Washington Avenue Rocks
The trouble with far too many local music festivals is that they're full of bands that are, in a word, bad. Most promoters think that quantity trumps quality, but that's as erroneous with bands as it is when applied to diamonds. You want carats and facets, not flaws, on both your gemstone and your festival lineup.
Jagi Katial, the promoter behind the recent Ash and Navdeep shows at Stuka, is one of the rare guys who knows this lesson in Promoting 101. Katial's lineup for the June 14 Washington Avenue Music Fest at Pamland Central is pretty doggone good. Katial says he's tired of local festivals with rosters of "40 bands of crap," so the WAMF lineup is studded with names like MenMechanical, Dune*TX, Paris Green, *mytwilightpilot* (see "Pasadena Air Force," by Justin Crane, page 74), Leaf, Flowers to Hide and Strangelight -- in other words, bands that can and do get real-life gigs in real-life clubs, not just slots on half-baked festivals. In fact, many of them command covers of $5 on their own, and for this noon-to-2 a.m. soiree, that fiver will get you a crack at dozens more bands.
"A lot of these bands on the crapfests seem to come out of nowhere, at least to me," Katial says. "I guess maybe some of them have older, beer-drinking crowds, like maybe they play out at Three Cheers or whatever. My idea was to have the bands that I go to see, the ones that I would pay five bucks for, and put 25 of them together and charge the same price."
Katial looked for diversity in assembling his bill, an assortment not just of musical styles but also of gender. To him the crapfests don't give female artists a fair shake, so the WAMF bill is studded with acts like local modern folkie Annie Lin, Austin punks Bad Apples, Corpus Christi pop-punks Protocol 13, bluesy Southern rocker Alexis Moore and '80s revivalists Molly and the Ringwalds, all of which are female-led bands.
Protocol 13 and Bad Apples are joined in the punk posse by the Downtowns and the Janitors and others. Katial says that the punk plenitude is another answer to the crapfests. "I was in the mood to put a bunch of punk bands on there, even though I'm not a real big fan of that style," he says. "After all these crapfests this spring, I wanted to do something completely on the other end, like put five punk bands together."
Other broad categories represented are indie rock and pop, with locals Flowers to Hide, Pale, Strangelight, Casino, Astra Heights, MenMechanical, the April Society and *mytwilightpilot* being joined by the supercool, Strokes-like Angelenos They Walk In Line. Of special note is the MenMechanical gig -- it's gonna be their last one for a while, as singer Brian Taylor soon will be off on another of his Eastern European sojourns. Straight rock and metal are represented by Dune*TX, Paris Green, M87 and Leaf, and electronica will be provided by Generasian Radio's Yogi, DJ Cuba Gooding Jr. and In Love and Asian. Cuba Gooding is described by Katial as "a collision of art, music and fashion," while In Love and Asian combines DJ stylings with live drums. Yogi spins and cuts on U.K. bhangra tracks and "Asian massive," a genre in which ancient Indian music is combined with modern sounds from the West.
Though he was born in Houston, Katial's background is also in India. A Sikh and a computer programmer, Katial got into promoting just before getting laid off at NASA. His first show was the Rock the Red Cross benefit, which featured the Hunger, Unloco, Pale, MenMechanical, Groceries, Modulator and the White Papers at Numbers a month or so after 9/11.
"I sort of bit off more than I could chew, and I enjoyed the taste," he says of his first foray into putting on shows. In addition to promotions, Katial is also managing the indie rock band Modulator.
Katial says one thing that sets him apart from other local promoters is his everyman, non-music-snob ethos. "You look at these guys like Hands Up Houston -- they're total musicheads, full throttle. From the age of 15 that's what they've been doing. When other kids were trading baseball cards, they were swapping CDs and records. I've never been like that. I'm a huge music fan and I know a lot about music, but I'm more of an average joe kind of guy, too. Maybe that's where I fit in. Other promotion companies are either all mainstream or extremely targeted and cliquish. I grew up in the suburbs, I'm kind of a mainstream guy, but I have my feet in both sides, you know?"
