A couple of weeks ago, our crack marketing team here at the humble Weekly revealed this year’s list of nominees for the Fort Worth Weekly Music Awards or, as we affectionately call them, the Panthies. Next to affordable housing and some sort of basic health care, there’s surely nothing in this world a local musician desires more than one of our shiny, panther-headed trophies. Unlike those two other aspirations, dozens of area artists now actually have a chance at that black cat-busted consolation, which could go a long way toward easing their frustrations at the lack of availability of the formers.
Yet — as nothing in this world, no matter how well-intentioned — can apparently escape some level of acrimony, this year’s ballot has drawn some criticisms within the local music community. Shortly after the ballot announcement, I came across a post by a local muso who said something like, “There are so many great musicians killing it in Fort Worth. How does the Fort Worth Weekly miss them every single year?”
Not only did this jump out at me, contrasting as it did with my feed’s usual glut of nihilistic memes and mentioning a name that appears on some of my paychecks, but a lot of other people seemed to notice it too. As of this writing, the ensuing thread has more than 120 comments — and counting. In terms of today’s social media currency, for a thread about music in Fort Worth made by Fort Worthians, it has legs.
Knowing that the soshes, by design, are mostly forums for hot takes, potshots, and countless other means of edge-lord disparagement bent on sucking the joy out of anything anyone finds pleasurable, I normally don’t get mired in the fray. “Don’t read the comments” guides me as much as “live, laugh, love” is a governing principle in the lives of Southern housewives with angled bob cuts who still happily reside in Forever 2016.
Though read them I did. Enough of them to get the idea, anyway. They were rife with the usual barbs tossed at us this time of year about the awards, the nominees, our music coverage in general, and our paper as a whole. “It’s a just a popularity contest!” “They just write about their friends!” “It’s the same nominees every year!” “They’re too lazy to actually go out and find good artists!” “They just care about advertising!” and so on and so forth.
I was left feeling a little wounded. Angry, even. Not for my own sake but for the countless others who put so much effort into this process. It was not just that the hard work that goes into selecting the nominees was being so unfairly denigrated. It seemed to call into question the motives of those people doing that work. For the record: These are good people doing the best they can. They don’t “play favorites.” They don’t care about advertising. (Lol. If you know of any musicians willing to advertise in our paper, please have them call the main line at 817-321-9700.) These virtuous folks just want the best for the community. Maligning them is not cool. At all.
This might come as revelation to some, but the three people who write about music for the Weekly do not select the nominees for the awards. Please read that again. We do not. The vast majority of the nominees are selected by you, our readers. No fewer than five of the nominees in each category come directly from the reader polling done for our annual Best Of issue in September. The remaining two or three names in each category, and those additional categories not originally included in Best Of, were supplemented by input from several members of the local music community: venue owners, producers and engineers, fellow musicians, and writers/bloggers/photogs who cover the scene. We three Weekly music writers certainly offered our opinions, but we deferred to this ad hoc committee for the final selections. Trust me, it took a ton of time and energy to compile so many differing opinions, put them all together, and produce a finished ballot. I’m glad I didn’t really have to do any of the grunt work. The folks who did, however, do not deserve the backlash.
In answer to the charge that the awards are a “popularity contest,” I mean, they are. All popular votes in the world of the arts are meant to celebrate entire communities, and that includes those who aren’t directly involved in the production of same — i.e., not musicians; i.e., readers/voters; i.e., the people who actually go to the shows, eat up the merch, and buy drinks (sometimes all the drinks) at the venues. And the venues. This is also a celebration of them for working so hard to allow all this to take place. Without them, bands would simply play for other bands in their garages perhaps or in some barren field. The half-hearted exchanges of “good set” among players while breaking down and setting up is sometimes the only validation they get for all the heart and soul they put into their craft. It’s hard to keep it in mind sometimes, but it’s the people who drive this thing, so give ’em a break if they forgot to include your favorite experimental progressive blues fusion project that plays a regular residency at a sports bar in Euless on Wednesday nights.
Despite bristling at the comments, I do unequivocally agree with the poster’s original complaint. It was written by, hands down, one of the best musicians in town, one for whom I have an immense amount of respect but also someone I feel fortunate enough to call a friend. They’re absolutely right. We do miss a ton. Way more than we could ever cover. I also agree that it sucks. The paradox inherent in the beauty that comes with such a broad and diverse music scene like we’re fortunate enough to enjoy in our town is that much like the vastness of space or the mind-numbing volume of the ocean, it’s simply too much for any one entity to know, let alone one as small as ours.
I suppose it could be challenged — and it has been — that it is our job to know, that, like little Bob Woodwards, we three Weekly music scribes (all freelancers, by the way, with other jobs and other lives) should don fedoras with little placards reading “PRESS” on them tucked into the band, pound the pavement, and overturn every rock for the latest music scoop. But I would contend that the Weekly is a helluva lot more than a local music publication. Over the past several months alone, we’ve neutered a once-powerful far-right PAC masquerading as a cell phone company and forced three heads of the tax appraisal district to resign or retire (earning us another Diamond Award from the Society of Professional Journalists — Arkansas Chapter). We are also the only media outlet in North Texas covering the corrupt family-courts cabal and a dangerous megachurch whose leaders run a real estate grift and are pissing on the separation of church and state. Could we use help with our music coverage? And our art coverage and our theater coverage and our … the list goes on? Holy hell, yes. Please. Instead of shitting on our small yet mighty music section from the cheap seats, how about, y’know, maybe offering help? Editor Anthony Mariani is always looking for new contributors, especially if they’re not straight white guys (). And while I can’t speak for Steve or Johnny, our only two other music writers, I can say that while I never set out to be a “journalist,” which is likely evident by how shit I am at it, I write about this scene simply because I love it and I care about it. And I know you do, too, and though we may disagree on the process, I love you for your love regardless.
Along with covering music and sports for the Weekly, Patrick Higgins is also a musician playing in Understudied and The Dwellers, as well as backing singer-songwriters Cameron Smith and Eric Osbourne.