Music Not a Real Big Selling Point for Houston Right Now
Nice to know someone appreciates what Houston has to offer musically.
Look, we all know Houston has a lot going on, and a lot to be proud of. As one of America's biggest and busiest cities, it offers an almost infinite array of diversions and amusements to go along with world-class shopping, restaurants, universities and medical care.
But some of us also believe that Houston is one of the best music towns around, and has been for a long time. Seems like we've been beating that particular drum forever. (Yes, it is our job.)
Lots of other people know it too, from the Europeans who line up to see to some of our venerable blues and R&B musicians on tour to the indie-rockers shocked at the packed houses and enthusiastic crowds that greet them here and the city of Austin, which sometimes seems like it is entirely populated with former Houston musicians.
So Rocks Off was a little dismayed (and a little shocked too) when this week we started poking around the city's official visitors site to see what kind of musical assets Houston was touting to the world in its quest for those prized tourist dollars. There wasn't much.
Right up front, the site, www.visithoustontexas.com, is (almost) first-class all the way. It would take a smarter computer person than us to identify the specific software used by the Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau, which maintains the site, but they have to be happy with the results. The site is easy to load, graphically rich and aesthetically pleasing, packed with information, and even fun to explore.
It's just really difficult to find anything about music on there, even more troubling considering many of the people in the GHCVB's current "My Houston" ad campaign are musicians like Beyonce, ZZ Top and Lyle Lovett. (Two out of those three still live here, we might add.) If you click on each one's ads you'll see a quick interview about Houston, and in ZZ Top and Lovett's cases their TV spot.
Across the top of the homepage are several tabs divided into "Travel Tools and Info," "Things to Do," "Coupons & Discounts," "Hotels," "Restaurants," "Shopping," and "Nightlife." Cactus Music and sometime music venue the Orange Show (primarily a visual art space) get singled out in the "Insiders Guide" under "Things to Do," but let's go straight to "Nightlife," shall we?
Here you will find four "Insider's Guide"-style tip-sheet essays, two of them potentially music-heavy: "Signature Sips," (choice cocktails), "Mix Masters" (more drinking), "Happenin' Hoods" (more like it) and "Houston After Hours" (surely there must be something here).
Sadly, no.The "Happenin Hoods'" piece glosses over if not omits entirely the principal music venues in the highlighted neighborhoods of Downtown/Midtown, Montrose, River Oaks/West U and Washington Avenue. House of Blues rates a mention in Downtown/Midtown, but not Warehouse Live, Walters or the Continental Club.
A couple of dance clubs squeak into Washington Avenue, but Rudyard's and Mango's (Montrose), Fitzgerald's (Washington... sort of) or the Armadillo Palace (West U.) are nowhere in sight. Where's Numbers? Blanco's? The new MKT Bar?
As for "Houston After Hours," well, this is one hungry city. Under "Entertainment," you can choose between the River Oaks Theatre and two bowling alleys.
The news is a little brighter navigating the site's labyrinthine events database, which at least has an an option to search for "live music." It turns up 25 results. We know there are more than that, which you can see on our own Houston Concert Calendar (try "select venue" under the "Find Any Show" box).
Rocks Off took our concerns to the HCVB, and talked to A.J. Mistretta, who works on the Web site and helps maintain that database. To his eternal credit, he admitted as much instead of giving us a "no comment" or hanging up on us entirely.
Both Townes Van Zandt and the Old Quarter would be a lock in any musical Houston history campaign... there just isn't one right now.
First, Mistretta explains the site's music listings are not intended to be comprehensive, but does admit that only 25 does seem a little on the low side.
"It is a lacking area," he says. "As you well know coming from the Press, live music is everywhere all the time and getting all of that in one concentrated place can be a pain. But that is something we recognize as a lacking area for sure."
No one understands more than we do that live music will never be an obsession with Houstonians the way, say, food is. We've made our peace with that. But there's still just too much going on around here to be swept under the rug. However, we're not the only ones who have noticed the site's lack of musical activity is a little conspicuous.
"We absolutely have," Mistretta says. "I actually have it on our editorial calendar. It's just one of those things that keeps getting pushed back, for no reason other than time constraints being what they are. But I'd love feedback."
First of all, we suggested another "Things to Do" guide for music venues, Dosey Doe to Dan Electro's to The Big Easy to The Engine Room. We'd also like to see another "Itinerary Idea" under the "Quick Links" banner that takes people around some important places in Houston's musical past, from the old sites of Liberty Hall and The Old Quarter downtown to SugarHill Studios and the old Duke/Peacock building.
"It is something we need to rectify, and I'm glad you're bringing attention to it," Mistretta says. "What we find is a lot of what we spend a lot of time on is based on what people seem to be searching for.
"We don't see a lot of that, but that's not to say it doesn't exist," he adds. "What we get a lot of is people searching for restaurants, nightlife more broadly, a lot of event searching, things to do with the family, free things."
"I would venture to say that actually people looking for music go to you guys," he says. "But we need to be as informative as possible."
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