Is Dallas Suffering From Festival Fatigue?

Categories: Commentary

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Zara Walsh
Rebirth Brass Band last weekend at the Granada. Slideshow.

It was pretty tight in the front standing section at the Granada Theater this past Saturday. My mother, an avid live music fan, usually prefers to stand further back at shows, but I grabbed her hand and led her up to the stage anyway. Behind the stage curtain, we could hear the faint clicking and tinkling of brass horns warming up. Rebirth Brass Band was about to go on. Mama Q, as she's often referred to, had seen them only once before, outdoors at the 2012 State Fair. "Trust me," I told her, "you're going to want to see this up close."

See also: Rebirth Brass Band, 9/7/13, Granada Theater: Review and Photos

After the first few songs of a galvanizing set, she eventually backed up to cool off from dancing and to spare her eardrums. On the way home that night, she would tell me, "I've never seen so many people dancing in one place! Not just up front, but the whole theater. They brought the house down!"

"You were right," she gushed. "That was so much cooler than last time!"

Like any loving daughter, I love it when my mom admits that I'm right. But in this case, I knew that I would be. The State Fair show she was referring to wasn't bad, but the crowd wasn't into it the way they were engrossed by Rebirth at The Granada. There is something about the close quarters of a small venue and a crowd that showed up knowing the band that help you digest a live performance differently.

This energy is depicted in Ernie Barnes' neo-mannerist album cover for Marvin Gaye's 1976 classic, I Want You. The right combination of performance and venue will transcend an audience, turning a crowd of people into a single communal entity. The energy of the music bounces off the walls and flows between patrons like an ionic bond. One huge mass of people moving in time as one, revolving around the stage like planets around the sun.

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The Dallas live music market is changing. The dog days of summer in particular, are becoming more and more saturated with music festivals every year. From mid-August to mid-September, Dallas will have seen Gorilla Vs. Bear Festival, The Mad Decent Block Party, Fort Worth Rock Assembly, Untapped, Dia De Los Toadies, Clearfork Music Festival, Breakaway Festival, plus a couple DIY startups. Index Fest and THRWD Fest are coming this October. Before you know it, we'll be making the drive down to Austin for Fun Fun Fest.

Festivals are appealing in this city because the population is so huge. They make you feel like you're getting more for your money with stacked lineups. When there's one every weekend, it seems less practical to pay for smaller, single-headliner shows here and there. People only have so much free time to spend on this kind of stuff. You can't count on Dallas music consumers to go out to more shows just because there are more to go to.

Festivals sell an experience, which is an enticing way to spend that limited free time. But the reality of a music festival is more than the bands and the extra amenities. It includes shortened sets, worse sound, unpredictable weather, $6 water bottles and huge crowds. When faced with these elements, the likelihood that you'll even really connect with the performances you're seeing are lessened.

Dallas, I implore you not to forget about your small-show circuit. From the Granada to the Texas Theater, from Lee Harvey's to Doublewide, nearly every one of our neighborhoods has at least one or two ideal venues for an intimate and memorable live music experience. They need our support to thrive, and they'll help us thrive culturally.

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20 comments
Rob Browning
Rob Browning

Too much music?? How could that be?? I can understand the fatigue of not appreciating diversity and thinking there's too much music.

Tori Bultman
Tori Bultman

They could just trade in all the little crappy ones for one good one.

Jonas Martin
Jonas Martin

Yes. Definitely. Plus, they mostly all suck.

DJ_K_OS
DJ_K_OS

When done right, festivals can achieve that intimacy and sense of community - Daft Punk at Lolla 2007 is a large scale example, or the FFF free after shows allow festers to see acts in more intimate spaces (Icona Pop at Red 7 last year was much better than their recent HOB stop).  When Grimes played Index last year, yes, it fell flat, but would Grimes have come through Dallas otherwise?  To the authors point, as long as local booking agents are doing their job, then we shouldn't have to rely on fests to attract such emerging talent.

Ryan Hill
Ryan Hill

It seems like everything in Dallas has a $40 gate charge! I'd love to see more free admission festivals that just charge for food/drinks and feature local artists.

Jenna Banuelos
Jenna Banuelos

Too many music festivals? No such thing. They are all different, and I'm proud of what we're doing. At least I have something to look forward to during the year. Spring time = Big Folkin' Fest, Homegrown, Untapped Fort Worth, Fort Worth Music Festival. Then in the Fall is Untapped Dallas, Index Fest, and now Canned Fest. And I go to every single one of them, never am I disappointed.

Ateen Khakpour
Ateen Khakpour

Fatigue in the sense that the Dallas' music festivals need better lineups. It's too top 40. Research what avid music listeners are listening to, and I promise you it's not what you hear on kiss fm or the beat.. etc

xx_ethanc3
xx_ethanc3

I wish we had more music fest here in Dallas, with more known bands along with the local scene.

Ethan Wilson
Ethan Wilson

If Austin can have what seems like 100's of them a month, I think we can do just fine with our number.

Melissa Howell
Melissa Howell

Too many music festivals? Perhaps. Too many music festivals worthy of going to? Nothing to worry about there.

andiharman
andiharman

@DJ_K_OS Grimes played at Dan's Silverleaf and Good Records last year.

DJ_K_OS
DJ_K_OS

Consider me humbled.  So I guess I'll add promoters to my last point... ;-)

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