For me, I guess, going to South-by is a lot like going to Lola’s or The Grotto –– at the annual Austin festival, I’m usually watching a Fort Worth band, and I’m usually surrounded by Fort Worth people. In my old South-by days, I took advantage of the dynamic environment and often went exploring; even attended a few of those conference thingies. But now I’m broke, and old, and semi-lazy, and if I can’t write about a band because it’s not from the 817, I can’t rationalize listening to said band’s music. In Austin or wherever. I’ve just got too many other things to do, though in my spare time I try to remain relatively “hip” by listening to allegedly hip non-terrestrial radio stations, mostly KXT and, on Saturdays, KTCU. Plus, I really, really love Fort Worth music. It doesn’t sound any different from any other musics emanating from elsewhere, no. But it’s (mostly) fantastic, and it’s always got a story, typically an interesting one, and for a writer, well, the story is everything. Almost. I’ve written great things about pompous jerks before.
In a talk I gave at Magnolia Motor Lounge a couple of weeks ago as part of the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History’s PUBlic Knowledge lecture series, I attributed a good chunk of the quality and success of Fort Worth indie-rockers to the “Fort Worth Way,” a friendly, honest way of doing business –– don’t let ex-Mayor Mikey’s backdoor dealings with gas-drilling interests ruin the concept for you. The Fort Worth Way not only still exists but is thriving, especially among musicians and industry players in the 817. From what I’ve experienced, read, and heard during my 15-plus years of writing about local music scenes from here to New York City, I’m sad to report that a lot of indie musicians and industry players in other scenes engage in dishonest behavior (trying to poach other bands’ musicians, bands screwing over other bands on pay, club owners’ screwing over bands on pay), fomenting cutthroat competition. In Fort Worth, though, everyone seems to get along and treat one another respectfully and honestly: the Fort Worth Way in action.
At South-by, there weren’t only a lot of Fort Worth bands performing (about a dozen), but there were a lot of Fort Worth performances –– Quaker City Night Hawks played at least 20 shows. (Just kidding. But you get my point.) The only one I was able to catch was the only show billed as Quaker City Night Hawks –– the rest were as Jenny O., the popular L.A. singer-songwriter who chose Quaker City as her backing band for a string of Texas/South-by dates. The setting of that lone Quaker City show was South Congress, Doc’s Motorworks specifically, the site of a two-day, mostly Fort Worth-local showcase put on by Blackbox, a new Fort Worth-based production company and booking agency.
The Blackbox festivities began on Friday with EPIC RUINS, Josh Weathers & The True+Endeavors, and The Hanna Barbarians, among some non-F-Dub bands, and continued on Saturday. Calhoun’s amazing 5 p.m. set was supposed to be the last of the two-day showcase, but for some reason, Doc’s wanted the party to continue. Two additional Fort Worth bands were added last-minute, starting with Quaker City, whose set was as strong and smooth as a shot of Jack. The makeshift stage (just a wheeled trailer) forced the visual focus on drummer Matt Mabe, who neither shied from the spotlight nor melted into the background. His powerful, mercurial drumming elicited a few “holy shit”s of approval from some non-Fort-Worth band-dudes seated next to me, especially during opener “Like Old Cain,” with its tribal monster-mash of a beat, and several South Congress passersby stopped to take in the action. Here’s a short clip of “The Last Ride of Miguel the Sacred.”
The other band added to Saturday’s set had played Friday. As the last band of the showcase, The Hanna Barbarians exercised the option of playing longer than the normal set time of about 30 minutes. The band came on strong, rocking out with “Basement Shooter” and “13,” before slowing things down a bit. But things picked up with the fuzzy stomper “Porcelain Rooster” (a song that I may or may not have, in my drunken stupor, called out for several times prior). (Damn you, two-fifty Lone Star tall-boys!)
After the Barbs were done, I headed back to the heart of the beast, 6th Street, for a 1 a.m. set by Fort Worth/Denton’s Mind Spiders. The club, Valhalla, is smallish, but it was packed, and the Spiders sounded pretty killer, serving up a mix of R&B-inflected punk. (Yes, you read that correctly.)
But I got into town on Friday, and the only Fort Worth show I could catch was EPIC RUINS’ at Shiner’s Saloon on Congress by the capitol. The place is small; the “stage” even smaller –– all 74 members of EPIC RUINS looked pretty funny cramped into such a microscopic area. But the band played well, running through all of ER’s debut, last year’s Void Mariner and the Mystic Boogie of the Sacred Line, as cleanly and tightly as possible –– you would have thought the album was simply playing over the speakers. The sound was that tight and spot-on, which is quite an achievement considering the assorted sonic layers that go into every ER tune. A short clip for your enjoyment.