Could Houston Ever Have a Great Music Scene?

Categories: Only In Houston

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Photo by Groovehouse
A scene like this one at the Free Press Summer Fest 2013 gates was unimaginable a few years ago.
Houston is changing fast; that much we all know. Doesn't matter if it's the new housing sprouting up all over town, rampant job growth, the city making yet another "best" or "hottest" (or even "coolest") national list, or even the Texans' status as (possible) Super Bowl contenders, Houston isn't the same place it was just a few years ago. So it seems perfectly reasonable that same rising-tide logic would apply to the local music scene.

After all, Houston now has a legitimate big-time summer music festival and has made great strides towards erasing its reputation as a hostile touring environment. The city was once practically a must-skip for all too many performers; now we see one sold-out roadshow after another. (How those crowds behave is a completely different matter, though.)

So how much have things really changed? Certainly "the scene" (whatever that is) has made great strides, but many of the problems that have plagued the city's musicians and music venues for years and even generations have hardly vanished in this recent flurry of back-patting, positive headlines and fatter gate receipts.

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This 2012 H-Town Presents CD is a rare official acknowledgement that Houston even has a local music scene.
That's why recently, after one too many people told us just how awesome Houston was getting, Rocks Off decided to put the whole thing up for debate and ask our contributors, "Could Houston Ever Be a Great Music Scene?" Not even "Is it now?" but simply, "Are we close?" Of course we expected a variety of answers, but perhaps not so many that we could spread them out over a few posts throughout the morning.

We hope you enjoy the responses, and encourage your own. After all, you readers are part of the local music scene too. (We certainly hope you are, anyway.) Let us know what you think.


Sadly, Houston Might Be Too Diverse
Houston is a wonderful music town. It has been for a long while, but not always (or ever) dominated by the kind of music that gets coverage in the mainstream media. Blues, Latin, country, hip-hop and jazz musicians from Houston have deep roots here. But for more mainstream, popular music, we are hampered by a combination of geography and demographics making it hard to believe Houston will ever have the kind of dominant music scene found in places like Austin, Chicago, Seattle or New Orleans.

Houston is huge with no zoning and no centrally located entertainment district. We are also wildly diverse, which is great for us as a society, but tough for the popularization of a local music scene. That diversity creates a bunch of small pockets of interesting music, but no one overriding, singularly popular genre -- it's tough to imagine a salsa group on the same bill as alt-rockers and a Western swing outfit and have it fly with an audience.

Those factors seem to doom Houston to a fractured if still brilliant at times music scene. JEFF BALKE


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Photo by Jason Wolter
Built to Spill's October 2010 House of Blues audience was an especially egregious example of an obnoxious Houston crowd, but hardly unusual.
Want a Great Scene? Show Some Respect.
Since moving to Houston, I haven't exactly been silent about my general disdain for the crowds at concerts big and small. There are certainly exceptions that have been more involved than others, but my experiences here have mostly been dominated by disengaged and disenchanted audience members who don't show a lot of respect for or interest in the bands playing.

I also hear all the time, "None of the good bands come here." Uh, what? Really? Two things: 1) Yes, yes they do. You are the fourth-largest city in the damn country. Start acting like it. Also, you have a kick-ass local-band scene, so start enjoying it and supporting it. 2) If they don't, it's because you were so lackluster in your participation the last time they came, they are now skipping H-Town most likely for Austin and, even more sadly, for Dallas.

The solution here is simple: Show the bands some damn love. Get involved. Get excited. WORK for your encore; it's isn't something you deserve just for buying a ticket. In the wise words of Sly and The Family Stone, dance to the music. It will bleed into the whole scene: fans supporting bands, bands supporting one another, people going to shows for the fun of it.

It's up to you, Houston. The scene is already here. Do you know it? SELENA DIERINGER



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40 comments
Matthew Ashton
Matthew Ashton

Does Houston not currently have a great music scene? Because... that's kinda is being implied.

Descent Into Madness
Descent Into Madness

Can local journalists ever show interest in their own Houston scene is the question that we'd like to get answered. Local band reviews and spotlight is next to non-existent in most Houston publications.

Autumn Smith
Autumn Smith

Stop posting this article. You look like idiots for writing it in the first place.

Brian Chestnut
Brian Chestnut

Everytime Houston has had a decent music venue it closes.

