The 2017 Houston Music Forecast

ZZ Top
ZZ Top
Jim Bricker

It’s no secret that 2016 was a rough year for music. Although Houston’s scene was spared any of the truly cataclysmic events or catastrophic losses that were visited elsewhere, the weather-related evacuations of both Free Press Summer Fest and Houston Open Air, new venue White Oak Music Hall’s difficulties with its neighbors, and the deaths of locally revered musicians like Tejano superstar Emilio made it a challenging year for a community already confronted with plenty of challenges under the best of circumstances.

Fortunately, the new year arrives with a number of reasons to be optimistic about the coming 12 months. Some of these threads have carried over from 2016, or even further back, while others may break fresh ground in one manner of speaking or another. Either way, all eight sections in the piece that follows could have easily been expanded at much greater length. Here, they serve as a thumbnail guide to what already looks like a very promising, challenging and — we hope — entertaining year for Houston music. — Chris Gray

Gary Clark Jr.
Gary Clark Jr.
Jim Bricker

Touchdown
Super Bowl week brings a wealth of musical options to Houston.

To call the Super Bowl simply a football game is akin to calling any of these new Star Wars flicks simply films. The big game will no doubt draw plenty of eyes worldwide when Lady Gaga headlines this year’s halftime show. But the entertainment during the week leading up to the event will draw plenty of interest of its own in and around Houston.

For those in the mood for Super Bowl fun on a budget, Super Bowl LIVE — taking place January 28-February 5 at Discovery Green — is a good bet. The park got a trial run of sorts last April when it played host to Final Four musical festivities, but nothing compares to this year’s nine-day lineup of free music. The night before Super Bowl Sunday, local legends ZZ Top will headline along with Gary Clark Jr. and local favorites The Suffers. On tap Friday are Leon Bridges, Shakey Graves and Robert Ellis; Thursday is set to be headlined by Houston’s own Solange, plus Grammy-winning HSPVA grad Robert Glasper and Lizzo. Acts from the area also playing Super Bowl LIVE include The Tontons, Wild Moccasins, Los Skarnales, Nick Gaitan, Fat Tony and Buxton. Downtown parking is going to be interesting all week, so it might be best to employ local transit or Uber — or simply be prepared to pay to park.

Others seeking Super Bowl festivities but looking to escape the congestion downtown would be wise to check out the Players Party at Sam Houston Race Park. The event will feature country music aplenty from the likes of Hunter Hayes, Tracy Byrd, Montgomery Gentry, Jamie Lynn Spears and many more. Meanwhile, those who purchase a ticket will have a chance to meet a number of gridiron legends, including Warren Moon, Drew Brees, Odell Beckham Jr. and Herschel Walker, or take part in a number of interactive events, including a midway and carnival area, a celebrity lip-sync contest and an Xbox Madden tournament. The event culminates in a Sunday viewing party for the big game. One-day tickets are $24 for children ages 5-12 and $30 for those 13 and over; four-day passes are $59 for kids and $79 for adults.

Want to check out the two hottest tickets of the weekend at Club Nomadic? Good luck. A sort of pop-up nightclub, the 62,500-square-foot venue located in the Sawyer Yards district will host Bruno Mars on February 3 and Taylor Swift on February 4 (the February 2 performer is TBD). Tickets for Bruno Mars are sold out, but currently available on resale sites starting around $200. The Taylor Swift show, meanwhile, will be available only to those who are selected via AT&T promotions and campaigns. Both shows are 21 and up. — Clint Hale

White Oak Music Hall
White Oak Music Hall
Marco Torres

Sound and Fury
The fight over White Oak Music Hall shows no signs of letting up.

The biggest sticking point nearby residents have with White Oak Music Hall has been its 3,000-capacity outdoor stage, known as the Lawn at White Oak. Essentially serving as the brand-new venue’s backyard, the lawn was the site of the music hall’s opening festivities — an outdoor performance by French electronica act M83 on April 9. The show was a hot ticket, drawing thousands of fans, but it only confirmed some neighbors’ worst fears. Some complained of window-rattling bass, sleepless nights and public urination in their yards. As more performances were booked, opposition to the venue grew more organized.

Many near-northside residents phoned in noise complaints to the police and took their pleas straight to City Hall, desperately prodding council members and Mayor Sylvester Turner to do something. No shows were shut down, but the opposition did find some success in harrying the venue’s efforts to build a permanent stage on the lawn. In October, at neighbors’ urging, Turner told the White Oak developers they would not receive a new temporary permit for the outdoor stage. They obtained a permanent permit in October, but not before being red-tagged by the Public Works department after inspectors were tipped off that crews had begun construction on the stage before the permit was in hand.

Then, in mid-December, a group of neighbors filed a lawsuit against the music hall’s owners, W2 Development Partners, arguing that the noise from concerts and large crowds interferes with their property rights. Though the stage had already gone silent for the winter, a judge nevertheless temporarily banned the venue from hosting any outdoor events with amplified sound. That restraining order lasted two weeks before it expired.

In 2017, there is no doubt that White Oak Music Hall intends to hold concerts on the lawn; managing partner Johnny So confirmed as much when the Houston Press reached him for comment last week. He and the other partners have repeatedly insisted they’ve worked with the city to ensure everything is done by the book, and that residents’ concerns have been taken into consideration in their plans for the future — despite the lawsuit.

“The outdoor stage at White Oak Music Hall is fully permitted and meets all City of Houston requirements to begin construction,” So said in an email. “Current legal proceedings do not prohibit construction of the stage, which is currently scheduled for the spring/summer of 2017.”  

