White Oak Music Hall finally has an answer about its outdoor stage, one that seems bound to raise still more questions. Tuesday, the City of Houston’s Department of Public Works & Engineering confirmed to the Houston Chronicle that it has issued a permit allowing the venue’s owners, W2 Development Partners, to build a permanent stage on the banks of White Oak Bayou. Known as the Lawn, the stage has already drawn thousands of fans to the venue since opening with M83 in April, while nearby residents have phoned in noise complaints to the police and cried foul to City Hall, charging the owners with attempting to bend the rules regarding their temporary permit, which finally expired on October 5. Tuesday’s news closes that chapter, even as it opens a new one in the $10 million-plus venue’s ongoing battle to peacefully coexist with its neighbors in the largely Hispanic and working-class, and now rapidly changing, Near Northside neighborhood.
While the White Oak staff scrambles to get ready — its next scheduled outdoor show, The Head & The Heart, is less than 48 hours away — the path to get here has been so rocky that it’s worth wondering whether attending future shows on the Lawn might tug at fans’ consciences just a bit, or whether it even should, and of course what the neighbors are supposed to do now. Easy answers are hard to come by here, exactly what makes the topic so ripe for discussion.
Will I feel bad going to shows at White Oak? Not especially. Will I feel a little bad about not feeling bad about going to shows at White Oak? Yeah, probably. Look, Houston has longed for an Inner Loop venue with outdoor lawn capabilities for a while now, and White Oak fits the bill. I’ve yet to attend an outdoor show there that wasn’t a good time. Yes, some of the locals aren’t thrilled with the venue, and I get that; I once lived by a major amphitheater in another major Texas city, and it wasn’t always fun. I also get that property values in the area are likely to rise thanks to venues like White Oak opening, so there is some benefit to be had. Now that White Oak has this outdoor hurdle cleared, here’s hoping it gets even more acts on the calendar than the five currently on the schedule. CLINT HALE
I've been to a handful of shows at WOMH, and all of them were fantastic. That being said, I don't own a house in the neighborhood, so it's easy for me to avoid the music if I want to. Long-term, I think WOMH will be great for the city. Its lineup has been solid so far, and the multiple stage options give bands and promoters some alternatives leading up to their performances. Why WOMH began construction early is puzzling, since it only served to further paint the place as villainous to everyone already opposed to it. But I'm hoping that WOMH can become another staple of the Houston music scene, and ideally it will be embraced by the community in which it resides. The venue is still in its infancy.
Forging a bond with the neighborhood will take time, but it can be done through open communication and the acknowledgment of grievances. But first, WOMH needs to build that stage post-haste. Might we suggest the venue not begin construction too early in the morning or continue too late into the evening? MATTHEW KEEVER
People should not feel bad about going to see a show at WOMH. They should also try to keep their own noise down as they traverse to and from the venue. Throw trash away and not in the neighborhood, and take a minute to stop at the corner store to spend some cash. Many people were upset about the "Heights" Walmart being built a few blocks from the historic neighborhood, but it happened and they coexist. Traffic has increased, along with many other businesses in the area. It is simply part of the city we live in. Destroying and rebuilding is what we do in Houston. Perhaps the neighborhood will transition for the better and those who are still upset will benefit monetarily if they choose to leave. JACK GORMAN
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I've said it before and I'll say it again: Music fans are naturally a selfish bunch. For every good fan who follows a band through thick and thin, there are 20 who just want to hear the songs they want, artists' wishes be damned. As such, it's easy to assume that most people headed to a show at White Oak Music Hall aren't going to think or care about what the venue's neighbors think. They're getting to see a show, and that's really all that matters, yeah? I include myself in this, of course, because I am myself a selfish music fan. And even though I'm likely to at least think about the idea in the abstract, it's not going to keep me from going to shows at White Oak. And sure, I can wrap that up in platitudes about how my protest wouldn't stop things anyway, but the truth is if the system is broken, then I'm going to make the most of it. If that logic is good enough for a presidential candidate, well...
I'm very much on the "would like more venues" side of things, and I imagine it'll only be a matter of time before someone finds some land he or she can put a venue and some parking near some homes and this debate will start again. And I'll be there opening day, because when the options are being a bad neighbor and being a music fan, I'm usually going to take the latter. Most because no one is building a venue near my apartment, so I mean, it's not like this kind of thing is going to affect me. Right? CORY GARCIA
The permanent-stage permit at White Oak Music Hall signals a fragile detente between Near Northside residents and the Houston hot spot, but I'm doubtful as to how long it will last. The venue courted local property owners with vague promises of neighborhood improvements, transit developments and noise control, but developers' brazen flouting of city ordinances suggests that those overtures were just for show. Now that White Oak has had a few months to establish a reputation in the blighted but burgeoning locale, it will be harder and harder for locals to find an ear to hear their legitimate complaints (gentrification's a bitch, and then you die, or at least sell to an upscale condo builder).
White Oak has the chance to be an innovator here. It could team up with local shelters and feeding centers so residents don't have to pass desperate civility ordinances. Or it could let Northside HISD schools use the venue for concerts and events free of charge. We've got some pretty fancy engineering programs at UH and Rice; I bet someone there could figure out how to make that outdoor stage quieter. If the owners of White Oak care about Houston (and they should), and if they want to be a cultural leader in the city (again, they should), it's time to start giving back to the neighborhood that gave the venue a home. KATIE SULLIVAN