I live in central Texas and one of the most exciting recent developments has been the construction of the new Baylor facility McLane Stadium. Baylor fan or not, the modestly sized but aesthetically outstanding football stadium is a splendid point of pride for all locals who drive by it on 35. Up the road in Arlington, Jerry Jones constructed the world’s preeminent multi-event facility with AT&T Stadium. It is a true wonder of the world. Two new palatial venues at different levels in different towns to ostensibly host the same types of events. Yet, they couldn’t be more different.
Music venues can be like that too. I’ve been in new ones that click right away and new ones that falter. I’ve been in some that are over 100 years old and I wouldn’t change a thing. While other older venues need a complete renovation. I’m far from an expert, but I’ve been attached to venues in all sorts of capacities: performer, road manager, booking agent, talent buyer, concert promoter and even bartender/bouncer. What makes a nice venue isn’t the brick, wood or concrete. It’s the people. The staff. The musicians. The fans. The soul.
Our own Jon Paul “Hogleg” Long is now venturing into the venue business with a very cool space down in New Braunfels. I have all the confidence that JP’s space will be one of the coolest venues in the state. Don’t think he can’t, as he would say. He’s been around the block too and he knows what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t. It’s a tough business. Equally as tough as the musician side of things, if not more so. It’s hyper competitive and everyone is fighting for the same dwindling disposable income from the most fickle of demographics. You’re always going to have folks that chase the cheapest drink specials and the shiniest new thing. The venues that are able to financially fight through this usually end up thriving. But it’s extremely difficult. That’s why we’ve seen some of the best music venues around have to close the doors. Our region has always been one that has been supportive of musicians performing original music and not being beholden to cover songs. I’ve noticed that passion fade slowly over the past few years. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great cover band when the time is right. They’re not the problem. At least it’s still live music. It’s the wave of karaoke and DJ’s ruining things.
As the Rev. Horton Heat mentioned this week in a startingly real op-ed piece about the current plight of professional musicians:
Back in the ’70s, a club DJ was the cheesiest guy in the place who used his wannabe radio voice, and his love of disco, to pretend he was actually talented and a star. Everyone knew that the guitar, bass, drum and singer people were the truly talented ones who had a shot at a career in music. Nowadays, a club DJ is a person who pretends that he/she is as talented as a real musician, and the stupid club owners and promoters foster this pose since they pay the person thirty thousand dollars (or a lot more) to stand up on a stage with their iPod blaring disco junk. That’s tough to swallow when you realize that the best musician in your town will play piano at the Hyatt Regency brunch on Sunday for that ‘magic’ one hundred dollars.
That’s a bit harsh, but you get the point. Music continues to be devalued. It’s sad. U2 is giving away their album for free because they can afford to, meanwhile independent artists are struggling to get to the next gig. That’s why it’s up to we, the music fans, to support the venues that support the bands we dig. As I mentioned, what makes a good venue can vary. There is no blueprint to copy. Location is important, but not a deal breaker. The look of the club matters, but isn’t imperative. Again, it’s about the people inside. You’re looking for the places that treat employees, patrons and musicians with respect and class. Does it have a cool vibe? Are they about the music as much as possible (it is a business after all)?
So, as JP ventures off into venue domination I’m confident he’ll be one of the ones doing it right. What’s your favorite venue? What’s your least favorite venue? Why?
-Football is in full swing. I find myself growing more disenfranchised with the NFL by the minute. Not only due to the Roger Goodell bungling, Ray Rice situation, Jerry Jones’ continued egotisticfal ineptitude…but the product on the field. It’s lost its zeal and fun. It’s become basketball on grass with flopping, flags and slow pacing. Give me college and high school over the NFL until they right the ship.
-The world around us is a scary, strange, volatile place. That’s what family, friends (and music) are for.
-Mowing the lawn is some of the best therapy. I’ll truly miss it over the next few months until it returns.
-Say it ain’t so Wash.
-Worse annoyance traffic or waiting at the doctor/dentist? I’m going to go with traffic.
-There’s a cold (relative term) front sweeping through Texas this weekend. It’s a preview of what’s to come soon. The 6 weeks or so we have of autumn before we get winter is some of the best weather we have all year. Bring it on!
-Happy 40th birthday to Rita Ballou! She doesn’t look a day over 29 and I think we’re both getting soft in our old age.
–This month’s recommended album: Ryan Adams- self titled. My favorite of his in over a decade. His profilicness astounds me. When he’s at his best there are few better. He’s at the top of his game here. Just get it and you’ll dig it too. Additional shoutout for Drew Kennedy’s new Sad Songs Happily Played. As many of you know the best part of any DK show is the banter. That’s what you get here. An accidental live album that turned out beautifully.