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David Okamoto: When Dallas Rocked

With the annual South By Southwest Festival, Austin’s seen by many as the state’s musical focal point. Commentator David Okamoto remembers when that attention focused farther north. 

This summer, filmmaker and former Buddy Magazine editor Kirby Warnock debuted a work in progress called When Dallas Rocked at the Oak Cliff Film Festival. The 9-minute short (posted on YouTube and below) is an eye-popping slideshow set to the rollicking blues of Freddie King and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and it celebrates an era when Dallas, not Austin, was considered the Lone Star summit for touring bands.

The rare photographs capture such soon-to-be legends as Bruce Springsteen at Gertie’s in 1974, the Sex Pistols tearing up the Longhorn Ballroom in 1978, and Elvis Costello sitting in with Delbert McClinton at the Old Warehouse that same year, four months after making his local debut at a club called Faces on Cedar Springs.

Dallas indeed takes a backseat to Austin when it comes to music industry buzz. But for local concertgoers, being No. 2 isn’t that bad. It even works in our favor. 

Bands frequently choose Dallas to host the opening night of a tour because we are outside of the media spotlight, or the looser, more unpredictable closing night, partly because homesick musicians can fly out of DFW Airport easily.

True, the more-popular indie-rock acts tend to play here on inconvenient weeknights instead of college-friendly weekends. But that means our club shows rarely sell out in advance, so you can almost always buy a ticket at the last minute.

And artists don’t typically pass us over in favor of Austin - we draft off their momentum and snare shows that might not stop here otherwise.  November’s three-day Fun FunFun Fest is already prompting Metroplex pitstops by the reunited Public Image Ltd. and up-and-comers ASAP Rocky, Macklemore, and Japandroids. Rodriguez, subject of the acclaimed Searching for Sugar Man documentary,  is coming to House of Blues on Oct. 22. And we were one of only 12 cities Australian singer Kasey Chambers played on her August U.S. tour - maybe because we gave her an extra opportunity to perform the hilarious “Lost in Texas,” an unrecorded tune written while waiting for her tour bus to be repaired last year.

And because Dallas appearances fall on weeknights, we sometimes get to see artists under the most humbling circumstance -- playing to a near-empty room. The troopers -- like Marshall Crenshaw at Sons of Hermann in April, Sun City Girls at the Granada in 2008,  and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze on Thanksgiving night at Poor David’s Pub in 2001 -- rise to the occasion.

Others let their guard down. Singer Graham Parker was on a solo tour in the '90s that brought him to Caravan of Dreams. The crowd barely numbered 50 if you counted the bartenders. But instead of whining, Parker told us about his manager phoning to tell him ticket sales were so dismal that Caravan was offering to pay him a portion of his fee to cancel the show.  To which the road-weary Parker replied: How much will they pay me if I just play anyway? It led to a heartfelt thank-you to the loyal few whose enthusiasm made up for the fact that you could hear the hum of the air conditioning between songs.

We get many good concerts in Dallas-Fort Worth.  But because we’re No. 2, we also get special ones.

David Okamoto is a content production manager at Yahoo! in Dallas. His music reviews have previously appeared in such publications as Rolling Stone, ICE magazine and the Dallas Morning News.