My thoughts on H-Town Presents

A recent post in Houston Press’s Rocks Off blog mentions a recent project between the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau and Mark Austin, photographer and now music promoter who is perhaps best known to readers of my other blog, Quinn’s Big City as the creator of the Canned Acoustica concert series. The project is a promotional-use-only compilation album of local Houston musicians for use in promoting our local music scene called H-Town Presents.

While I like the concept, my original comment on this post expressed surprise at some of the omissions. It should say enough in and of itself that there’s not room enough for “the best” of our music scene in Houston to fit it all on a 74- or even 80-minute CD. One of the readers commenting on the original post, writing under the pen name/handle “WhiteLightning”, felt there was too much self-interest here since Mark is also a promoter under the company name The Convoy Group.

First, from the article, the H-Town Presents track list:

  1. The Tontons, “Golden”
  2. Buxton, “Boy of Nine”
  3. Wild Moccasins, “Gag Reflections”
  4. Young Girls, “Noches”
  5. Featherface, “I Saw You Dancing”
  6. Benjamin Wesley, “Gretch, You Just Wait!”
  7. Robert Ellis, “Friends Like These”
  8. Poor Pilate, “Sundowning”
  9. The Handshake, “I’ll Take Mine”
  10. The Manichean, “The Swan”
  11. Shellee Coley, “The Trees”
  12. Grandfather Child, “Can’t Seem to Forget”
  13. Folk Family Revival, “Unfolding”
  14. Come See My Dead Person, “Another Goodbye”
  15. Venomous Maximus, “Moonchild”
  16. Teddy Rose & Bun B feat. Bobby Lamar, “Here We Go (Texans Anthem)”
  17. Fat Tony, “Hood Party (Radio Edit)
  18. DJ Sun feat. Leah Alvarez, “Heart Seed”
  19. Tyagaraja, “We Will Meet Again”

My take: I will be honest, overall, I like Mark and what he has done for the Houston music scene, and I don’t really have anything against him. I’m willing to give Mark the benefit of the doubt; I don’t think he would intentionally stack this with his own clients (he did include Magnolia Red’s artists Shellee Coley and Folk Family Revival, as well as Buxton). I will concede the tracklist does seem a bit heavy with The Convoy Group’s client list, but the cause-and-effect relation is certainly a matter of debate (i.e. whether these are the musicians Mark thinks are best because they are his clients, or is his reputation such that the best musicians in and around Houston attracted to Mark as a promoter).

Now, back in January or so, I had begun putting together my own tracklist for a mix CD, what I would give to any interested out-of-town friends as my idea of the best of the Houston music scene. For lack of a better term, I’ll say this is a working draft of what I would have released as H-Town Presents were I doing the selection. Most of this list, with one important exception, came from recordings in my personal collection as of early January.

  1. The Tontons, “Kaleidoscope” (1)
  2. Low Man’s Joe, “I’m Alive”
  3. Buxton, “Wolves and Owls”
  4. The Snake Charmers, “(I Wanna Be a) Hoochie Mama”
  5. Tyagaraja, “Open Arms”
  6. Chase Hamblin, “A Fine Time” (2)
  7. Shellee Coley, “Uncomfortable” (3)
  8. Folk Family Revival, “Chasing A Rabbit”
  9. The Watermarks, “I Used to Be Your Rock ‘n’ Roll”
  10. Runaway Sun, “Headin’ Down South” (4)
  11. The Literary Greats, “Mercy Mercy” (5)
  12. Castle Lights, “Maze of Love”
  13. Summer Ashly, “Strange Light” (6)
  14. Winter Wallace, “Holiday” (7)
  15. Beautiful Contributors, “Sound of Stars”
  16. (8)

(1) This was judged strictly on The Tontons’ self-titled album, before I had copies of either the Golden or Sea and Stars EPs. There are a couple of other tracks I would consider here: “Leon” (also on the album), and “Atlas” (from the Sea and Stars EP).

(2) This band is now Chase Hamblin and the Roustabouts, but the debut EP was billed as just Chase Hamblin. I have not heard most of the new album VauDEville yet and this list was compiled before that album’s release, so this was judged solely from the EP A Fine Time.

(3) This was judged solely from Shellee’s EP The Girl the Stencil Drew as I don’t yet have a copy of the album Where It Began.

(4) This was judged from just the self-titled EP and the album The Bridge, as I don’t yet have a copy of Let’s Run, though I would also consider the title track of the latter (which I have as a free download) or possibly “Bad Bad Man” from The Bridge.

(5) This was judged from just the album Black Blizzard as I don’t yet have copies of their earlier albums. “Marigolds” or “NightOwl” are also great tracks from that album, and this was perhaps the toughest choice I had to make.

