Live music attendance (or lack thereof) has been a steady subject in these pages over the past few months. There weren’t a lot of venues relying on the live music model to begin with, but now with a few recent closures, we’ve all been talking about who still goes to shows — and, more importantly, who doesn’t. And why. While we sadly have no solutions to the seemingly dubious future of the industry, we can offer a tiny bit of insight into who you might bump into at the next concert: us! Or at least maybe, limited as the three of us are by the same constraints affecting all you other would-be crowd surfers, mosh pitters, expressive dancers, or head nodders as our collective numbers dwindle.
In 2023, we found plenty of reasons to ignore the excuses not to go and actually planted our assess among the crowds and experienced music in live, three-dimensional reality. With North Texas stages graced by so many great artists — whether from afar or right here — the whys-to still outweigh the whys-not-to. Here are some of our favorites from the past year. We hope our faves — and the dozens more we couldn’t find room for — inspire you to join us down in front in ’24. — Patrick Higgins
I’ll admit it. I’m a larger part of the problem than I’d prefer to be. I’m old and broke, and I have a family. Between all of life’s myriad obligations, and while still trying to carve out a little time for actually playing music myself, I just can’t seem to find many opportunities to devote to the desire that has been amor primus for me since I was 15 years old: namely, watching people play instruments on a stage. Loudly. I wasn’t able to battle the decline in attendance in town as much as I would have liked this year because for the first time in a while (decades maybe), nearly every one of my favorite bands decided to go on tour — but not through Fort Worth. *gasps in obligatory anti-Dallas horror* Hey, I can’t help it if Unwound, Blonde Redhead, Flaming Lips, and The National all decided to play east of the mighty Trinity in less than a month. Still, I managed to catch a few glimpses of the odd local stage (or barroom floor) and, due to all the killer talent in town, was treated to greatness just about every time.
I’ve been vocal about my love for Spring Palace to just about anyone who still has the patience to listen to me talk about music. I was able to enjoy the infectious F-dub indie trio’s sets a handful of times over the last 365, once at Arts Goggle and a few times at The Cicada, and have loved every experience. Not only does it seem that the chief songwriter, singer/guitarist Chase Johnson, shares much of the same musical DNA as I do — base pairs made up of Pavement, Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, and the like — but I also appreciate being able to watch the development of a band from the very beginning. Not only has Spring Palace become tighter over the course of the year, but their sound has evolved along with a cleaner delivery of it.
Dallas’ Abbreviations has to be one of the area’s most underappreciated groups. As is Def Rain, the electronic dream-pop side project of engrossing Abbreviation singer/guitarist Ashley Lear, whose former rock band, Record Hop, remains one of my very favorite acts of its kind to ever come out of North Texas. ABBV seems to pick up where Record Hop left off with a highly quaffable mixture of simple punk riffs under spacious wall-of-sound guitar leads and Lear’s captivatingly nonchalant vocal delivery. Simply put: Abbreviations’ set at Grandma’s in February was incredible.
October saw the return of blistering Western Swingers Convoy & The Cattlemen, whose show at The Cicada was their first since COVID. Though frontman Convoy Cabriolet, a.k.a. Tyler Morrison, has calmed a little, he and his bandmates still bring the noise. Like a Bob Wills platter on amphetamines, the band’s warp-speed C&W throwdown proved they’re still some of the baddest-ass instrumentalists in Texas.
Keeping my concertgoing dollars in the 817, I did manage to check off a bucket-list show I’d been waiting since I was 13 to experience: the mighty Metallica. I made it to the second of their two-nights/two-sets absolute takedown of Jerry World in August and was not disappointed. I might not spin Master of Puppets on the reg anymore, but those riffs are forever seared into my brain, and seeing them live was a near religious experience.
Arts Goggle was great for me in that I was able to check out several artists I’ve been wanting to see for years but, owing to the aforementioned complications, haven’t been able to. Each met or exceeded my expectations. Like a Thanos collecting local-band Infinity Stones, I caught the guitar theatrics of Denver Williams & The Gas Money, the simian surf of Go Go-Rillas, and the sweet slack rock of Cool Jacket.
But my favorite catch of the event was by an unknown-to-me group of minors from Fort Worth. The four-piece psych-punk outfit LABELS was so fucking cacophonous, I thought the roof was going to fly off the standing-room-only Boiled Owl Tavern. Their set alone simply reaffirmed that the kids are alright and that the future of rock ’n’ roll should be secure for the next generation. — P.H.
Here’s the thing: I still think that Lola’s closing on December 11 (“Goodbye, Lola’s,” Dec. 13) marks the end of an era in local music that stretched 17 years into the past, but what I didn’t really unpack in that piece is how this now-bygone time overlaps with the one growing in the present. We all loved Lola’s, and while it was undeniably the epicenter of Fort Worth music culture, it was also not the only club to shut its doors this year. We also earlier lost Twilite Lounge and The Rail (though, if we’re being honest, the Rail seems to have experienced death and resurrection more times than Jason Vorhees). We’re still sad about Lola’s, but several other venues — in particular, The Cicada, The Post at River East, Tulips FTW, and Haltom Theater — are still kicking, connecting the past to what’s next.