The residents opposed to the outdoor stage have shown no inclination to concede the fight either. Attorney Cris Feldman, who represents some of the residents, called on the mayor to yank the venue’s outdoor stage permits in December.

“It is time for the Mayor to choose,” Feldman says in a press release on his firm’s website. “Will he stand with the children who just want a good night’s sleep, or with the greedy developers who put an outdoor concert hall in the middle of established working class neighborhoods?”

What Turner will do in 2017 remains to be seen. For now, the sound and fury along Little White Oak Bayou appear poised to continue flowing uninhibited for quite some time. While some music fans may feel conflicted about the neighborhood’s pleas, the acts booked on the lawn have been too good for fans to stay away. At least the venue’s two indoor stages aren’t facing neighbors’ wrath — yet. — Nathan Smith

Upcoming Events

Show Business
Concert dates at the city’s biggest rooms are filling up fast.

Houston’s larger venues had another big year in 2016, and 2017 should be more of the same — except, of course, that it will include the addition of the Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land, which will provide our suburban neighbors some bragging rights and alleviate their driving woes a bit.

Up until this point, you may not have spent much time there, but a number of Houstonians are about to become intimately familiar with Sugar Land. This weekend, the Smart Financial Centre will celebrate its grand opening with two sets by comedy great Jerry Seinfeld. Musically, the venue kicks off its 2017 lineup the next night with Eagles co-founder Don Henley; Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, then Reba, and finally Sting are all on tap in weeks to come. The Lumineers, Tony Bennett and the Avett Brothers are scheduled to perform in March.

Between AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Justin Bieber, Mary J. Blige, Drake, Madonna, Puff Daddy, Sia, Tool and Kanye West, Toyota Center boasted quite the lineup last year. If basketball is your thing, there’s even more incentive to visit since the Rockets have been playing well as of late. The Red Hot Chili Peppers just played, and Green Day, Ariana Grande, The Weeknd and Lionel Richie are just a few of the acts scheduled to visit the indoor arena in the first half of 2017.

Meanwhile, just 30 miles north of downtown, last year the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion welcomed its own impressive lineup ranging from Slipknot and Marilyn Manson to Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa; Florence + The Machine and Twenty One Pilots to The Dixie Chicks and Hank Williams Jr. Historically high temperatures be damned, the Pavilion delighted throngs of Houston fans all year long.

As of press time, the Pavilion’s 2017 calendar was surprisingly bare save for two notable exceptions: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in late April, and the Chicago/Doobie Brothers ’70s extravaganza in May. Judging from past years, however, local music fans should expect plenty of reasons to endure drive-time gridlock in the months to come.

And who can forget NRG Stadium? After all, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is barely two months away. — Matthew Keever

Texas Renaissance Festival, future home of Middlelands
Texas Renaissance Festival, future home of Middlelands
Jack Gorman

Back in Time
Texas could be looking at a new major player in the music-festival game.

A new festival called Middlelands is coming to the Texas Renaissance Festival grounds this May, and dance-music fans around the state are watching with heightened interest. Judging from the promotional materials to date, this looks to be the festival many dreamed about when rumors of an EDC: Texas started to swirl back in 2013.

Middlelands is a collaboration between Insomniac Events, the promoters behind Electric Daisy Carnival and Nocturnal Wonderland, and C3 Presents, the company responsible for Austin City Limits Music Festival, Lollapalooza and Houston’s Free Press Summer Festival. The Middelands website promises five appropriately named stages, including Castle Northwoods and The Wench’s Bay, plus rides, art, camping and more, including a slate of still-unannounced musical acts. If Middlelands lives up to half the ambition currently on display, Texas is looking at another major player in the festival game.

While Texas already has its fair share of EDM festivals — including but not limited to Sun City Music Festival (El Paso), Ultimate Music Experience (South Padre Island), Lights All Night (Dallas) and Something Wicked (Houston) — it’s hard not to feel a little jealous when you see the photos coming out of other music festivals, like EDC: Vegas and Miami’s Ultra Music Festival. These look more like epic events, full of bright lights, massive production and huge layouts. So the most intriguing question about Middlelands doesn’t involve the music side of things at all.

Instead, it concerns the location of the festival itself. If you traveled back in time to RenFest this year, you know getting out to the site in Todd Mission isn’t exactly easy. Insomniac and C3 are going to have to deal with some major logistical issues, because as of now it sounds as if Middlelands is going to be at least as large as what normally goes on at RenFest, if not larger. Beyond that is trying to imagine what the layout will be. The walkways of RenFest feel crowded as it is, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of upgrades get put into place over the next few months.

For years now, it has seemed weird that no one has tried building a bigger EDM festival in Texas. It’s easy to see why C3 might have balked at expansion, seeing how large a part EDM plays in the ACL and FPSF lineups these days, but for everyone else, Texas must have looked like a fertile marketplace. Multiple cities easily connected to each other, many already proving they could host a dance festival? What’s not to love, other than the ever-fickle Texas weather? Maybe the risks were just considered too great until someone the size of Insomniac came on board.

Tickets to Middlelands are now on sale, because if there’s one thing that all EDM festivals learn pretty early on, it’s that if you promise an experience — or, in the case of Middlelands, an adventure — EDM fans will buy tickets with no idea who’s on the lineup. Give them a dance floor, a racetrack, a convention center or a renaissance festival, and they’ll show up, happy to dance the night away. If the weather plays nice and the traffic isn’t too terrible, they’ll be dancing at Middlelands for years to come. — Cory Garcia



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