(6) Summer Ashly is a relative newcomer to at least my awareness if not the Houston music scene in general, and was not actually on this list as I originally made it in early January; this track came out near the end of the month, and I didn’t buy a copy until I found out about it in mid-February. This track is her sole release to date that I am aware of. It’s possible I might prefer one of her later songs once they are released.

(7) Winter Wallace is supposed to be coming out with a new album this year, from what I have heard. I also considered “Here’s To Everything” for this slot; it’s tough because six out of seven tracks on the album are not just good, but excellent. I would also consider something from the new album once it is released.

(8) There is still quite a bit of time left over here (the tracks listed barely total an hour, so another 20 minutes for an 80 minute CD) which leaves room for other tracks and bands I have yet to hear. I did not consider this list “done” when I set it aside in early January, just at a point where I didn’t feel like messing with it any further.

There is, of course, some overlap between at least the bands that I would pick and those that Mark picked. While musical tastes do vary (I really don’t consider rap to even be music, for example), there are certain bands with broader appeal than others.

Thoughts? Compliments? Insults? Rotten tomatoes? Or better yet, who would you pick, and why?

The Met and its “recommended” admission fees

As recently featured in the Huffington Post and NPR’s The Two-Way blog, there has surfaced a controversy and lawsuit about the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s $25 admission fee. The controversy stems from the fact the $25 is actually a recommended donation for admission pursuant to an amendment to an agreement between the city and the museum’s owners in 1970. Those who wish to get into the Met still have to pay something, even if only a penny. (The original 1893 agreement, prior to the 1970 amendment, required free admission for at least five days and two evenings per week in exchange for grants and free use of the land.)

ArtInfo has an interesting article from 2011 which, interestingly, was written right before the increase from $20 to $25 in the suggested/recommended admission fee. From that article comes this dandy quote:

According to the New York Times, Met director Thomas P. Campbell is justifying this cruel cost bump with the argument that post economic-downturn, visitors have been proffering less and less. Apparently, while in boomtimes the per capita contribution goes up annually, in the past fiscal year it’s plummeted a whole 16 cents. So, yes, people are paying less, and your plan is to raise the price — brilliant idea!

I support pay-as-you-can admission fees on principle. They help bring visual and performing arts to an audience which might otherwise just stay home watching cookie-cutter broadcast TV. And society needs more art and more people exposed to art. On the flip side of it, trying to pass off the $25 recommended donation for admission as a requirement is a bit underhanded and could even be seen as thinly-disguised greed, certainly not something that our museums should be doing whether in New York City or elsewhere. I think that is the crux of the lawsuit, and while in general it’s bad form to sue a non-profit, others have opined that the Met isn’t hurting for money.

As examples, see the Met’s online ticketing page and the Met’s guest passes page. There is no “recommended” about the $25 (or discounted amounts of $17 for seniors or $12 for students) at either page. The only way to get a guest pass for less than $25, is to get ten or more for $20 each (total payment: $200+). This would appear to go against the spirit of the 1970 amended agreement between the museum and the city (though the online ticketing page does have a disclaimer if you look in the often-ignored legalese at the bottom).

At the same time, I recognize that it’s unrealistic to expect free admission to the Met. This is not at all what I am suggesting. Locally, we have free admission at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for one night per week underwritten by a corporate sponsor. I appreciate this, and I recognize that it requires quite a bit of money to do something like it.

Looking at the big picture, it’s possible that the Met just doesn’t like the agreement they are stuck in any more. If that’s truly the case, then it should be renegotiated. But, meanwhile, the agreement with the city should be honored both in letter and in spirit, and the fact you can get in for less than the recommended donation should be made clearer—not buried in legalese.

To publish or not to publish a clearly bigoted rant?

If you’re easily offended by racist slurs, you might want to skip this post, or at least the article I’ve linked to.

A recent Addicting Info article details a recent incident in the Lincoln Journal (Lincoln County, West Virginia). The paper ran a transcribed voicemail rant, complete with uncensored racist and homophobic slurs (which are blacked out in the illustration). Suffice it to say that it contains a pretty broad cross section of slurs, that I would only assume describe most of the non-white, non-straight population of Lincoln County. From the article:

The paper’s Managing Editor, Sean O’Donoghue, says that, as a Roman Catholic, he is offended by the rant. Further, many residents were disgusted. However, the paper is defending the decision to print the rant, saying that it is in reference to a local story about a local gay teacher who was recently terminated, which has recently been the top story.

However, the question is, should a paper, regardless of reasoning, publish something like this?

This is a situation I’ve grappled with on many occasions right here on this very blog. I’ve erred most often on the side of publishing my post, sometimes with warnings. But a hobbyist blog with relatively low readership and an area’s major print newspaper are two completely different animals.