I was reminded of this fact because in January, I attended Broke String Burnett’s album release at the Post, where I’d watched a few shows before, all of them either sold out or nearly so. While the Post’s vibe might seem more geared toward intimate, sit-down-and-listen-intently-type of concerts than loud-and-rowdy performances, Burnett and his band blasted through a raucous set of ominous, greased-lightning cowpunk. It was a hoot. And a hootenanny.
From 2013 until the end of 2020, I lived in 76116. Though this ZIP code contains posh neighborhoods like Ridglea Hills and the nicer parts of Ridgmar, it also includes Camp Bowie West and Alta Mere, an area I’ve always lovingly referred to as “Juggalo Country.” The Rail sat in the 76116, and in May, my partner, her sister, and I went to the perpetually back-from-the-dead heavy metal haven to see the 3-Headed Monster Tour, a cavalcade of horror-core rappers headlined by the trio of Esham, Violent J, and Ouija Mac. This was actually my first brush with the Insane Clown Posse universe, and I immediately applied for resident alien status. Being part of this crowd was one of the most uplifting and entertaining experiences of my life.
Another great time I had with a specific crowd was the night the Boiled Owl filled up with people in Western wear, thereby annihilating the notion that the Magnolia Avenue tavern is somehow “just for hipsters.” All the people in cowboy hats and Tecovas were there to see throwback C&W headliner Mark Lanky, but they arrived early enough to catch the openers, singer-songwriters Dusty Calcote and Christian Carvajal. Between those two and Lanky’s full-band performance, everyone had a great time, and I’d argue that they were able to see three stars up close before they blow up.
In July, I saw Slightly Stoopid at Toyota Music Factory in Irving. I wouldn’t call my relationship with this band “complicated,” but I do acknowledge that their frozen-in-the-SoCal-of-’05 white-boy reggae is often cringey and arguably appropriative. I also admit that they are one of my biggest musical influences, a band that a friend and I drove all the way to Houston in 1998 to see, which caused him to fail the calculus test he had the next day. Seeing them 25 years later — as direct support for another one of my biggest, most problematic influences, Sublime — hit all the right spots in my brain, most notably (in order): nostalgia; West Coast reggae; noodly, tubby bass; weed; watching scary-looking Long Beach biker types with pit passes groove to songs about weed; and watching scary-looking Long Beach biker types with pit passes claim weed pens from middle-aged bros on the other side of the fence. A month later, I saw Metallica at Jerry World. Both bands were awesome, but I honestly think the Stoopid show was more fun.
In April at Lola’s, I saw Hotel Satellite, the latest outfit fronted by veteran singer-songwriter Kevin Aldridge. This is a band of experienced rockers plying their collective prowess in the service of soaring choruses borne by multi-part harmonies and spine-tingling guitar leads, the sort of rock ’n’ roll that juices everyone brought up on AOR radio. Like Aldridge’s other projects, Hotel Satellite’s DNA encompasses equal parts Tom Petty and R.E.M., but this is his best effort yet.
The most fun I had watching bands this year came in November, when Soviet Space reunited at Lola’s. Playing together for the first time in two decades, the TCU indie-rockers sent me back to the Aardvark circa 2002, before I started playing in bands, when I was just a clueless, enthusiastic 23-year-old drunk on Natty Light and Sex With an Alligator shots. I saw a lot of people from back then I hadn’t seen in forever, and I remembered every word. — S.S.
I went to a good amount of shows this year, but the one I think was most important was the Weekly’s Music Awards last weekend. It was free, and it was the place to be to see a lot of artists from Fort Worth all at once. Nearly a dozen took to the stage, including Denver Williams, The Grae, Averi Burk, saxophonist Jason Davis (Bastards of Soul, The Nancys), who performed solo while we recognized several scene greats who died this year, and the house band, the Cowtown Dugouts led by James Hinkle.
I like to go to shows that I know will be entertaining but also important, like September’s benefit for the family of Shannon Greer. The former Phorids guitarist died of a blood disorder earlier in the year, and to help his widowed wife, fellow punks and hard-rockers The Dangits, The Me-Thinks, Crucial Times, and Antirad demolished the Sunshine Bar and raised more than $1,400 in the process.
Every January, I like to attend Tulips’ Not Stock Fest, an annual “alternative” to the Stock Show and Rodeo. Last year, True Widow’s heavy shoegaze and Cool Jacket’s crunchy riffage mesmerized me. Along with Denton’s Pearl Earl, Sunbuzzed, and Doomfall, Austin’s Hey Cowboy and Big Bill, and Dallas’ Sealion, Not Stock was wild, and I’m looking forward to next month’s.
Tulips does a great job of bringing in out-of-town acts, and earlier this year there, I saw Malian singer/guitarist Vieux Farka Touré, joined by now-defunct Fort Worth duo Cotinga. Touré is best known for his amazing guitar playing and tribe-like vocals. He and his band had the crowd bouncing to his soulful, upbeat jams. It was magical.
One my favorite indie-rock groups visited Tulips this year, too. New Zealand’s The Beths harked back to the ’90s grunge acts I loved so much growing up. I was front stage photographing the night from the pit, and the energy had me thinking, What in the world is in the water in New Zealand? The sold-out night was probably one of my favorite national experiences of the year. — J.G.