It’s been almost six months since Margin Walker Presents, the Austin-based live-music promotions agency, dipped their toes in the Houston market. With local talent buyer Chris Wise at the helm in the city, the company has no plans to turn back.
“I want to do as many shows as possible,” says Wise, whom Houston music fans might recognize as the bassist for indie-folk veterans Buxton. “We want to grow. That’s definitely a goal.”
So far, Houston is the fourth city that Margin Walker has entered, following Dallas and San Antonio. While the idea of expanding the Bayou City may seem like a lofty objective for an organization that has technically only been around for less than a year, this isn’t their first outing. Margin Walker is the second promotional venture formed by Austin native Graham Williams, who established the new entity in May 2016 after he split from his former creation, Transmission Events, that same month.
Transmission is best known as the company that founded Fun Fun Fun Fest — before selling its stake in the festival to Austin developers Stratus Properties — and booked shows at several Austin venues, most prominently the Mohawk on Red River. When Williams was still in command, they tested the waters in Houston by helping to co-promote shows with Pegstar Productions at Fitzgerald’s before Pegstar moved its base of operations to White Oak Music Hall.
Although Margin Walker’s first attempt at establishing a branch in Houston fizzled out, it was at this point where Williams and Wise crossed paths. Wise, who has been in the Houston music scene in some form or fashion since the turn of the century, met Williams when the Houstonian was a talent buyer at Fitz for a short period. A couple of years would pass before the two would rekindle their collaborative efforts.
Wise became an assistant at Day for Night in 2015, and then helped the festival’s producer, Omar Afra, with the talent-buying portion of the event the following year. Around that time, Margin Walker began floating the idea of coming back to the city.
“It just started to make sense to start booking shows in Houston again because we had some good people, like Omar at Free Press and Chris with Day for Night, to start building things back up,” Williams says.
Eventually, Williams was able to bring Wise on board to be the talent buyer for Margin Walker’s Houston chapter, and the team began where they started: Fitzgerald’s. They booked a few shows there before controversy struck at the legendary venue, and the company decided to pull out from planning gigs there. Wise was forced to move a couple of shows already prepared for Fitz after the fallout. Fortunately for him, he was able to reschedule the events due to his longstanding relationships with other venues due to his lengthy history in the scene.
While Walter’s Downtown has since become a favorite for Margin Walker’s events in recent months, Wise has booked shows all over the city, including The Secret Group, Satellite Bar, Rudyard’s and the recently revived Rockefellers. He says he’d like to continue that trend, because it helps reach a more assorted group of people.
“You want to bring as much stuff to Houston as possible because there are a wide variety of tastes, and booking the same indie band is cool, and those shows are always going to happen, but it’s important to play to the wide diversity of the city by the shows that you’re bringing in,” he says.
And while Wise and Williams say they want Margin Walker to remain as multifaceted as possible when it comes to the bands that they decide to book, they acknowledge that as a brand, they’re only willing to stray so far, which is why it is important to have other production agencies in the city.
Some companies might balk at the idea of establishing a competitive market, but Margin Walker claims to embrace it. Williams said that he would like to see several other promoters break into the market in the hopes that it will inevitably bring in more bands to the area, resulting in a larger attendance at shows.
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“Austin probably has ten times as many [promoters], with a third of the population,” Williams says. “We’ve all been to Free Press and Day for Night, and there’s all these locals out there enjoying music. Kids are hungry for it, but there just aren’t as many options as there are in some of the other cities.”
Which is why Williams believes it will take more than just the emergence of Margin Walker to make Houston a top-notch hub for live music. Growth and diversity are key cogs in the company’s plans for Houston, although they said they would do neither if it means that they are sacrificing the quality of music that they deliver.
“Ultimately, we just want as many cool things to happen in the city as possible,” Wise says. “I think [it’d] be really cool for Houston to be a city where you can just trust that there’s something going on tonight and it’s something really good.”
Margin Walker's list of upcoming Houston shows includes PILE with Gnarwhal and Ruiners Friday, April 21 at Satellite Bar; Mandolin Orange and the Dead Tongues Saturday, April 22 at Rockefeller's; and Quiet Company, The Wheel Workers and Criminal Birds also Saturday at The Secret Group. See marginwalkerpresents.com/hou for a complete list and ticketing information.