The Addicting Info article goes on to say the Lincoln Journal should not have published this, or at least should have published a retraction. The rationale is that this is blatant hate speech. I can see their point of view, however, as much as I abhor racism and fascism, I feel there’s something to be said for publishing something like this occasionally (once every two or three years). There certainly should have been at minimum a prominent disclaimer and an advance apology for offending anyone, once the decision was made to publish.

My rationale: Every once in a while, it’s easy to ignore these types of people and pretend they don’t exist. I believe shining a spotlight on them once in a while helps the rest of decent society realize that we still have a racism and bigotry problem on this planet.

I share the dream of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I hope that we can realize that dream as a society within my lifetime. But it is important to realize ignoring racism does not always make it go away.

(Footnote: I refer to “the late” Dr. King because even though his death was, at the time of writing, mere days short of four and a half decades ago, I believe his natural life would have extended through at least the next couple of years. That, and it was only in 2011 August that the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was opened.)

A big fat Greek soccer and racism controversy

Okay, I’ve got a couple of posts here that will probably wind up being posted in relatively quick succession. Both deal with similar topics (racism), but are completely different situations. This is the first of two.

The BBC reported on a Greek soccer player, Giorgos Katidis, who got in trouble for a Nazi salute. Giorgos has been banned from playing for the Greek national soccer team, and suspended from his professional soccer club.

This commentary post on takes a pretty critical angle towards Giorgos, who claims that he is not a facist at all, had no idea what a Nazi salute was, and claims he was simply pointing towards a friend in the stands. Further down, that article goes into further detail on Golden Dawn and the bad blood between soccer fans in both Albania and Greece and why this is an even bigger deal than it otherwise would be.

I believe most of what Giorgos is saying, but it is difficult for me to believe the bit about pointing. Usually, one does not point with the whole hand oriented in a salute position, one would point with one finger outstretched (specifically, the index finger).

I’d like to think Giorgos is telling the truth about not knowing what a Nazi salute is. It’s difficult to believe, but it’s still technically possible. Certainly, now he knows and won’t do it again.

I hate fascism and I agree in principle that there’s no place for it in professional sports anywhere. But I think the accused has a right to be heard and explain himself as well. I don’t like that uses the headline “ignorance is no excuse” (I’m linking to them because it’s the only commentary I could readily find).

An attack on video gamers in the wake of Sandy Hook

I’ve weighed in on this topic before, but this is a different angle that more directly affects me. Specifically, the kind of thinking I have found out about most recently is extremely flawed, and dangerous to video gamers everywhere if allowed to become a mainstream point of view.

A recent article entitled “‘Gamers’ are not the enemy” by Andrew Leonard takes a highly critical look at a recent report on the Sandy Hook shooter by New York Daily News reporter Mike Lupica. As summarized by Andrew’s article, Mr. Lupica calls a spreadsheet of past mass murders found in the house where the shooter was living a “score sheet” and makes the jump that it was the shooter’s goal to put a new “high score” on that list.

Andrew fights back in his post, with the facts. Such as this gem:

According to the CDC, “Homicide rates for males, ages 10 to 24 years, declined from 25.7 per 100,000 population in 1991 to 15.3 per 100,000 in 2007.” Now there are surely factors influencing that drop that have nothing to do with video games, but judging from that one statistic alone, logic would dictate the conclusion that playing video games has been beneficial to society instead of the reverse. Certainly, a massive increase in hours spent video gaming has not resulted in a rising murder rate.

I will add that if there’s any logic to the view that video games fuel violence, there should have been a steep drop in homicide rates in 1983, and maybe 1984, 1985, and 1986 as well (due to the video game market crash of 1983) that picked right back up again in about, say, 1985. I haven’t looked, but I doubt either any drop in homicide rates from 1982 to 1983 or any rise in homicide rates in any later years prior to about 1990 are anywhere near as sharp as needed to give any credibility to this theory.

Even if the bit about this being a “score sheet” is true, the vast majority of video gamers don’t engage in this type of behavior, and it is more indicative of other mental illness(es) which don’t have anything to do with the fact the shooter was a heavy video game player. To blame the video games on this is incredibly short-sighted and smacks of a flimsy excuse to severely cripple (or possibly kill off outright) an entertainment medium which is still relatively young.

It is far more relevant that the shooter had such easy access to firearms. Of note, the shooter did not actually own these firearms, his parents were the registered owners. These are facts conveniently left out of the campaign for gun control laws–no amount of background checks would have kept a shooter in a similar situation from getting access to the guns!

It goes back to how we take care of the mentally ill in this society, and the stigma we have placed on mental illness as a society. These are the problems we need to solve if we want to keep another Sandy Hook, another Columbine, another Bath from happening. We won’t fix them by doing a hatchet job on video games, and we won’t fix them by castrating the Second Amendment.