Fall Arts Guide 2018

After the Demise of Walter's, the Houston Music Scene Finds Its Way

The Bayou City's most musician-friendly venue is gone now, but we're still looking forward to these local bands and national tours this fall.

By Chris Gray August 17, 2018 Published in the September 2018 issue of Houstonia Magazine

In a post-Walter's Houston, the local music scene thrives at White Oak Music Hall.

When Walter’s Downtown closed in early February, many local musicians felt like a family member had passed on. “Houston is losing a shining beacon for artists everywhere and their fans,” read just one of the hundreds of crestfallen Facebook comments that greeted the announcement.

In many ways, it had. Owner Zack Palmer, who inherited the club when his mother, Pam Robinson, died in 2014, and his staff ran what was widely regarded as Houston’s most musician-friendly venue. Walter’s was always all-ages, low cover, and willing to book inexperienced but promising new bands. It had great sound, too.

“It was a central spot for a lot of artists and bands,” says longtime Houston musician Tex Kerschen, whose projects include Studded Left and Indian Jewelry. “It does create a kind of neutron bomb when a venue with that kind of centrality disappears.”

From the moment Robinson—whose portfolio once included the legendary Mary Jane’s—opened Walter’s on Washington Avenue in 2002 (she moved it to the spot near UH-Downtown in 2012), the club fought for traction in a scene that measures success in bar receipts, not artistic glory. It was often hounded by neighbors’ noise complaints.

Half a year after its demise, Steven Higginbotham of the Wheel Workers—who, like countless local bands, made their debut at Walter’s—argues that the local scene is thriving thanks to clubs like Rudyard’s, White Oak Music Hall, Bohemeo’s, and Dan Electro’s, plus record stores Cactus Music, Vinal Edge, and Heights Vinyl. “While we definitely feel a loss with the passing of Walter’s,” he says, “I think we still have a lot of good things going on.”

There’s Deep End Records, the vinyl-only shop that musician/Walter’s booking agent John Baldwin opened inside the club in 2015, which has moved to Insomnia Gallery on Telephone Road; Market Square loft space Spruce Goose, which opened in March; and East End stronghold Satellite Bar, which recently added an outdoor stage.

Meanwhile, the Continental Club and Big Top Lounge are firmly rooted in the Mid-Main corridor; Axelrad and 8th Wonder Brewery have busy music calendars; and fringe lovers can still post up at Super Happy Fun Land and Notsuoh. But Walter’s will be missed.

“Walter’s will always be my CBGB’s,” says Giant Kitty guitarist Cassandra Chiles. “We felt like we had really made it as a local band when we started playing there.” 

The Concerts We Want to See:

Mike StinsonMcGonigel’s Mucky Duck | Sept. 22

The L.A. transplant–turned–longtime local packs the same poignancy and punch as Dylan, Petty, or Bruce.

Fiddle Witch and the Demons of DoomRudyard’s | Oct. 27

The Bayou City’s most sinister (and only) classical/doom-metal power trio returns just in time for All Hallows Eve.

The Wheel WorkersWhite Oak Music Hall | Nov. 16

Brace yourselves—H-Town’s proudly progressive post-punks launch post-truth, their first new music since Election Day 2016.

Houston SymphonyJones Hall | Sept. 13-16

Expect greatness at this production of Gustav Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, the sprawling opus that took the Austrian composer six years to write and immediately secured his reputation upon its 1895 premiere. Scored for a massive orchestra and chorus, the work confronts the cosmos on the composer’s own terms—and prevails

Jay-Z & BeyoncéNRG Stadium | Sept. 15-16

Pop culture’s favorite couple made the internet go “Apes**t” this summer by taking over the Louvre in the first video from their post-Lemonade reconciliation album, Everything Is Love. The Carters’ encore On the Run tour required two local dates to keep pace with demand here in Bey’s hometown.

Childish GambinoToyota Center | Sept. 22

Arguably 2018’s most controversial and riveting single piece of art, the video for “This Is America” effortlessly vaulted Donald Glover’s Grammy-winning psychedelic soul/rap outfit from “actor’s side project” to festival and arena headliner.

Taylor SwiftNRG Stadium | Sept. 29

America’s sweetheart may not be quite so sweet these days, but she has realized the superstar potential bubbling under more innocent albums like Fearless. Last year’s awkwardly fascinating Reputation armors Swift in stainless-steel Europop production as she fires back at Kanye and snipes at her many exes (plus Katy Perry … probably). 

Florence & the MachineCynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion | Sept. 30

Florence Welch’s soaring pop/rock alter-ego contains traces of Adele’s operatic heartbreak and Kate Bush’s ever-so-British witchiness. She’s in fine form on the Machine’s fourth studio album, June’s lofty High as Hope

Alejandro Fernández, Los Tigres Del NorteToyota Center | Oct. 7

The son of legendary Mexican crooner Vicente Fernández, Alejandro “El Potrillo” Fernández has sold more than 30 million albums but hasn’t outgrown his mariachi and ranchera roots. California-based norteño kingpins Los Tigres del Norte celebrate their 50th anniversary by joining him on new duet “Para Sacarte de Mi Vida,” and on tour.

Ars LyricaHobby Center | Nov. 16-18

The early music ensemble presents George Frederic Handel’s Agrippina, the 1709 opera seria about the lengths Nero’s mother goes to to install her son on the Roman throne. Decades before the composer’s Messiah, this work inspired Venice’s grateful opera lovers to anoint the young German-born composer Il caro Sassone: “the dear Saxon.”

Gary Clark Jr. | Revention Music Center | Nov. 30

Since 2015’s The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, the Austin-bred latter-day bluesman has been busy on the TV/film circuit, teaming with Dutch DJ/producer Junkie XL to cover the Beatles’ “Come Together” for the Justice League soundtrack, and appearing onscreen in Netflix comic-book drama Luke Cage.

Pedrito Martinez GroupWortham Theater Center | Dec. 1

Dynamic bandleader Martinez—a percussionist proficient in bata, conga, cajón, and timbale, among other drums—and his group have not only enjoyed a decade-long residency at Cuban eatery Guantanamera in NYC, they’ve played with the likes of Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen. Habana Dreams, their third release, was NPR’s top Latin jazz album of 2016.

Sir Elton JohnToyota Center | Dec. 8-9

Now 71, the piano-pumping, outrageously garbed pop superstar heads into (alleged) retirement by pleading “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and performing too many other classic hits to count.

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