The Suffers Become to the First Local Band to Sell-Out Fitzgerald’s in a Decade
By Jef with one F
Art by Blake Jones
Though it slightly trails Numbers in terms of size and longevity as a music venue, Fitzgerald’s remains the big boy stage* for local Houston acts as well as successful national artists. And yet, over the last decade, very few local bands have unlocked the notable achievement of selling out the upstairs. 30 Foot Fall still does it with their annual Christmas show, but just a regular gig? It appears that The Suffers is the first band in many years to do it, and do it in pre-sale, no less.
This one band selling out the upstairs room at Fitzgerald’s says some interesting things about how the music scene has and has not changed over the last 20 years. Back in the day, it was fairly common for bands to pull off a sold out show. Dead Horse did it, of course, but then again, Dead Horse did everything. The Pain Teens pulled it off, as did Sprawl, lower, Taste of Garlic, and other acts from the ‘90s. But around 2005, the crowds started to taper off. Part of it was that many of those iconic bands simply weren’t doing their thing anymore, or they weren’t doing it in Houston.
Los Skarnales still pull in a respectable 650 people when they hit Fitzgeralds, and The Tontons are good for at least 500. Many other local acts would cheerfully kill for those numbers, but sold out it ain’t.
Brian Smith, Production Manager at Fitzgerald’s, named several factors why local acts do do and do not do well in Houston. The first of which is that he feels Houston is in many ways just another market for these acts. Basically, if the Wild Moccasins can do well in venues outside of Houston they will do well in venues inside of Houston. There is essentially no home field advantage, was his point.
He also credited Mark C. Austin of The Convoy Group as a big part of the success of The Suffers.
“To do something in Houston you need someone like Mark,” said Smith. “Someone who can make things happen.”
There is no one in Houston like Austin. For several years now he has been a tireless, full-time advocate of creating pushes for Houston bands.
“Houston is a city of amazing talent,” says Austin. “I wish there were ten more of me.”
Austin has sent The Suffers off on tour to build their momentum. He rejects Smith’s “national act” theory. The Tontons, for instance, will do half the numbers in Austin that they’ll do in Houston, according to Austin.
It’s still all about street teams. Getting the posters out, getting in touch with social media, making sure that someone is doing the legwork. He’s in charge of that for the few acts under his umbrella, but there is not a lot of him to go around.
Austin spoke highly of The Suffers. They hadn’t played a club gig for two years prior to selling out Fitz, something that Pat Kelly and Adam Castaneda think have contributed to their band’s success, significantly.
“A lot of bands play too much,” said Kelly. “It’s tempting because you want to get out and do it as much as possible, but then you just get five little shows instead of one big show. Rationing it out has really shown us the way.”
Austin attributes their recent success to good old fashioned exposure. They were part of the Red Bull Select event at Warehouse Live that went over-capacity and had a great showing at SXSW. With ten members in the band, spreading the word is a little easier.
It’s also a sincere belief of Austin’s that it’s the presale aspect of The Suffers that has the greatest possibility of improving the Houston music scene.
“Houston is a fickle city, a walk up city,” he says. “No show ever has a guarantee that it will be worth it, and so artists keep putting on the same, safe, mediocre shows because there’s no promise. If we get a good pre-sale, we can put on a much bigger performance. If you want something special to grow in Houston, buy in advance.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the author, only, and do not necessarily represent the beliefs and opinions of Free Press Houston or its staff. Some of the facts may also be incorrect — for example, we have reason to believe that many more bands have sold out Fitzgerald’s than the author states. We also take issue with calling the venue “the big boy stage,” but feel it would be more useful to leave that language as is, in hopes it might prompt a necessary dialog.
by Guest Author