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Beyond Leon Bridges: Raising Up Fort Worth’s Music Scene

by Anne Bothwell 19 Apr 2019 11:29 AM

The city’s efforts to help musicians – and Fort Worth’s vibe

Photo: Associated Press

Next week, musicians and city officials from around the state will gather in Fort Worth for the first Texas Sounds and Cities music conference. It’s the latest in a string of unique initiatives to promote Fort Worth’s music scene, spurred by Visit Fort Worth. Here are a couple others:

  • Hear Fort Worth is offering travel grants up to $500 to help artists get out on the road and tour.
  • Niles City Sound, the studio where Leon Bridges recording his breakthrough album, “Coming Home,” will record four emerging artists, chosen through open call, at its studios.
  • Musicians are being reimbursed for entry fees to South by Southwest

We’ll talk about these initiatives, and a lot more, at State of the Arts: Fort Worth next Friday, April 26 at the Kimbell Art Museum. Our guests will be Lou Charle$, hip-hop artist;  Rachel Gollay, singer-songwriter; Alec Jhangiani, founder/principal, Fortress Presents and Amy Miller, program director, KXT, 91.7

State of the Arts Friday April 26 at Kimbell Art Museum. Details.

To set the stage, I spoke with Tom Martens, creative director at Visit Fort Worth, about why the tourism bureau is tuning in to the city’s sounds.

Why is Visit Fort Worth focusing on music as a way to draw people into the city? 

TMOne of the things we want to focus on is creating more of a vibe to the city. We’ve got great museums, we’ve got the Stockyards. We’re also focusing on film, culinary and music as well.  We find that when musicians hit the road, they become ambassadors for the city.

A lot of people found out about Fort Worth through Leon Bridges, so we want to continue that with other musicians.

Leon Bridges, who is from Fort Worth, and had a tremendous success with an album, “Coming Home,” that was produced in Fort Worth. 

TMExactly, it was produced with Niles City Sound.

How has that manifested?

Tom Martens

TMHis backdrop for his performances for his first tour said “Leon Bridges, Fort Worth, Texas.” You can’t think of a lot of musicians who put the name of  their city behind them. So that was a cool way for people to see where he’s from.

But also, we had people from South By Southwest reach out to us after his first year performing, and ask, is there anyone else that’s a secret that we should know about.

And I think from a local musician stand point, it feels like if he can make it, we can make it. So it doesn’t seem like a brass ring that’s out of reach to a lot people  now.

Music in Fort worth goes far beyond Leon Bridges.

TMYeah, there’s a ton of music history. Western Swing was created in Fort Worth. As the mayor has said, Willie Nelson smoked his first joint in Fort worth. So there’s a lot of neat things that have happened. Ornette Coleman is from Fort Worth.  So much talent is from Fort Worth.

But you also see these waves of interest. Leon Bridges seems to be the latest one. And of course, Abraham Alexander, who you guys are playing here [on KXT 91.7]  He’s doing great things, he’s in London right now, working on the album. So we just think there’s a future here.

You’re creating many initiatives to help musicians and promote music in the city. You are paying grants to musicians to help them defray the costs of touring. 

TMExactly. So we started a travel grant program. And we will give musicians from $100 to $500 depending on where they’re going, how many dates, confirmed shows, size of venue.

But also from a Visit Fort Worth perspective,  it’s cities where we are attracting visitors from.

How does that benefit Fort Worth?

TMWe see them as ambassadors for the city. When they talk about the city, we give them some visitor guides and swag to put on their table. When they engage with the audience and they say, I was able to do this tour because Visit Fort Worth gave me a gas card, it really sees results. And we’re hoping to continue this as long as we can.

You’ve also reimbursed musicians for their fees associated with going to South By Southwest.

TMWe saw that as an easy opportunity. The fees are pretty low. But the amount, $35-$55 depending on when you apply, can seem like a big obstacle when you think what your chances really are. So we wanted to make the playing field level and let everyone apply who could.

We do a musician of the month every month.  And they get a photo shoot for a new press kit, and then they also get social shout outs, and we use some of their music in our monthly Things To Do video which is things to do around the city.

How will you know when you’ve succeeded?

TMWhen I hear from musicians in Austin that “I’m considering moving to Fort Worth,” or when I hear people say, “My city would never do that for me,” I feel like we’re making some strides forward.

I don’t know that we’ll ever know true success to put a cap on it. But at the same time, I feel we’re constantly trying to think of  things to continue the program and make it better.