Alethea Drexler
Alethea Drexler

I go to the shows I can afford (which, I'll admit, are not as many as I'd like), but most of my favorite bands haven't been here in ages. I guess they don't have a fan base here . . . except that they might if they played here more often and people knew them. They go to Louisiana and to Austin, but they don't stop in between. There are local musicians I like, but I've seen them. A lot. Because they play here all the time. So, I think Houston is good but it could be better.

tomterrrific
tomterrrific

I've been playing music in the Houston area since the 1980s. I can attest to the rude attitudes that a lot of the promoters and the people who book bands at their clubs. I have sent out CDs to the various local clubs that book original music and publications that cover the music scene here without so much as a "thank you", let alone a review. I don't even bother with the local press here anymore. They spend way too much time making up those stupid Top Ten Lists and singing the praises of the same acts over and over again. It's always the same acts that they have been hawking for the last 10 years. No disrespect to anyone, but I'm almost willing to bet that if any of the so-called "faves" that are touted ad nauseum were to do so much as take a dump in the street, the local music press would be on it in a New York second, complete with a photo spread. There are a lot of excellent bands and acts that get no press whatsoever or have an extremely difficult time getting gigs, simply because they don't play blues, Americana, Roots music, Country, Metal, Noise, Zydeco or any of the other "approved" Texas music genres. The music scene here is controlled mostly by a few self-appointed taste mongers who are only interested in either booking their friend's bands, or book a band who can bring out a crowd of drinking buddies to their gig and then that crowd leaves en masse before the next act comes on. As a result of this elitist attitude, I now confine myself to playing only those venues that treat bands in a decent and respectful manner and concentrate mostly on recording new songs and releasing a CD every two years or so. We've done 3 so far and are working on a new disc right now. At least they can't stop me from recording. The only way the scene will improve is to have more INCLUSION at all levels. The local press needs to get off its lazy ass and CHECK OUT NEW BANDS. Even better: start writing about bands that have been around awhile that have gotten little or no press coverage. A special insert featuring 250 or so noteworthy local acts who ARE making interesting new music wouldn't hurt either. As for the people who book shows and promote local acts, a lot more OPEN-MINDEDNESS in booking new acts is sorely needed, with more variety in musical styles, instead of all one genre. More venues featuring live original music are needed as well. And people. STOP TALKING DURING THE MIDDLE OF THE BAND'S SET. EITHER SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO THE MUSIC OR TAKE THE CONVERSATION OUTSIDE!!!

Rick Houdek
Rick Houdek

Having moved here from Chicago, which I personally think has a great music scene and whose radio also doesn't support enough local talent, i think the key would be to attract more small but well known known touring acts and possibly have local acts open for them. As for Houston fans being disenchanted at said shows, I can't really say. Of the shows I've seen in the last year some were packed with people who ran the gamut between casual fans and douchebags, and others had low attendance but were made up of die hards.

James Fremont
James Fremont

Houston radio sucks, for starters. Then, there is still not a whole lot in terms of medium-sized venues. Something bigger than a bar but not the size of Toyota Center.

Autumn Smith
Autumn Smith

Um, we already do. Radio stations have got jack shit to do with a music scene. Ours thrives without a good radio station, which just proves how resilient we are. If you think we don't already have a great music scene, you have your head deeply entrenched in your own butthole. We're never going to be like Austin, and THANK GOD FOR THAT! We're much better than Austin in terms of our music tradition, IMHO. There's no room for advancement, and no opportunities for new musicians in Austin, whereas there's TONS here. Really, you should at least do some CURSORY research on the Scene before you write an entire freaking article about it.

stonerbuddybongloader
stonerbuddybongloader

Im tired of overpriced shows at lackluster venues and bad sound..or worse, overpriced shows at great venues, and RAPING the crowd with overpriced drinks and merch.

THIS IS WHY THE CROWD IS SHAT>>THEYRE PISSED AND EXPECT WHAT THEY PAID FOR.

Dexter Bayack
Dexter Bayack

All the points are valid which I also said myself and most of us already know. Lackluster fan support, lack of zoning and my favorite, media coverage. How do you create interest without proper promotion and follow up? Sorry but Facebook alone won't cut it. I would also add that the artist are also responsible. Many of them lack business sense when it comes to media (photographers, videographers, bloggers,etc.), promotion, negotiating with venues so all parties involved benefit. If the artists are not getting paid they cannot pay for marketing and other expenses. If they want a great scene, it's also up to them to make it happen. IMO, great things can happen but Houston is a fragmented city. Then there is the noise ordinance.

Brady T Holder
Brady T Holder

The days of the all age venues went away like the dinosaurs. If Houston wants a better music scene there needs to be more place to play. Growing up I had the abyss, vertigo's, fitz (I know fitz is still there but it's not the same.) Then in my 20s we had java jazz, fuel, Walters and several other places to play. Also, I think bands have forgotten how to market themselves, they spend too much time on Facebook and twitter and not enough time hitting the streets passing out flyers. Once these things start happening again, then I think Houston will have a good music scene again.

David Gonzalez
David Gonzalez

As long as we have clear channel owning all the stations we will never have better music

binaural42
binaural42

As a local musician who's been actively playing in Houston for the past 10 years or so I have found that the biggest problems here are:

1) A very short list of venues to play. There are just not enough places to play shows in town. In Montrose there's about two or three. Same in The Heights.

