Fort Worth music defined by hard work, authenticity

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Authenticity. Originality. History. Hard work. Cooperation.

These qualities define Fort Worth’s music scene. They also explain why it’s thriving.

Chris Maunder, owner of the Moon Bar, said the growth and success of local bands and musicians has been years in the making. Groups like Calhoun, The Burning Hotels, Quaker City Night Hawks and others have worked in Fort Worth for years. And their hard work has paid off.

“Things started kicking back up for Fort Worth music ten years ago,” Maunder said. “Well, ten years ago were all in our mid-20s. We were still learning who we are and learning how to live… Ten years later, all of that’s matured.”

After years of playing to half-full clubs and bars, Fort Worth bands have recently been featured on networks such as MTV and the CW, Maunder said. A track from the Quaker City Night Hawks even made an appearance on popular television show “Sons of Anarchy.”

This is no fluke: Years of practice and playing countless shows has resulted in success for these bands. But another important factor has come into play recently: Social media.

“The six degrees of separation just keeps breaking down,” Maunder said. “You become closer and closer to that person who might be able to change your life.”

The ever-evolving world of social media has dramatically affected the music industry, and Fort Worth’s scene is no exception. Local bands can advertise their albums and shows through Facebook or Twitter for free – this eliminates the need and cost of hiring a publicist or promoter to do the work, Maunder said. Bands can post their music to free sites like SoundCloud, which increases the likelihood of gaining new fans and promotion.

“It could just be some guy who types in the wrong name on the web and pulls up the wrong band,” Maunder said. “He likes the stuff, and goes, ‘Oh, wow, I just heard this band from Delaware or nowhere Minnesota’. That could be some music producer somewhere.”

Zach Edwards, member of local band Ice Eater, agreed that social media has had a dramatic impact on music in Fort Worth.

“In the last few years, there have been many bands from Fort Worth that have had their music featured in major motion pictures and indie films, on television shows and in commercials,” Edwards said. “I would think all of that has been, at least in some way, affected by social media and the Internet.

Ice Eater plans to increase their social media presence in the coming months, Edwards said, in order to promote the release of their upcoming album. Facebook has been a helpful tool in promoting Ice Eater’s shows, but Edwards said word-of-mouth buzz was still important, too.

But unlike social media, the success of Fort Worth’s music scene is nothing new. The city has a rich history of local music that spans the full spectrum of genre, according to a 2008 article from the Fort Worth Weekly titled “Magical Misery Tour.”

Rock. Jazz. Folk. Hip-hop. Punk. Hair metal. Grunge. Country, of course. You name it, and at some point or another in its history, Fort Worth’s got it. According to the article, the beginnings of Fort Worth’s rock scene can be traced back to the early 1960s, when many rock-friendly venues began to open in order to host the city’s growing scene. One such venue was The Cellar.

“What began as a beatnik coffeehouse evolved into a rock club in 1964 with killer house bands playing from dark until dawn,” the article notes.

A slew of other venues – Panther Hall, The HOP, Spencer’s Corner, Savvy’s Nightclub, The Axis Club and others – have opened and closed over the decades, according to the article. Before they closed, they provided a space for Fort Worth’s bands to introduce themselves to the city. For instance, notable Fort Worth band The Toadies played their first gig at the Axis Club in the early 1990s.

A few things have changed, though – in the past, Fort Worth’s local music scene didn’t remain local for long, Gerard Daily, Fort Worth musician and Record Town employee, said.

Daily, who has performed and toured with musicians such as Johnny Reno, remembered the Fort Worth music scene of the past. He said that Fort Worth had a wealth of musical talent and bands working in innovative genres, like progressive rock. The presence of straight country music, which had dominated Fort Worth’s music scene, began to decline.

As their popularity began to grow, many musicians started having the same thought, Daily said: “We need to go to Austin.”

Austin was not always the destination of choice, however. Many bands decided to try their luck in New York, Los Angeles, or other big cities with prominent recording industries, Daily said.

“I remember, it was ‘Ok, let’s go to San Francisco’ in the 60s. And then it was like, ‘Wow, we didn’t make it.’ So they moved back here,” Daily said. “And then it was Athens, Georgia in the 70s… If you’re moving to be signed, so is someone else.”

Bands no longer make the move to cities such as these, Daily said, for a number of reasons. Musicians often find that the cost of living in these cities is very high, which can be impossible to sustain on a musician’s salary, he said.

In addition, the recording industry is no longer centralized in big cities like New York or Los Angeles, Daily said. Recording studios and equipment can be found all over the country in both small and large cities, which eliminates the need for bands to relocate.

“Lots of people move back,” Daily said. “You’re gonna be a big fish in a tiny pond if you stay where you’re at, but if you go somewhere else, you’re gonna be a small fish in a big pond.”

Daily also cited the importance of social media for Fort Worth musicians. Moving to a new city in order to be signed to a record label is no longer required, because bands can build fan bases all over the country by using social media tools.

“You don’t need to wait for it to happen anymore.” Daily said.

