Nine People or Groups Who Make the Houston Scene Great

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JULIAN BAJSEL Not only was Julian voted one of the ten best music photographers in Houston this past September, he is also one of the most genuine and kind individuals in the local scene. Much of his recent work has been with electronic music acts and their fans, and the images he produces rivals other world-renowned DJ photographers.

It is likely that if you've heard some big beats drop at Stereo Live or a Nightculture event, then Bajsel has taken your picture. He is generous with his time chatting with fans asking various questions and where they can find their pictures. I personally appreciate that he has allowed us to tag along and learn to navigate various aspects of the scene with him.

THE DRINK OF AGES GUYS Preston Brown and Jon Denman host the Drink of Ages Radio Show. The weekly broadcast combines three of the best ideas the heavens ever sprinkled down onto man -- beer, music and Houston. Without question, these gentlemen know beer. They're brewers, so they could talk for hours on things like hops and International Bitterness Units.

However, they also devote a good chunk of their programming to Houston music, bringing bands like The Beans, Rooster and the Cheeseburger and others without food-related names into the studio. Of late, the studio has been Firehouse Saloon, where Brown and Denman have recorded Thursday-night shows. They don't just bring in bands for novelty; they are proven Houston music lovers you'll see out at shows frequently. Next time you do, buy them a beer - and make it a good one.

EVERYONE AT FPSF Each year, Free Press Summer Fest grows more into a legitimate music festival experience, complete with bigger acts, larger stages and fantastic local vendors. This is a double-edged sword, however. News Flash: People like to bitch about things. When the show was smaller, the bitching circled around a need for more national headliners and diversity in acts. Now that there are more national headliners, the bitching circles around a need for more local bookings and less expensive tickets.

The reality is that FPSF continues to book local acts each year while also attracting national headliners that draw larger crowds (and more tourism revenue) to Houston. On top of that, the diversity among performers is also a great draw. Look, no festival will ever be exactly what everyone wants, but finding 100 percent of exactly what you want is not the point of attending a multi-day music festival. FPSF continues to be a highlight for some of Houston's more easy-going and open-minded music fans, and for that we are grateful.

THE HEIGHTS VINYL TEAM Owner Craig T Brown has created something really specia on White Oak Drive. Unlike many other record shops around the USA, Heights Vinyl has a very open and welcoming environment, free of the overt pretension that is often associated with the vinyl community. Despite their breezy attitude, however, the entire team at Heights Vinyl is super-knowledgeable and helpful. Whether a beginner or an expert collector, all patrons are greeted with the same level of friendly service.

And on top of being a wonderful place to purchase music, Heights Vinyl is also great for discovering new bands. Not only is something good always playing over the store's sound system, but live bands can often be found in the back. What's better than sipping a beer and listening to some live music? Need your equipment fixed? Heights Vinyl is the place to go, and will never try to scam you with exorbitant "labor" fees nor make you feel like a moron when all you need is a simple solution. Top to bottom, this place is a Houston gem.

LAUREN OAKES Lauren Oakes is Fitzgerald's in-house sound engineer, who has been running sound at the venue for several years and invested quite a bit of work on its sound system. She also trains novices to run the controls when she's not there, and can be counted on to guide any and all music coming through Fitzgerald's to its greatest potential, whether the musicians she's working with are a bunch of assholes or more pleasant, cooperative beings. Besides her duties at Fitz, Oakes also does freelance sound work throughout Houston while teaching media-production classes on the side.

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ZACK PALMER When Walters Downtown owner Pam Robinson passed away in October, it was a big loss for the Houston music scene. Since the early '90s, Robinson had provided stages for wild and weird bands hailing from across the street and the other side of the world as she presided over a string of clubs where thousands (if not more) musical memories were made. Although the outpouring of grief and remembrance from the local music community was certainly real, there was also a bit of panic: what would become of Walters? The tucked-away downtown outpost was one of very few established venues unafraid to book wild and untested acts. But when Robinson died, it lay dormant. Without Pam, could the place carry on?

So we all breathed a big sigh of relief a few weeks later when her son, Zack Palmer, stepped forward to assume ownership of Walters and to carry on his mother's musical legacy. After logging countless hours working at various bars and music venues around town since his teens, the resident of Houston House of Creeps is keeping the doors open for the punks, scenesters and weirdos in desperate need of someplace to go. More than making the Houston scene better, he's helping to make it possible.

AIMEE RIVAS Rivas is a marketing specialist for Live Nation, and serves as a liaison between the artists' management team and the media in attendance. Often going the extra mile, her hard work is often seen at Bayou Music Center assisting members of the press with their various needs.

For example, last February Alice in Chains' tour manager relegated the local photographers to shoot from the soundboard at the last minute; i.e., far, far away behind a limitless amount of cell phones. He was under the impression that there were too many photographers and it would create a distraction for the band. But when Rivas realized that only a few of us were shooting, she worked her magic that granted us permission for us to shoot from the pit. It was an incredible show with some great shots.

DAVE TAMA If you don't know who Dave Tama is, allow us to introduce him. He's not a venue owner or a show promoter, just a music fan who devotes his time, energy and money to support the shows those people produce. And you probably know someone just like him. He's in a band, but his upstart group has played only a few gigs. He'll probably attend more shows this week as an audience member than his band has played since it formed.

He listens to everything from Mayer Hawthorne to Murderdolls, but his music choices aren't the point. Tama makes the the scene great because he was the scene, even offstage. He regularly went to shows, both in town and as far away as Victoria -- no small feat, considering he was traveling from home in Baytown. Tama and the other proverbial faces in the crowd make the scene. If we can't celebrate them here, then what's the point?

WILLOW VILLAREAL The man behind Hatetank Productions has been a vital part of Houston's punk, hardcore and metal scene for many years. Today a staple at Walters Downtown, Villarreal is a big man with big hair and an even bigger heart. In addition to bringing some of the biggest names in hardcore to town, he has also assisted heavily with putting on multiple charitable events like fundraisers for late 2014 Houston Music Hall of Fame Inductee Pam Robinson during her battle with cancer, incorporating a toy drive for Texas Children's Hospital at his annual Fallcore shows and last year's memorial show for local superfan Josh Justice. There are also rumors swirling around that the man can smoke a mean brisket. Can we verify that, Willow? You know...for the readers?

Written by Alexa Crenshaw, Selena Dieringer, Jack Gorman, Jesse Sendejas Jr. and Nathan Smith

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