston surely has kids who know what they're doing in the present day: entertain and draw crowds, sort of like the times my old man saw nationally acclaimed acts like the Dead Kennedys or local bands like The Judy's. They were one group he says he saw often who put their hearts into their music, getting audiences riled up and passing punch while playing their best-known song "Guyana Punch." Wait, what was in that punch, dad?

Story continues on the next page.

 

The Judy's pictured on their Wonderful World of Appliances album insert
The Judy's pictured on their Wonderful World of Appliances album insert

The Judy's were a relatively straight-laced punk band, though they broke light bulbs and banged on television sets while onstage, and drew large, dancing, eclectic crowds. Their lyrics were smart, and they were one of the first New Wave bands to come from the greater Houston area.

Anyway, I wasn't there, in that moment, so I can't know for sure what exactly happened. But whatever the shows I was told about were, things were happening, even judging strictly by my own weird relatives' perspectives.

One complaint about Houstonians that does resound between the '70s, '80s, '90s and now is standing around and talking over shows, which has caused bands to skip out on Houston after these kinds of things happen. C'mon everyone -- we can change that.

Bottom line, while we're evidently not whatever Southern music darlings New Orleans, Nashville or Austin are, with many of our scenes being not as locally prominent as what those cities offer, Houston continues to produce artists well worth seeing whatever your liking. At least I tell myself this while I'm stuck here.

Just kidding. Really though, although great music scenes isn't one of the top things Houston's known for, we're still a big city that offers generally anything.

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