2) A complete lack of interest from local promoters (most of them anyway) in giving bands a hand. All they care about is the almighty buck and how many people you can draw. Without chances to play live regularly, it's hard for bands to build a following. 

3) The all too common "I only help my friends attitude"... Too many of those in town with certain influence, pull and "power" choose to work only with bands they are friends with and completely shut the door in the faces of anyone else. And that goes for venues, promoters, press and bands as well.

4) The worst audience in the world. It's true. People barely go to the shows and when they do, they talk through the bands' set and don't pay attention. It's sad and embarrassing.

James Young
James Young

I remember when I was a kid, Houston was developing a good music scene. There was a lot of scene support, a number of good bands, and a number of venues, while not in an entertainment district, were centrally located and not too far from one another, by Houston standards. A lot of the musicians and many of the fans lived in low rent neighborhoods and a scene was created, largely because it was ignored by many outside it and allowed to develop organically. But, those neighborhoods gentrified, many of the venues closed, and as "alternative" just became a A&R label, the scene was made of people far less dedicated to it. Houston music has never had major radio support, that I could remember, but there were fan 'zines before the internet, and word-of-mouth, and the alternative press. And of course, the record stores were always a good place to hear about new bands. With a few venues, a dedicated fan base, and a couple of good blogs, it could happen again, but it won't be easy. Austin has some things going for it Houston does not, but real estate development has been affecting the landscape so much, much like it did to Houston, that I don't know what will happen to the venues. Live music on 6th St is largely a thing of the past, with one or two exceptions. The Red River District's days may be numbered. There are good venues on the East Side, but development may put an end to those too at some point. I think the problem with Houston, Austin, and a lot of other cities,is that "cool" has simply become a commodity for developers to capitalize on.

yolindsay
yolindsay

Uhhhhhhhhhhhh I can't believe there is no mention of the fact Houston has THE GREATEST RAP SCENE IN THE WORLD. Wut. 

Julie McClung Neymeyer
Julie McClung Neymeyer

We have all the ingredients for a great music scene; but fans and radio don't show the love.

Jason Helms
Jason Helms

We have a great music scene. People just need to stop being cheap bastards and shell out a bit of cash at our local venues to help out the bands we're cultivating here.

Jorge R. Carrillo-Rosa
Jorge R. Carrillo-Rosa

No 60s soul/rock classics radio station (only 70s trucker rock)... too many songs that did hit Top 40 back in the day, never played... No REM, New Order, DePeche Mode, or Duran Duran... we could go on and on.

Moses Martinez
Moses Martinez

not without a legit radio station. oh and it would help if they changed the Free Press Summer Fest to a better time of the year. like Spring or late Summer or Fall. enough of the heatwave bs.

Nelo Maciel
Nelo Maciel

That's why we are lucky to have kpft

CantSlideInMudAtRudz
CantSlideInMudAtRudz

Unfortunately, all those big crowds you see here at Summerfest don't care about local bands or a local scene...

MusicTzu
MusicTzu

In response to Media Matters, I think Rocks Off could do much better covering the local scene, be it the National acts that come through Fitz or Warehouse to some of local bands. Instead we have to read stories about the Juggalos all weekend. Or when ACL comes up in October, instead of the play by play from ATX, how about some coverage of the same bands that will be playing around Houston. You did a great job promoting the HPMA bands, but lets keep it up year round...

Marshall Allen
Marshall Allen

not while we have Clear Channel hogging the airwaves!

Jimi Austin
Jimi Austin

The same thing happened to Austin. The live music bars turned into douchbag bars with a DJ spinning instead.

Jorge R. Carrillo-Rosa
Jorge R. Carrillo-Rosa

I'm waiting for that great scene. One where more than the same 4 types of band exists. For those who aren't into "americana", hipster stuff, blues or metal, this city offers little to nothing. Too many cover bands, too. There are exceptions... not many though.

bjcaldwell2
bjcaldwell2

If musicians started performing for more fans as opposed to musicians it would be a start.

Christine Locher
Christine Locher

There are a bunch of great bands, but more people need to come out to shows.

Scott Fuchs
Scott Fuchs

Wasn't that Built to Spill show at Fitz?

Steven Cruz
Steven Cruz

Hell to the fucking yeah! It's coming. I mean we've had a good rap scene for a while now but those other genres are rising.

lulu_08
lulu_08

@Descent Into Madness yep. they complain but don't bother trying to be part of the solution.

lulu_08
lulu_08

@tomterrrific "they spend way too much time making up those stupid Top Ten Lists and singing the praises of the same acts over and over again. It's always the same acts that they have been hawking for the last 10 years."

needed to be repeated

WhiteLightning
WhiteLightning

@Jorge R. Carrillo-Rosa Disagree. Rap for one thing. And there's a lot of jazz, zydeco, and Latin if you know where to look..

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