There I was onstage at Lola’s Saloon giving the Me-Thinks’ crowd a lecture on why they should have been drinking Bud Light that evening when a thick, choking cloud of fog completely engulfed me. Guitarist Sir Marlin Von Bungy (a.k.a. Chris Lundy) had cranked up the band’s signature fog machine to its “Stephen King” setting, and no one onstage could see anything but plumes of white smoke for a few seconds.
I needed that moment of levity. Like all others before it, the production of the 16th iteration of the Fort Worth Weekly Music Awards Festival takes a Herculean effort from our mighty albeit tiny staff. Before that point on Saturday night (the festival’s opening day), I’d been running back and forth between The Grotto and the two Lola’s venues like a neurotic mother hen, obsessing over little details that were already out of my control. Organizing 41 bands at eight venues spread out over two days involves a ton of planning, horse-trading, meetings, phone calls, emails, texts, office memos, meetings, meetings, a shit-load of luck, and another three meetings.
It took a prank by one of my favorite bands in town (any town) to snap my head back to where it needed to be: the music, the dranks, and, most importantly, the people. Excuse the back patting, but the folks involved in this city’s music scene – its musicians, fans, promoters, and venue staffers – are some of the best humans I’ve ever met. Back when I was in a string of terrible bands in the ’90s and early aughts, too many of the booking agents, soundmen, and dudes in bands were jerks. That’s never the case these days in the 817. Playing live music in Fort Worth is something akin to living out a Lionel Richie party anthem.
Every year, the festival reminds me about so many of the amazing acts that people like me – the ones who live, eat, and breathe local music – take for granted. The aforementioned Me-Thinks filled Lola’s with thunderous riffage and anthemic choruses. I hadn’t seen the Haltom City four-piece in a while, and they’re still one of the most entertaining, captivating, badass bands this side of Hurst.
Speaking of remembering, the early-hours scene at The Grotto was, as the kids say, lit. Rapper Big Cliff Watkins opened the show with his full band, and Wrex followed. Both MCs were downright hypnotic in their mastery of the crowd. When they yelled, “Put your hands in the air,” it was like a puppet master pulling strings. For me, one of the most enduring moments of the whole festival will be when Cliff, Dru B Shinin’, and the other members of the defunct rap army Mount Olympus joined Wrex onstage for a blistering, high-energy demonstration of skill. And, for the record, hip-hop in Fort Worth brought out a ton of people.
The rest of my memories are like distorted fragments of a dream. I recall that during Kevin Aldridge & The Appraisers’ set at the Chat Room on Sunday, a few of the other guitarists in the room were both spellbound and humbled watching Steffin Ratliff’s precision and creative leads. Later that evening, the guys from Bulls and Tame … Tame and Quiet detonated the Boiled Owl Tavern with post-punk brilliance. Before they started, Andy Pickett warmed up the packed house with his engaging piano balladry.
Some of the crowds were just as inspiring as the bands. War Party’s Chat Room throng drew me in to such a degree that I spent the final few tunes of the band’s set near the front row hopping along with kids 20 years my younger. People spilled onto the sidewalk to see Ginny Mac at Shaw’s Patio Bar & Grill. The audience for both the Royal Sons and Jetta in the Ghost Tree at Lola’s Trailer Park were hanging on every note like they were going to be tested over the material. You can always tell when someone is hearing Reagan James’ voice for the first time. As soon as the chanteuse opened her mouth to sing at Lola’s Trailer Park, I scanned the audience for dropped jaws and incredulous whispers. “Yes,” I wanted to tell them, “that sultry voice came out of that teenager.”
It wasn’t all a nostalgia tour for me. I was introduced to the dark, soulful bombast of Dead Vinyl at Lola’s Trailer Park, the silky smooth Brandon Marcel at Shipping & Receiving, and FOGG’s psyched-out waves of crunchy riffs at Lola’s Saloon.
The weather was near perfect, and every venue I saw was well attended. The shuttles provided by Valet of Fort Worth (sponsored by the Chat Room Pub) made easy work of getting around the spread-out Near Southside venues. Equally helpful was the Topo Chico reps handing out delicious water at every club.
Like always, there are too many people to thank. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that staffers of the Weekly give up a weekend of their lives every year to volunteer for this thing. And did I mention the meetings? We couldn’t do it without you. Eagle Audio Recording outdid itself with the production of our annual compilation, Frequencies Vol. 8. And, of course, thanks to the United Way of Tarrant County and Topo Chico for sponsoring, and Bud Light *looks around a fog machine* for being a local music stalwart.
I’m not sure how to thank the 41 bands that donated their time and talent to pull off the MAF17. Just know that whatever a music scene is, you’re the ones that make it special. Let’s do it again next year, OK?