Becki Howard: "I've Learned That Booking Only Bands You Love Isn't Always the Most Fiscally Responsible Thing To Do!"
Becki Howard's role might be more behind the scenes nowadays, but she's done her fair share in the spotlight over the years, playing violin on three Paper Chase albums, and performing live with The Crash That Took Me, Sarah Jaffe and, more recently, Bethan.
Becki Odom Becki Howard in her war paint
It's likely her passion for performing, paired with a college theatre background and the fact that she was a regular at Deep Ellum's Insomnia, brought her to the indispensable programming role she currently holds at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. She's had a big hand in some of the cooler local music-themed goings-on there, like the Patio Sessions, Mother's Day Jazz Brunch and more.
What a cool job you have. You seem to really enjoy it, and it shows in your work.
I really do love my job. There's this friend of a friend who plays music for a living, and on his guitar pedal board he put a note saying, "You get to do this," and I feel like I should write that down and put it on my wall at work, as a reminder whenever I'm having a stressful day. I'm fortunate enough to get a paycheck doing something that I really love to do.
Is it easy for a taste-maker like you to get a little restless working for a more opera-ish type venue like ATTPAC?
Well, we do have opera at the Center, as well as theater and dance, and I really do like and have an appreciation for all of those mediums but, like at any job, there are projects you're more passionate about than others. I personally tend to get a little more excited about some of the one-off concerts we've brought in, like
It seems you've pulled in some younger culture there.
ATTPAC wants to be accessible to anyone and everyone, which is part of why Patio Sessions was developed back in 2010, and it's the most consistent local music offering ATTPAC hosts. I was initially asked to book it because of my involvement in the local music scene, and I was more than thrilled to do it. It was the perfect opportunity to bring both bands and fans of music to this big, shiny and seemingly untouchable performing arts center downtown. We've also booked local music for the occasional Dallas Arts District block party, Art in October and a few other festivals downtown.
You learned a lot of what you apply there on the spot?
I've had a lot of on-the-job training. I ended up getting my degree in Music Business, but having no idea what I would be able to do with that in the metroplex, I took a job right out of college at a boutique branding and marketing agency downtown. A little over two years later, I found out that the AT&T Performing Arts Center (then the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts ) was hiring a receptionist. That wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but I knew this was where I wanted to be. From there, I moved up and assisted the VP in charge of booking, and when he left it was about two years of baptism by fire training. It's a very stressful but effective way to learn, and now I'm booking under our new Director of Entertainment and learning more every day. For example, I've learned that booking only bands you love isn't always the most fiscally responsible thing to do! So it's a balance of research, risk assessment and intuition all at once.
I saw the School of Rock kids go at it on the patio there. I assume that was big for the ATTPAC scene.
The School of Rock shows before performances of American Idiot was the brainchild of our marketing department, and I thought it was an awesome idea. I would have loved an opportunity like that as a kid!
Then there was local jazz on Mother's Day. How was that?
The Mother's Day Jazz Brunch was a huge success. Over a thousand people showed up to hear local DFW jazz musicians play. We'll definitely be doing more events like that going forward. I think Annette Strauss Square's new BYOB policy has made the venue seem even cooler than it already was.
I'm guessing you had parents who were well-cultured in the arts.
My parents started me off with violin lessons in sixth grade. I'm really glad they made me stick it out because it didn't actually start to feel cool until college, when I realized that I could play in bands. My dad used to play trumpet in a jazz band called The Brasstac, and Mom played piano some. There was always music playing in the house and in the car.
And you were pretty young when you started hitting local shows?
I'd go to the occasional big concert, but high school is when I really started getting into seeing local bands play around town and having friends who felt the same. I remember at age 16 going with my friends to Insomnia in Deep Ellum, in the days before we were old enough to get into places where adult beverages were served. Then I remember turning 17 and being so excited to finally get to go see bands at Trees. Baboon, Doosu, Flickerstick, Weener, Toadies, Pleasant Grove, Centro-matic and Pinkston were some of the bands I would see almost every time they played.
How about nowadays? Do you still have time for local shows?
It is busy and getting busier all the time, but we trade off working shows, so there's definitely time. It would probably be a bit biased of me to mention all the bands my husband Kevin [Howard] is in, so I'll just let that be naturally inferred.
Seen anyone new lately that raised your eyebrows?
I just saw a show this last weekend that had three amazing bands on the bill. First was
Home by Hovercraft, who really blew me away. They have a very engaging and energetic live show and I'd highly recommend checking them out. Then there's Daniel Hart, whose CD release show was the initial reason for the evening out. He's played a strong supporting role in a lot of notable bands, but is now working hard on his own material. His album The Orientalist is worth buying for sure. I've been a fan of his for a while and he recently played a Patio Sessions. The last band that played that night was new to me entirely. It was Denton band The Colurs, and I could be wrong, but I believe this show was their second time to play live, and I was totally caught off guard by how good they were. They're amazing songwriters, not to mention the orchestral arrangements. Really incredible stuff.
Are there things about Dallas music you'd like to see more of? Less of? Things that can be done to strengthen the local music community?
In short: more continuing collaboration, between musicians as well as promoters/venues, though I feel we've come a long way in this regard, and with less competition.