Not all local bands felt the need to move away from their home base, Daily said. Although he toured around the country with Johnny Reno, Daily said they were never compelled to move to a bigger city. They always came back home to Fort Worth to record, where renowned producer T. Bone Burnett, a Fort Worth native, produced their albums.

“You can do it now, and we did it back in the 80s, just being local,” Daily said.

And it’s easier for these bands to stay local, thanks to the presence of dozens of live music clubs in Fort Worth. Daily said that on any given night, a show is likely going on in one of the city’s many venues.

Maunder said there is a concentration of clubs in Fort Worth, which makes it easy for fans to fill their nights with live music. Lola’s Saloon, The Grotto, The Where House, 1919 Hemphill, The Live Oak Music Hall and Lounge and many others are all located within 10 or 20 minutes of one another.

The Live Oak Music Hall and Lounge is the new kid on the block. Owner and founder Bill Smith said the venue opened its doors in June, and has since hosted both local and national musicians. Smith said he wanted to offer something different with the Live Oak – something more “adult.”

Smith designed the Live Oak to fill the void left by the closing of Caravan of Dreams, a Fort Worth live music institution, he said. Like the Caravan of Dreams, Live Oak features shows with lots of seating room, a full stage, and a state-of-the-art sound system.

But the venues don’t draw in fans by themselves – Fort Worth’s local music, and the city itself, are appealing because of their originality, Smith said.

“It’s organic and authentic,” Smith said.

That organic authenticity may be a part of why Fort Worth attracts so many young professionals. According to an article from TCU360, a study by Neeley School of Business marketing professors Stacy Grau and Susan Kleiser found that young people enjoy living in the city partly because of its thriving nightlife.

“The respondents gave positive responses to leisure amenities and cultural aspects,” according to the study.

And younger audiences are vital to the success of Fort Worth’s music. With the advent of social media, listeners have become more savvy and informed of a wealth of music, Maunder said. They have a keen sense of what they like and dislike.

Edwards said these listeners have created a demand for a strong, local music scene. Bands and musicians have become more popular partly because there are more people to entertain.

“The growth of the bands, venues and "scene" comes naturally,” he said.

Smith said that many venues are located within historic neighborhoods, which may also contribute to their appeal. Because there are restrictions regarding what types of businesses can build in historic neighborhoods, they have retained that “organic and authentic” atmosphere, he said.

Fort Worth’s historic neighborhoods have many champions. Fort Worth South, Inc., is a non-profit company dedicated to the growth and revitalization of the Near Southside area of Fort Worth, according to the company’s website. Near Southside encompasses the area commonly known as the hospital district. (Click here to see a map of the area.)

Maunder said the non-profit has been heavily involved with organizing live music festivals, art shows and numerous other events. Friday on the Green, a monthly concert series featuring local musicians, is one such event.

Edwards said these venues and events draw in fans because they offer something that bigger venues and concerts lack – a personal touch.

“Anyone can watch a music video or go to an arena concert,” he said. “But with local music you can connect with the musician on a personal level… It reminds you that music is made by people and for people. Real people. Not some idea of a rock star.”

Like much of Fort Worth’s local music, Ice Eater’s sound doesn’t neatly fit into any one genre, Edwards said. Influenced by a variety of artists working in different genres, including Radiohead, Joy Division, Depeche Mode and ZZ Top, Ice Eater’s music is simply unique.

“There are rhythmic elements of early 80s punk and post-punk mixed with aspects of late 80's and early 90s dance music, with melodic ideas ranging from classical to shoe-gaze,” Edwards said. “[There are] aggressive yet undeniably danceable beats. And haunting yet charmingly accessible vocals.”

Edwards and fellow members Wyatt Adams, James Jardine, Jordan Kline, and Linh Bui formed the band in 2011 and have performed in both Fort Worth and Dallas.

It’s not only the music that’s unique, though. Unlike scenes in many cities, Fort Worth’s is not a cutthroat one; in fact, it’s the very opposite.

“There is plenty of room for us all to do what we like and we don't have to step on anyone else's toes to do it,” Edwards said.

Instead of competing with one another for gigs, Fort Worth musicians often have close friendships with members of other bands. Some of these musicians have been friends since childhood.

“It’s probably not a battle with the next band,” Maunder said. “These are probably the guys you hang out with on weekends.”

Smith agreed that Fort Worth’s scene is not a competitive one. He said that when he opened the Live Oak, he never felt as if he were competing with other venue owners.

In addition, many of Fort Worth’s musicians have played in multiple bands – for instance, Wyatt Adams of Ice Eater was formerly part of The Burning Hotels, Edwards said.

This spirit of cooperation and friendship is difficult to explain, Edwards said. But it’s not impossible.

“Maybe it's our time and place,” he said. “Maybe people are just a little friendlier in Fort Worth.”

All of these various factors converge to create a healthy, original music scene in Fort Worth. There are many different reasons why people are drawn to the city’s music. But perhaps the most important is that it provides a sense of community and shared experience, Maunder said.

“They sing about what they see. Their education is here in Fort Worth, whether it’s growing up here, or moving here, or becoming who you’re going to be here,” Maunder said. “I think it resonates with a lot of people around town.”

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