A few weeks back, the Houston Press interviewed Galveston Island music promoter Julian Zamora about his efforts to encourage original artists in the Island's local scene. From there, it was a short leap to thinking about how other musicians on the Island fare in a city that caters to cover bands and tourists.
Not surprisingly, we found plenty of talented locals and a network of people who care deeply about music, especially original work. And, while there are indeed incredible musicians building a thriving scene, they still need the support of the locals. These DIY entrepreneurs are no hacks. The tremendous amount of effort they put forth in promoting musicians would rival any scene in Texas.
If you’re familiar with the Island’s colorful musical history, you already know that Galveston was a hub for serious touring artists for decades. But today, outside of the annual Lone Star Rally and the 1894 Opera House, not so much.
Years ago, the infamous Balinese Room (before its destruction in 2008 during Hurricane Ike) hosted such names as Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and George Burns, among dozens of others. Even ZZ Top immortalized the illegal gambling room in their song “Balinese.” And who can forget Glen Campbell’s “Galveston”? With such a rich history, why is it so hard for musicians in Galveston to get the attention they deserve?
Tourism dollars are king on the island and understandably, tourists and locals can sometimes be an awkward mix. Nevertheless, the musicians we spoke to aren’t necessarily interested in tourists; they are interested in engaging locals. And, with as many creative-types as there are on the Island, that may not be hard to do.
Anyone who’s slightly familiar with the Island can call to mind many of the music names that call G-Town home. Artists like El Lago, To Whom It May, EVAK1, Gnar World Order, Kalico, Blast DAD, Mother Harvey, and Come See My Dead Person all claim the Island as their own. That’s no shortage of serious artists trying to make a name for themselves.
With so much talent to offer, it’s hard to imagine that available stages are hard to come by, but that’s the reality that many musical acts face in Galveston. Yet, that hasn’t stopped people like Lauren Eddy who is not only the front woman of El Lago, but the mastermind behind Galveston’s only music-oriented publication, Wake the Zine, which Eddy founded and co-edits with Jorja Zywczuk.
Eddy is no pushover, either. A fiery upstart who neither shies from hard work nor taking “no” for an answer, when she saw the need for a local Galveston art paper, she made one. “It’s hard to get press here.” Eddy tells us, “So, I was frustrated and started my own zine.” With a team of volunteer staff, Eddy publishes the zine monthly, highlighting musicians, interviewing artists and other creatives who contribute to the unique scene of Galveston.
“Wake started as a self-funded solo effort to create a publication that brought visibility to the scene…All of these great shows were happening in a scene that I loved, and it just wasn’t being noticed by local press. Half the time, shows were very word-of-mouth and you had to be plugged-in to certain circles to even know they were happening.
“I also think it helps give us more of an identity as a community,” she continues. “Seeing fellow Islanders being interviewed — and actually learning things you didn’t know about them — is really fun. It gets all of us more excited about what we do, I think.”
Eddy says there’s an untapped plethora of artists, musicians, writers, publishers and promoters all working toward strengthening the scene and building the kind of creative space that artists of all fields gravitate toward. That goal seems to be the reality in which Galveston finds itself. But it’s not without a community of creatives doing extremely hard work.
Pete Hesher, another Island musician, agrees with Eddy. When asked about the hardest thing to overcome in Galveston to build a scene, he says, “I think the greatest obstacle so far has been not having a stable venue and [the lack of] press coverage. The newspaper [here] doesn’t care, and the local publications are all just big restaurant and hotel brochures. Wake the Zine is the only publication promoting any shows.”
Hesher is a longtime resident of Galveston and, like Eddy, has been building and creating a scene both hope will convince like-minded musicians to consider the Island when touring or otherwise looking for a place to play. He’s the front man of Gnar World Order and founder of the promotion and booking company Grease Trap Syndicate. Because most of the musicians and artists in Galveston also work in the tourism industry (usually food service), Hesher wanted to honor them; hence the name Grease Trap.
Press coverage may be important, but both Eddy and Hesher acknowledge the scene would be difficult to cover without stable venues, long an issue on the tiny barrier island. “It’s been a struggle getting to where we are today,” Hesher explains. “Dealing with bars that pander towards tourists, bikers and parrotheads, we have always had a hard time booking independent music.”
Every time we find the perfect venue where we can book all genres, it’s always temporary,” he continues. “As was the case with Nu Gruves, Vanishing Point, Paradise Bar and S.I.N. Lounge. We have no business trying to bring our art to the more corporate bars like Yaga’s, because half of our bookings would be declined and they are used to cover bands.”
“Lots of venues close here,” agrees Eddy.
While that may be true, Eddy and the collective of artists do what they can to keep the scene rich and productive. For these promoters, it’s not just about viability — anyone can host a show — it’s about quality. Eddy admits the decisions she makes when booking acts can be tough.
“Sometimes I have to make personal decisions and just choose what’s best for the show,” she affirms.
Already, there have been many shows. According to Eddy, perhaps the greatest factors contributing to strengthening Galveston’s scene have been the National Hotel Artist Lofts and the Proletariat, a venue on the building's ground floor that has hosted many touring acts and locals. Both Eddy and Hesher acknowledge that determination is not enough, but Eddy says the lofts have already had an impact on Galveston’s artist community
“This is truly a community effort,” she says. “Dexas Villarreal, the drummer in To Whom It May, volunteers his equipment and runs sound; Michael Stuart Allison of Live Visuals also runs sound and does incredible visuals for bands; Brandon BC films events and makes high-quality videos; Becky Major hosts bands in her own loft and is an amazing visionary and coordinator. She basically built this community from the ground up.”
“With the growth in Galveston’s tourism and being a college town amidst a changing political climate, I feel like there will be a lot more people thirsty for music along with those willing to invest in it,” offers Hesher. “Shows here will only get bigger and better as the dinosaurs will die.”
Lauren Eddy remains hopeful, too. She continues to add more vision and planning events to strengthen what’s already there, such as LoftWalk in January 2017. Hosted at the NHAL, LoftWalk opens the building for tours by a limited number of guests, who can meet the residents, listen to live music, and see where the artists live and work.
After the LoftWalk, Eddy adds, “We are planning more events in 2017 that will build our community.”
El Lago performs at Houston’s Barbarella (2404 San Jacinto) on Wednesday, September 7 with special guests The Lories, Guess Genes and Andrew Lee. Tickets are $2 until 10 p.m.; $5 afterward. The band also performs Saturday, September 10 at the Continental Club (3700 Main) with special guests Young Girls and Raceway. Gnar World Order performs at Galveston’s Drunken Monkeyz (202 20th St.) on Saturday, November 12.
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