Let's Move On: Houston Doesn't Need a Central Live-Music Hub
Recently Rocks Off asked our writers what it would take for Houston to have a "great" music scene, if for no other reason to see what their ideas of a great scene were. The answers were so wide-ranging we had to split them into a few separate posts, but in one way or another several responses were all tied into the idea of how much infrastructure affects the local music scene.
Numbers is the rare local venue to cultivate a crowd that shows up regardless of who's playing.
Photos by Abrahan Garza
Do you define "great music scene" as having a large number of diverse bands excellent within their own genre? Then the answer is yes. Mission accomplished. Let's have a drink. The Houston music scene is already fantastic.
I get the impression that when people mean "music scene" they mean music district, and the answer is no, it's never going to happen. Not unless some party-bus company decides to open a service that gets people in free in various venues all over town and offers to drive between them, every hour. We'll never be able to just casually stroll along any particular boulevard and pop in and out of clubs.
Then again, why would you want that exactly? That's not how you build a following or make money as a musician anyway, certainly not in this day and age. Personally, I think that having what people consider a great music scene will ultimately depend on being able to present bands to audiences that would have shown up to that venue regardless of who was playing.
Fitz's still does that a bit, as does Rudz, but no one has really harnessed social media to make their club "the place to be." No streaming broadcasts, few well-thought-out showcases (which is getting better), no Best of Fitz's Live Vol 1-13 releases. I remember avidly waiting for the comp discs from Numbers' goth bands. Where has that gone?
Until clubs start trying to brand themselves a little bit more, there's always going to be pressure on the bands to produce the audience entirely, and that's just so iffy now. JEF WITH ONE F
Dosey Doe in The Woodlands has done quite well some distance from Central Houston.
There's a lot more to this answer (and this question) than a simple yes or no. For one, most music scenes get known for something. For example, most of the bands emerging from Brooklyn right now are best labeled as dance-punk acts. Omaha is known for its ability to crank out indie acts with cult appeal.
And certainly, each music scene has its ability to produce diverse acts, but Houston hasn't really become known for one solid thing. Our biggest names, like them or not, span a number of genres from country to hip hop, and we've got everything in between.
But Houston's music scene shouldn't be rated simply on the amount of bands that come out of the city, or how big they eventually get. Instead, Houston has a number of thriving clubs in neighborhoods all over the city. While there are certain areas that host a few within walking distance (the cluster on Main Street, in the Warehouse District and on Westheimer), other areas of Houston such as Cypress, The Woodlands or Spring see just as many bands trying to break into the business. That alone should indicate that Houston's music scene has not only been thriving for years, but it will continue to fight in a "whatever it takes" fashion.
We also have women flooding the local scene with their talent, proving that this isn't a boys' game, and women have a place in rock. Some scenes, and even entire genres of music, aren't that accepting and welcoming. But Houston is home to bands like The Suffers, New York City Queens and The Tontons. Even better, these bands aren't just playing obscure clubs that nobody wants to go to. They're selling out shows left and right when they're not being invited by Free Press Summer Fest or Discovery Green to play for a massive audience.
We have some things to iron out, sure. But Houston clubs, venues and bars aren't leaving us much room for want. Instead, the people in the music scene are getting their hands dirty, hosting open-mike nights, free local shows with discount drinks and we've got block parties popping up at least twice a year.
So maybe we haven't found our "sound," but by being so inclusive, Houston has proven itself to not only be diverse in taste and sound, but that there really is something here for everyone. You just have to go out and find it; and you don't even have to look that hard. If that's not the making of a great music scene, then what is? ALYSSA DUPREE
You know, I would like to be optimistic and spout off some glass-half-full response to Houston's local music scene ever rivaling, say, Austin's, but the reality is that as positive as I want to be about it, there are a couple of major roadblocks that would be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. And those roadblocks are called freeways.
We aren't set up like Austin, with one or two centralized locations to house our live-music scene. We're set up more like San Antonio, only without all the meh, and even they have St. Mary's Street, which is home to legendary venues like the White Rabbit, so they're aiming for a centralized music area but the logistics don't quite vibe. We're a sparkly San Antonio, I guess.
What's already great about Houston's music scene is that because we're set up like the epitome of urban sprawl, we have a music scene that is dissipated throughout our city rather than in one area. Although that allows for every area -- suburb, central, whatever -- to have a healthy dose of live music, it doesn't make it the easiest to navigate.
Unless the city took the lead to designate an area where our local musicians were featured, a la Sixth Street or Bourbon Street, it would be awfully difficult to have much more than we've already got. ANGELICA LEICHT
Sure, Walters is easy to find with a few keystrokes now...
Could Houston ever have a great music scene?" It depends on what you mean by "great." We definitely have a tightly-knit community of musicians and performers spanning across just about every genre you can name performing for little or no money ever single night of the week, artists you'd enjoy seeing no matter where they were from.
We have some truly astounding talent in this town, and they support each other in just about every way possible. And they have enough of an audience to keep it going. That would certainly fit most definitions of the word "great."
If, however, you mean "Could Houston ever have a music scene to rival that of Austin, New York, or Nashville?" then that's another story. I'm no city planner, but it seems to me that Houston's no-zoning policy is generally bad for fostering a music scene. Venues have to buy up space wherever they can, and they're usually not anywhere near each other.
That means pretty much no parking your car and walking from show to show, which is a must in any city that takes its music scene seriously. (Yes, there are some places you can do this in Houston, but not on par with the cities with the biggest music scenes.) Some venues wind up in inconvenient or hard-to-reach places; did you ever try to get to the new Walters location while construction was going on over there? It was like trying to find your way into a fucking demilitarized zone.
Add to that the fact that, thanks to the no-zoning policy, any kind of resident can move in next door, and suddenly you've got new neighbors who love to call the cops and take advantage of our fine city's ridiculous noise ordinance, an ordinance so ridiculous that nearly all its citations have been thrown out of court. Despite this, it remains a source of contention nobody really wants to deal with. Finally, the lack of reliable, easy nighttime public transit makes Houston a decidedly unfriendly city in which to attempt to sustain a thriving music scene.
People are doing it anyway, of course. But they do it in spite of the city of Houston's unwelcoming policies, not because of them. JOHN SEABORN GRAY
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.