When it comes to Houston's music scene and the lack of respect it gets, you can do two things -- complain or do something about it. Organizers and participants of the Springboard South Music Festival and Conference choose the latter. They want local musicians, music-oriented enterprises and music fans to follow their lead and do the same.
This year's event, the third annual, begins today and runs through Sunday. The music fest features more than 120 acts from across the southern U.S. performing on five stages at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Warehouse Live and nearby venues. It aims spotlight on-the-cusp artists from more than a dozen genres, all in the air-conditioned, rain-free comfort of downtown Houston's showcase sites.
As exciting as the variety and talent that Springboard brings to the stages might be, the performances are practically a sidebar to Springboard's main story, which is its music business agenda.
"Our goal from the start has always been to give rising artists the resources, tools, exposure, and industry insight they need to move their careers forward," says Barry Coffing, the event's co-founder. "At the same time, our artists don't get lost in a mass of performers, as is often the case with other music events. We give personalized, individual, relevant support and the chance to play, be seen and be heard by professionals who can help them."
Here's how Springboard South plans to do that. It'll hold its Band Bootcamp today, a full day of conferences and mentoring for aspiring artists. Eight different panels of experts, including Matthew Knowles, owner of the Music World record label, will provide insight and information to help artists interested in getting to next-level status.
Tomorrow, the conference debuts The Band Mall from 12 to 6 p.m., which is free to the general public. That means you, Houston musicians looking to connect with industry professionals. The mall will set up in four zones focusing on education, creation, organization and marketing and sales. Music managers, booking agents, entertainment attorneys, label owners and publicists will all be on hand. Exhibitors include Houston Community College, Lucky Run Studios, Steamboat Amp Works and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
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Coffing is a native Houstonian who pursued his own music career in Los Angeles. There, he succeeded in film and TV, writing more than 200 songs for the big and small screens and garnering an Emmy nomination for his work. He and I chatted about the local music scene, found that we both attended HSPVA around the same time and loved bands like The Judy's and The Dishes. Those bands were talented enough to have broader audiences than they did, we agreed.
When Coffing returned to the area to be near family, he realized little had changed over the years -- the Houston area still has lots of great musicians, long on talent and short on the business moxie to make a living in music.
"Being talented is not enough," he says. "They call it the music business for a reason -- there's a business aspect to it."
So, he went to work, gathering music professionals to form wegetnetworking.com, a one-stop shop for music industry members to connect to one another. He tapped into the group, which is more than 400 members strong now, to help build Springboard South.
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Coffing said the festival received more than 2,500 applications from bands hoping to perform and take part in its mentoring events. One of the acts selected was Nick Greer & The G's. Greer is well-known in Houston's music circles and is, by all accounts, a serious, hard-working, ambitious, nice guy.
But he's mad as hell and he's not gonna take it anymore.
"Anybody trying to do stuff like this in Houston, we need to support them," says Greer. "We've got a seriously suffocated [music] scene. There's Free Press Summer Fest and Springboard South and, as far as I'm concerned, that's fucking it."
Greer's latest album, Heart on Fire, is only days away from release.
"That's unfortunate because we get on a lot of these national lists for economy, murder rate, restaurants and all this other stuff, but the last thing you think about when you think of Houston is music and the arts," he continues. "Sadly enough, as big as we are, we should have like ten Springboards, but we don't. We've got one.
"You go to Austin and there's a fucking music festival every month," he adds. "It's crazy. We should be shitting all over them and we're just not. I feel like something like Springboard is really, really important for the city."
Greer says the selected bands aren't relegated to a few days of mentoring at the GRB. They attend meetings monthly leading up to the event and are encouraged to tap into the festival's resources following it. Coffing thinks that's key, because the point isn't to just showcase talent or educate them a few days. Last year, three Springboard South acts signed record deals and two performers competed in American Idol. The goal this year is to get 12 acts signed.
The showcase events will group acts by genre. Friday night will be heavy on R&B and hip hop. Louisiana's Big Shane is a featured act. Local standouts include Bigg Fatts, DeWayne Jackson and JOn Black. Saturday's events include pop/indie/country/metal acts like Jesse Roach and Mike Terror. Greer plays Sunday, with out of towners like singer-songwriter Dustin Prinz and local favorites like The Mighty Orq, Annika Chambers the Jones Family Singers and Dean James. A full schedule can be found here.
Finally, everyone helping stage Springboard South is working pro bono, gratis, for free. Greer says this very unselfish approach is welcomed and encouraging, but that the event needs the support of Houston at large, festivalgoers whose contributions and interest will keep the festival returning year after year.
"Nobody's busting out of Houston right now," Greer states. "The rap scene, yeah, Kirko Bangz. We've got a bunch of no-name gospel singers that are winning Grammys, but that's nothing to be excited about. We're still really just scratching at the surface and it's only because of groups like Weget Networking and festivals like Springboard and Summer Fest that we're even kinda sorta getting in the conversation."
General Admission tickets for the Springboard South Music Festival are $15 for a day pass and are available online at warehouselive.frontgatetickets.com.
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