It’s not news that Houston’s famous downtown happy hour Party on the Plaza is back after a lengthy hiatus; it's been rocking downtown since April. The headline is that this fall's POTP lineup will bring the kind of top-tier entertainment usually seen in venues that charge high ticket prices — except for free. Beginning this Wednesday, Houstonians can enjoy the kind of city concert series usually experienced by citizens of cities like New York, Nashville and Austin.
In other words, Houston, have we got a show for you.
October 4: Robert Ellis, The Texas Gentlemen
October 18: Ben Kweller, Wild Child
October 25: Bob Schneider, The Tontons
November 1: The Molly Ringwalds, Roxy Roca
November 8: The Old 97's, Seratones
November 15: Reverend Horton Heat w/ Jesse Dayton
This caliber of talent doesn’t happen without some serious connections — or at least people who have their finger on the pulse of Houston music every day. Sitting on a wide couch in an unassuming office on Main Street, Mark C. Austin says what many people already know about him: “I love this city and I love Houston music.” His voice turns serious when he continues, “When I book a series like this, I always think in terms of, what will this look like in ten years, 50 years? Because I want to see it last that long.”
Booking and managing top local acts is not a new gig for Austin. A former accountant whose love for music photography took him out of the corporate world several years ago, he's been a key player in helping Houston build a national music identity. “People say Houston isn’t a music town," he says. "Yes, it is. I get blown away by acts in the city every week. There are musicians everywhere who just want to play.”
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Anyone familiar with Party on the Plaza’s popularity and history knows that eventually the party got out of control. There weren’t enough concessions or facilities to support the huge crowds. And since 2005, an event that once brought top musical acts from all over the Gulf Coast has been missing from our community.
Much has changed since then. The City of Houston has invested millions of dollars in downtown improvement projects including a redesign of Jones Plaza and renovations to the George R. Brown and Avenida de las Americas, all in hopes of rebranding downtown as a destination for tourism and local dollars. And it’s worked. Since 2001, more businesses and events have occurred downtown than ever in the city’s recent history.
Working with Discovery Green, Houston First and the GRB, Austin’s goal was to not only showcase Houston's musical talent, but to bring the best Texas acts to Houston as well. Not surprisingly, Austin’s effort to bring local musical talent to the stage the complemented headliners was priority.
“We got our feet wet with the Super Bowl,” he says. Meaning, Austin booked days of local talent to be showcased while the national-media spotlight was shining on Houston. When the city welcomed thousands of visitors for the NFL season’s pinnacle game, they got a taste of Houston’s musical palette as well.
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Now, all the acts in this fall’s lineup have Texas connections, and every show coincides with events occurring at GRB. The idea is that people not only enjoy events downtown, but they stay there for the duration. “Back before all of this [renovation] downtown was a ghost town after dark. Those days are over.” Indeed and with acts who haven’t performed in Houston for years, such as the rarely seen Ben Kweller, POTP’s success is nearly guaranteed.
While the 2017 lineup continues to impress, Austin promises that POTP will represent all of Houston. In years past, POTP offered Tejano and reggae-themed events that drew thousands of people. “All concepts and ideas are on the table. The series earlier this year highlighted numerous Latino/Tejano artists. The lineups will always be diverse just like our city,” Austin promises.
You can catch this season’s first event 6 p.m. this Wednesday at the Budweiser stage at Avenida Houston, 1001 Avenida de las Americas. Find one of the four parking garages available or take Metro downtown. Once again, the event is free and restaurants and food and drink vendors will be available.