Things I Learned From the 'Houston Music Is Awesome' Response

Does it look like Houston has a music community problem?
Does it look like Houston has a music community problem?
Jesse Sendejas Jr.

I’ve never been a fan of the follow-up article. As a reader, it feels like someone’s returned to the barn to once again saddle a very tired horse or, worse yet, to beat the poor thing after it’s already keeled over from exhaustion. As a writer, it’s a bit uncomfortable to know you’re the one kicking the beast to see if it still has any life in it.

But, last week I wrote a think-piece and, because it made some people think and react, I’ve been asked to examine what I may have learned from the responses. Because many were passionate, on-point, print-worthy ruminations, I’m willing to don the jodhpurs, even at the risk of knowing how ridiculous I may look.

Before we get to what you had to say, here’s a little background on what the story was and also what it was not. It was titled “Maybe It’s Time To Cool It On All The ‘Houston’s Music Scene Is Awesome’ Talk.” I agree, that is a sensationalist title. It’s going to stoke a fire in the eyes of some before those eyes even set upon the first sentence. There’s no real defense of that except I wanted you to read the bit. And I’m encouraged that so many did and so many responded – even those who invited me to “eat a dick,” which is an odd culinary recommendation but an effective, albeit juvenile, expression of displeasure.

Houston crowds are fun. Bigger crowds would mean more fun.
Houston crowds are fun. Bigger crowds would mean more fun.
Jesse Sendejas Jr.

The piece wasn’t much more than a few simple questions - namely, if Houston’s music scene is awesome, then why is it necessary to keep saying so? If there is still work to be done, what’s the harm in admitting that? And, if we are seeing it through myopic lenses, won’t that hurt rather than help in the long run? It also was, in part, a call for people who aren’t musicians, music writers, venue owners and the like to take a more active role by going to shows and knowing more bands. This is integral to a thriving music scene, in my estimation. I’m tired of seeing too few audience members at too many shows.

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Here are some things the article was not: an attack on Houston musicians’ creativity; an attack on Houston as a city; an overt or subtle suggestion that Houston music people do not work hard enough at what they do. I literally wrote in the next-to-last paragraph, “I love my city. Born and raised here. I’ve come to know many of its music people. These artists and behind-the-scenes players are talented, hard-working and good people. I want them to succeed.”

If anything, I was too broad with those generalizations, I learned. Some who responded reminded me that there are music people here who expect windfalls without the grind. I was told some Houston music people actually deserve reproach for their unseemly personal or business-related behaviors. Of course there are people like that in the microcosms of a city of millions. You’d be naïve not to think so. More on that in a minute.

Another thing the article was not was condescending. Condescension would be me asking whether some reader is going to pen an angry diatribe about what a sadistic animal abuser I must be since I used the “beating a dead horse” metaphor in the intro. It would be condescending for me to ponder how certain readers scored on those reading-for-comprehension tests they gave back in grade school.

Nor was it cynical, as at least one reader posited. I’ve followed and supported live music in Houston since I was standing in all-night lines at the Astrodome box office just hoping to score a concert ticket (no wristbands or ticket lotteries back then, kids. You either got in line or you didn’t go to the show). I learned about Houston music by reading (and, yes, sometimes disagreeing with) writers like Bob Claypool and Marty Racine and Claudia Perry. This is a music scene I’ve followed full-circle, from attending Dishes and Judy’s shows as a kid to watching both my adult kids perform in Houston music venues with their own bands. It offends me that anyone can call you a cynic these days when they have no idea where your heart is and don’t take the time to find out. 

Now, with that out of the way, here are some of the most pointed and poignant responses you shared, and what I’ve learned from them:

One way to make Houston's music scene more awesome - treat its female artists with dignity and respect
One way to make Houston's music scene more awesome - treat its female artists with dignity and respect
Jesse Sendejas Jr.

SOME HOUSTON FEMALE ARTISTS FACE HARASSMENT AND DISCRIMINATION IN THE LOCAL SCENE

“What we do need to talk about though, is the way our women artists are feeling about harassment in the scene. Someone needs to give them a platform to express themselves, and the men need to sit down and listen,” wrote one reader. That post was followed by this one within the same thread:

"This was my thought exactly. There were two separate articles taking digs at my band, but 0 articles acknowledging the dozens of women that were harassed by that joke of a venue owner/talent buyer. Even after they came out in a very public way."

