The music scene here is diverse and hardworking and auspiciously unified, across genres and neighborhoods. Sit at a table somewhere like Avoca, the Boiled Owl, or Lola’s with a mixed bag of songwriters, punks, MCs, pickers, DJs, and composers, and you’ll find a favorite topic of discussion within any corner of the Kitty City culture committee is our place on the proverbial map.
Being a larger and older city certainly comes with its own cultural advantages, and Dallas’ musical legacy is inarguably vibrant and distinct. (Deep Ellum alone has more jazz, blues, and rock ’n’ roll history than most states in the union.) My intention here is not to detract from our neighbor’s vibrant music scene but to stake a claim to our own.
Fort Worth’s anxieties and ambitions about stepping out of the shadow of Dallas are both warranted and necessary: Our city’s identity and history are rich also, but it can sometimes feel as though any occasion in which fate steps in and turns the world’s eyes our way, the attention is kind of absorbed into the legacy of our friends over there East of Eden.
Hell, Dallas still tries to innocently claim Leon Bridges despite his proven enthusiasm for representing Fort Worth. It can be frustrating to watch, but I think I know why it’s also such an easy heist. If I may be so bold as to acknowledge a fundamental weakness within our scene, I believe there is one thing in which Dallas is more gifted: export.
Beyond even just the giants like Reverend Horton Heat, Polyphonic Spree, and Butthole Surfers, the city is also home to rising stars like St. Vincent, True Widow, Post Malone, and Power Trip. Even hardworking local favorites like Sealion, Party Static, Teenage Sexx, Loafers, and Street Arabs have spent quality time on the sonic highways. I can’t even scratch the surface of Dallas’ reach within hip-hop, which boasts MCs like Blue the Misfit, who has collaborated with Kendrick Lamar (“Drugs on the Schoolyard”), arguably the most consequential artist in the entire rap game right now.
Compared to our neighbors, the road warriors in this town are few and far between, though some exist. Quaker City Night Hawks have been touring for most of this year, and punk bands like Kira Jari and Dead Words have played on the road at least twice as much as at home. Leon Bridges took Jake Paleschic north to play for the Quebecois, Jacob Furr gets a move on, Joe Gorgeous and Son of Stan are always in L.A., Oil Boom and Mean Motor Scooter hit up the Midwest, and my band War Party has traveled both coasts several times. I know we have more out there. If you’re one of them, give yourself a big pat on the back from me or buy yourself an extra QT taquito at the next stop: You’re doing the work Fort Worth’s bands and artists need to do.
Keeping a consistent tour schedule isn’t easy, though, and for some musicians, it may feel nearly impossible. Demanding jobs, rising rents, kids – all sorts of life can get in the way of doing this music thing full-time, and that’s alright. For one, there are always weekend trips and one-off shows if you still want to reach those regional, national, or even international markets, and also, we’ve been so blessed to exist in the age of the internet, where you can easily find your “scene” and put yourself out there. Hey! Maybe you’ll become one of those hyper-prolific bedroom pop artists who inks a deal with an indie-major giant after releasing a bajillion full-length records exclusively on YouTube or Bandcamp. That happens now, too: 2017 is a helluva time to be alive. You can be creative. You’re an artist (presumably). Get in where you fit in. Risk it for a biscuit. Pay the cost to be the boss.
A friend and journalist at a popular Dallas blog has championed the phrase “The New Fort Worth Sound” to describe bands like Siberian Traps and Oil Boom. How did he characterize it? “A fuzzy, retro-leaning pop-rock thing pioneered by Son of Stan.” I’ve never been able to put my finger on a cohesive “Fort Worth Sound” before, but I feel like maybe there is something to that. Maybe the only way to truly find the “New Fort Worth Sound” is to get out of town and put it up against other markets and music scenes. No one will ever hear of a place that no one ever leaves. Hit the road hard and bring the soul of our city with you because that’s the only way we are ever going to be recognized for what we already know we are: a music town.
Cameron Smith is the principal singer-songwriter for the Fort Worth post-punk band War Party and performs as a solo artist under the pseudonym Sur Duda. Smith also is a cofounder and owner of Dreamy Life Records and Music, LLC, a Fort Worth-based record studio, store, and label.