February 2015

Houston entertains with an amped up music scene

by Jeff Heilman

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    Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Sarofim Hall

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    Lyle Lovett at Anderson Fair

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    Wortham Center

Familiar signifiers of the Houston brand include energy, NASA, major-league sports, Fortune 500 titans, museums and its sizzling culinary scene. Despite producing greats such as blues master Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins, Grammy winning crooner Lyle Lovett and megastar Beyonce Knowles, however, the quick association with music is not always there.

Founded here in 1969, ZZ Top’s enduring fame includes its spectacular mid-’70s Worldwide Texas Tour: Taking Texas to the People, which involved performing on a Texas-shaped stage with native animals including a Texas longhorn, buzzards and rattlesnakes.

There are deeper layers to Houston’s musical legacy, with seminal ’60s and ’70s venues such as The Catacombs, Love Street and Liberty Hall figuring prominently in the psychedelic and rock movements. Long since bulldozed and forgotten, however, their impact is generally lost, contributing, perhaps, to Houston never achieving the national identity enjoyed by Austin and other major music centers.

Yet several hallowed Houston music halls are keeping the past alive, while exciting homegrown talent such as rave-reviewed (multiple 2014 Houston Press Music Awards) singer Kam Franklin and her band The Suffers, her remake of No Place I’d Rather Be accompanying the Greater Houston CVB’s latest tourism campaign, are making waves on the national scene. From pioneering clubs to grand stages, Houston is one hot gig for groups looking to tune up their agendas.

Old School

Celebrated in the 2010 documentary For the Sake of the Song, Anderson Fair Retail Restaurant remains one of America’s most important folk and acoustic music venues. Founded in 1969, “AFair” launched performers and songwriters including Lyle Lovett and fellow Grammy winners Lucinda Williams and Nanci Griffith. For intimate connections to Houston’s musical history, this no-frills, cash-only, smoke-free Montrose institution is as authentic as it gets.

Another legendary shrine is the Eldorado Ballroom, an epicenter of African-American music from 1939 to the early ’70s. Reborn in 2003, the largely preserved venue continues to host performances along with meetings, events, conferences and other gatherings. Live at the Eldorado is a new program designed to help fund restoration of this Texas landmark.

Since 1977, Fitzgerald’s in the Heights has been the go-to venue for rising local stars and big-name greats, including James Brown, Tina Turner, Steve Ray Vaughan, R.E.M. and The Ramones. Hosting live music and events several nights a week, two-level, two-stage Fitz’s, housed in a 1918 building, is available for private events, with multiple spaces including an expansive back patio.

Located in a converted 1920s warehouse in East Downtown Houston (EaDo) close to the Convention District, Warehouse Live is a rocking choice for live shows and private events. Hosting acts ranging from Blondie and Bruno Mars to rising local stars The Ton Tons, winners of multiple 2014 Houston Press Music Awards, the venue also offers two spaces ideally equipped for groups. The blank canvas Ballroom can be dressed for occasions ranging from seated dinners for 250 to standing receptions for 1,500, separate VIP area included. The adjacent Studio, meanwhile, offers an intimate environment for smaller gatherings, with decor including banquettes and chandeliers.

Opened in November, downtown newcomer Prohibition Supperclub & Bar revives Houston’s first theater, the Isis, from 1912. Combining the beautifully preserved theater space with a restaurant and bar, the multifunctional venue stages entertainment such as Prohibition-themed parties and burlesque shows, and is available for private rental.

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