Houston Press writer Kristy Loye and I teamed to celebrate women in Houston music earlier this year and the women we interviewed spoke very openly about these unjust matters. Take a minute to check out the platform we gave them back then and ask yourself if a scene can truly be "awesome" if these issues still plague it.

PEOPLE WHO COVER MUSIC NEED TO DO MORE IF WE’RE GOING TO ASK AUDIENCES TO DO MORE

I’m in no hurry to get lambasted again by the reader who told me to “leave David Garrick out of this,” even though I was championing the Free Press Houston writer’s work and commitment to live music here. I actually know him a little and respect him a lot. Same goes for people like the Press’s Nathan Smith or Space City Rock’s Jeremy Hart. They all walk the walk. And readers, like the following one, are right to expect more of the rest of us do the same:

“I think one problem is that a lot of great artists don't get recognized by HP, FP, Chron, and other press around town because the writers only go to their friends' shows... which lead to the same bands always getting press. This paints only one picture of what Houston has. I've been blown away by random artists before at different places (even Fitz openers on an off night with 10 people hanging out) doing some really cool stuff. The press writers could try a little harder to pick random nights to hit around town and do write-ups on artists you haven't heard before.”

100 sold-out shows at home would negatively impact the junk tour van industry
100 sold-out shows at home would negatively impact the junk tour van industry
Jesse Sendejas Jr.

MAYBE EVERY BAND DOESN’T NEED A BIGGER AUDIENCE

“I do this because I love it, bottom line,” wrote one musician. “I understand that people want to do this for a living but I get to do this when I want, not when I'm told to or because I have to pay a bill.” That comment was a reminder that any artist is allowed to do art on their own terms. As someone who actually invests time in what is (arguably) an artistic endeavor, I’ve always felt creatives desire the largest audience possible; but maybe I’ve been wrong-headed in those assumptions. Some just need to express themselves. There’s room in the music scene for those artists and they too deserve recognition.

“It's pretty sad that local bands like the Suffers need to tour the rest of the country to earn a living instead of have (sic) 100 shows back-to-back in Houston and really be appreciated for the talent they've been able to display right here in their home turf,” wrote another reader.

What do you think, bands? Would you trade a chance at national or global notoriety to be Houston’s most successful within-the-city-limits act? Initially I scoffed at this idea, but ultimately it made me see that I might need to stop projecting my own idealized hopes for Houston bands onto them and respect the expectations they’ve set for themselves, however modest or lofty they might seem.

LIKE ANY PLACE, SOME PEOPLE IN HOUSTON MUSIC CIRCLES WORK HARDER THAN OTHERS

“Houston "artists" hate being told they actually have to put work and effort in before they get accolades. Not that there aren't some great artists here. It's just that the way it works in this town tends to reward the biggest talkers rather than the hardest workers.”

Look, I didn’t say it I’m just reporting it. But I respect the person who did write it. That took guts, particularly because it came from a Houston music insider with many connections. It's easy to write the things we all want to hear, like how musicians deserve to be paid for their gigs and such. It's a lot harder to utter the more difficult observations about something we want to admire.

Eat a dick, Jesse - Houston is wild for live music
Eat a dick, Jesse - Houston is wild for live music
Jesse Sendejas Jr.

IF WE WANT TO SAY WE’RE AWESOME, WE SHOULD BE ABLE TO, AS MUCH AND AS OFTEN AS NECESSARY

Maybe watching a dangerous narcissist climb to the peaks of political power by proclaiming his own greatness day after day has turned me off to anyone carrying on about their alleged strengths. If so, that’s on me. As these readers noted, there are good reasons to say the Houston music community is good:

…we don't have that recognition, so we keep up our spirits in the meantime with constantly reminding each other that we are great. The recognition will come as long as we keep going.”

"I don't see anyone trying to get too ahead of themselves here. When I talk to folks about the great things happening here, all praise goes to the fact that Houston is on the come-up and how we're all lucky to see such a creative movement going on here. It's not that we've become a huge destination, or that we have a better scene that (sic) Austin or anywhere else. Most of what I hear is appreciation that Houston is currently a breeding ground for new bands, new venues, new comedy and on any given day, there's probably something going down."

“The Houston music scene does feel, for lack of a better word, friendlier than it used to be. Because of that I, and I'm sure others, feel more motivated to participate...and by doing so add to the foundation. Perhaps that cycle is the catalyst for bigger things. "Always take care of home, because home is where charity starts."


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