Last month, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation story by Toronto musician Mar Sellars noted that smaller music venues in many of that country’s major cities are struggling, and suggested the culprit could be weeknight stage times as late as 11:30 p.m. and even 12:30 a.m. Although that wasn’t the only factor, Sellars said she had recently offered up an extra ticket to a hot show as an experiment, and received exactly zero takers. (“I even asked a 25-year-old friend,” she said, sighing.) Citing Japan, Europe and the UK, where bands go on quite a bit earlier, Sellars urged Canadian clubowners to come to their senses. “No one should have to be exhausted to enjoy live music,” she said.
In Houston, where many major venues often start their shows at 8 or even earlier, the question of starting them earlier butts up against the reality of how much earlier they could possibly go. Not all of them do, though; places that put multiple bands on a bill routinely push the headliners toward the midnight hour. In a city as spread-out and crack-of-dawn industrious as this one, we thought it would be fun to ask whether it would be worth it for the places who do offer live music in the wee hours — but not dance clubs, where last call is seen as little more than a challenge — to consider rolling back their showtimes a bit.
Years ago, I pulled up to a venue somewhere in Louisiana to play a show. Let’s say it was a Tuesday night, for in Louisiana as in Houston, it’s always a Tuesday night. The promoter was friendly, more or less, but he couldn’t help but remind us that we were at the mercy of a door deal, and if the place was still empty at 10 o’clock, we were in for a world of hurt. And, sure enough, 10 came and went, the first band hadn’t started, no one ever showed up, no money changed hands, and ultimately we drove off into the warm, gaping silence of the early morning a little worse off than before.
Late shows are a drag. Few of us want to hang out until the end of the night in the same bars watching the same bands pull the same old stunts: the openers delaying as they wait for their drummer to get off work, the headliners seeming to wait until all but the most die-hard music aficionados have packed it in for the night. Nor does bar talk gain a patina of wit or worldliness as time goes by; it gets more maudlin and its breath worsens.
I’ve been guilty of all these things; I’ve spent a lifetime in bars. At first look, earlier shows might seem like the way to go. You head out early, catch a band or two, then either go home to read a book or go out for a late dinner or dancing or seek out some other variety of trouble. And maybe there’s a way to do it right. But for some reason, most early shows are straight-up corny, with hokey bands pantomiming their cornball numbers for awkward bunches of people who are too sober yet to know how to act right.
I would never say that nothing good happens before dark, because most days I do a lot of freaky dancing before breakfast. But happy-hour sets are for reality-TV aspirants and Jimmy Buffett cover bands. Nor is that latter note meant as a jab – yours truly keeps “Kokomo” and “Touch of Grey” in regular rotation with my Eggos. But even good bands seem silly in the daylight.
It’d be nice to see set times scooch a little closer to dusk, so long as we don’t lose sight of the main thing. Shows are a place to shapeshift. They shouldn’t be handled as if they're another arena for the multiplication of banalities. There’s no way to do it right or wrong in Houston. Houston isn’t a natural place. In its relationship to almost everything, Houston is like a bird that waddles into another bird’s nest and ends up incubating its eggs, clumsily. And believe you me, I’m still talking about music and showtimes.
Some people are going to do like their forefathers done. Some people are going to try to run it like a scam. Some are going to use the vagueness of music and the general feel-goodery that attends it to found just another guilt- and shame-based church. Whereas others are just going to be young and possibly attractive, with an excess of energy, and for a time the world will be theirs, and the rest of us owe it to them to keep our stinking mouths shut in the meantime. TEX KERSCHEN
When I first graduated from college, I landed a job where I worked from about 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. My schedule was conducive to late-night shenanigans, so I frequently attended concerts. Even driving up to The Woodlands on a Tuesday or Wednesday seemed reasonable back then. These days, I work from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., so I try to be in bed by 11 o'clock on school nights. Midnight is pushing it, and anything later makes for an excruciatingly long following day. Unfortunately, I just can't bounce back like I used to...Curse you, Father Time!
Living in downtown, I'm still game for weeknight shows at Revention, House of Blues, Warehouse Live, The Nightingale, MKT Bar or Fitzgerald's. But even then, some shows last so long that I have to leave before the concert ends, which is never fun. An exception is always made during Rodeo season, though, in part because set times are early-ish and because I have quick access to the light rail. The 30-minute commute home from NRG Stadium usually provides enough time to write an article on my phone too, so I'm able to fall asleep at a decent hour once I get home.
In my opinion, a combination of late set times and lack of public transit has made weeknight concerts a difficult task for music-loving Houstonians. Lord knows I'd attend more if I could, but there's only so much time in the day, and I need to spend some of it sleeping. MATTHEW KEEVER
Weeknight gigs with earlier set times seem like a fantastic idea. Considering we are a commuting town, this makes perfect sense. Even if you live inside the Loop, you’re still a commuter when you consider the city sprawl, especially if a venue is as far away as Scout Bar in Clear Lake. The only issue with early weeknight set times in Houston is, naturally, rush-hour traffic. Last year, when Numbers hosted Napalm Death, Melvins and Melt-Banana for a “doors at 5:30” show, not only did I have to navigate horrendous traffic in order to be punctual, I missed dinner too. Numbers didn’t have a food truck and when I actually did arrive on time, no one else was there (yet). I suppose the real question is, will your average Houstonian be willing to fight traffic to get to a show on time? That remains to be seen. On the other hand, when the Pixies ended their set at White Oak Music Hall promptly at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night, I made it home and was in bed before midnight after a considerable commute past 610. For once, I was able to go to work mostly well-rested. Are they a good idea? Absolutely. Will they work? Does anything go according to plan in Houston? Ha! KRISTY LOYE
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
I don’t see a problem with certain venues starting shows earlier; some already do, notably Nightingale Room and 8th Wonder, and they’re doing it well. But I’m personally against a wholesale change. The logistics involved in a massive movement like this is too much to undertake to accommodate a group we can’t be sure will even respond to the change. That group is "people who can’t make weeknight shows now because they have to be at work in the morning." Let’s assume many of those people are also the same people who are going to play these early shows. What time will bands need to be at venues for load-in and sound check if music starts at 7 p.m.? Probably right around the same time they’re punching out from work. Could we start a show at Scout Bar at 7 or even 8 o’clock and expect anyone coming south on I-45 in weeknight traffic to be anywhere near the venue when the music starts? Growing a bigger base of music-loving audiences is important. It’s worth discussing and acting on; but it isn’t as simple as uttering “let’s start shows earlier,” like Harry Potter invoking a spell and expecting magic. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
That’s my favorite part about a show on the lawn at White Oak Music Hall – the show has to be over by 10 p.m. I love live music, and I’m a big fan of a number of live and local venues. However, if a headliner is going on after 9 and going until after 11, and it’s a weeknight, count me out. It’s the same reason I won’t stay for an Astros extra-inning game during the week; I have to be up early in the morning. In my experience, most Houston venues are solid in getting on with the show, and much of the time, particularly in the case of major acts, they don’t have much of a say anyway. But, yes, at 35, when a show starts (and, more important, finishes) is a thing. CLINT HALE