In addition to some hilarious haikus and Onion-style fake news, the rock humor Web site rockandrollconfidential.com has an interesting section called "The Hall of Douchebags," wherein the Webmaster posts some of the worst band promo shots in the world and adds often-hilarious captions. So far, about 500 shots have made the cut, including one of MenMechanical. In addition to noting the clichés to avoid when making your promo shot (for the love of God, no more standing in front of brick walls or on train tracks!), the Webmaster calls all unidentified band members "Jeremy," based on the supposition that just about every band out there has at least one guy by that name in the group. (In Racket's experience, Jeremy's usually the bass player.)
Racket has noticed a similar phenomenon locally -- namely (ahem), the multitudes of young musicians named Ryan. Panic in Detroit? Ryan Chavez. The Suspects and Clouseaux? Ryan Gabbart. Secret Agent 8? Ryan Scroggins. Scattered Pages? Ryan Guidry. (With a name like that, you would have thought he'd have grown up to be an ambidextrous fastballer.)
Wait, there's more. Atomic Opera? Ryan Birsinger. F.Co? Ryan Mucha, not Brian, as an alert reader pointed out in the Letters section last week. Stoma? Ryan Guite. Nothing and Fallen Line? Ryan Schwerdtfeger is in both. High school punk trio Sly Like Chunk comprises a Justin and not one but two Ryans -- Byrd and Aguilar.
Blue October and a band called the Nothing (not to be confused with the band called Nothing above -- these kwazy nihilists!) pull off exactas -- each has both a Ryan and a Jeremy. Still, Blue October and the Nothing aside, there are relatively few bands here stocked with Jeremys. Dubtex (singer Masters, who goes by the stage name Jredi Knight), Moses Guest (bass player Horton), the old model of the Tony Vega Band (bass player Pierce) and the defunct Freshmakers (singer-guitarist Hart) are all that come to mind. Reagan-era porn stallion Ron Jeremy once introduced I-45 onstage in L.A., but he did not sit in with the band, and it's his last name anyway, so it doesn't count
So what does this all mean? Does having a baseball-mad father obsessed with ol' Nolie somehow make a musician out of a young Ryan? Or are they named after the lead character on the 1970s soap opera Ryan's Hope? Racket called a Ryan to find out.
Turns out Ryan Gabbart of Clouseaux was named after neither the pitcher nor the daytime drama. "My mom named me after Ryan O'Neal. She thought he was a sexy guy."
What is it about being named Ryan, Racket asked. Is there something inherent in Ryan-ness that makes one a musician?
Could be, Gabbart allows. "There are no good famous musicians named Ryan," he says. "When I was a kid I wanted to be the first one."
Racket thought he had caught Gabbart out. Thinking he was about to crush Gabbart's dreams, he tossed the famous name Ryan Adams out there.
"I said good musicians," Gabbart replied.
Clouseaux is just one of the local bands with videos airing on a new Houston Media Source show called the Houston Music Hour, which debuted on June 8. Three Fantastic, the Kimonos, Magnetic IV, the Ka-Nives, Washington Westcott, Secret Agent 8, C'mon C'mon, the Medicine Show and the Trade were also in the mix on the premier. The show is produced by Kenny Haner In other Houston Media Source news, The Nerve Agency is firing up a one-hour live phone-in show called 2 Be Announced Television that will also feature lots of music videos. The show hopes to be something like Packrat with more videos. Nerve's Thomas Kurzy says not having a video shouldn't stop bands from trying to get on the show -- he'll make you one for free. In the past, Kurzy has produced videos for Bozo Porno Circus, Blue October, Dune*TX, Juicebox, Walking Timebombs, Star FX, Dethkultur BBQ and Liviya Compean. For more info, go to www.nerveagency.com.
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