Let’s precede this one with a gentle reminder that we’re just messengers: New research has ranked Dallas among the 10 worst music cities in the country. Put down your forks.
The folks at real estate firm Clever dubbed Dallas the nation’s fifth-worst music city; they also ranked the city as the second worst for live music. That’s despite Dallas being named a music-friendly city by the Texas Music Office just a few months ago. How quickly things change.
Here are some of the other cities on Clever’s 10 Worst Music Cities list: Miami is apparently the most awful, followed by Las Vegas, Houston and San Antonio.
“It’s clear that people in these 10 cities aren’t as interested in musical experiences as people in other metropolises,” the Clever article reads. (That’s a serious nuance for a city that’s spawned greats like St. Vincent, Norah Jones, Charley Crockett and Big D queen Erykah Badu.)
Sure, three Texas metropolises fall poorly on the scale, but Austin excelled by research standards: It came in fourth for Best Music Cities and took first place for Live Music. Other destinations that performed well included Nashville, Indianapolis and Portland, which won gold, silver and bronze respectively.
We were a little shaken up at first by these findings, but let’s dig a little deeper to see what it’s all about. A Clever spokesperson reported that in Dallas, average tickets to major shows cost $158. There are also too few music venues per capita and a dearth of music festivals within an average 100 mile radius.
Clever also claims that Dallas has nine “career musicians per 1,000 residents, who earn an average hourly income of $41.54.” We therefore called on career musicians to get their opinion.
Nelly Furtado musician and musical director Adam Pickrell, who was in California performing with The Growth Eternal at the time of our call, describes the Dallas music scene in one word: “naughty.”
“Dallas is special because it’s like this weird crossroads of gospel, funk, and Southern funk,” says Pickrell. “But, like, this is Texas, so we have the attitude of Texas, so there’s like a stench that no one else can have.”
Pickrell didn’t mince words when he criticized the list, calling the decision to name Dallas the second-worst city for live music “superficial and pedantic.” In Dallas, you can see titans like jazz saxophonist Shelley Carrol, who played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and toured with Sheryl Crow.
It’s an inclusive scene that’s surrounded by other strong music cities, such as Fort Worth and Denton, Pickrell added.
“Who cares what a list says? – Adam Pickrell, musician
In Denton, the University of North Texas has one of the largest and most renowned music schools in the country, says Rosana Eckert, senior lecturer in vocal jazz at the UNT College of Music. Many former UNT students have had a positive experience in the concert scene and can earn a living as professional musicians.
Eckert notes that the UNT is famous for its One O’Clock Lab Band, a jazz ensemble that once included Pat Metheny Group keyboardist Lyle Mays, who won numerous Grammy awards before his death in 2020.
“It’s an exciting place to be with a lot of different musicians from all over the world, and that music permeates the whole surrounding community,” she says.
While it’s admirable that someone is lighting up cities that support live music, it’s also a difficult thing to accurately gauge, Eckert says. Things like salaries, ticket prices, percentage of working musicians, and number of venues are hard to pin down.
The list focused on music venues, but one thing Eckert loves about Dallas is that many of its restaurants, wine bars and hotel lounges feature live music.
“The amount of live music you can listen to every night is really quite impressive,” she says, “but it’s not necessarily in the traditional concert hall type of situation.”
But the list was not surprising to some. Singer Keite Young says that based on the search criteria, the results didn’t seem too wrong. Young notes that cities like Austin have strong support from local government, but overall Dallas simply doesn’t have “a real vision for the creative community as a whole.”
Young says Dallas is a results-driven corporate city, but cultural production isn’t suited to a big city. He needs an incubator to equip artists in areas like legal, accounting, branding and product strategy, says Young, adding that he’s creating an initiative for creatives. called The Root Project.
For more than a decade, a good deal of pop music has been produced, written and sometimes performed by musicians in Dallas and Houston, Young says. Still, Big D has room for improvement.
“I hope Dallas as a city and the owners of the infrastructure here recognize the opportunity we have to really grow the cultural scene in North Dallas, based on where we prioritize our investments,” says- he. “There’s a lot to do, and there’s a lot to do.”
Pickrell says being a musician on the Dallas scene is “inspiring” and that North Texas arts are bolstered by a strong presence of music journalism. Even local legends such as keyboardist Bobby Sparks, who played with Prince and D’Angelo, are showing up to help new generations, he says.
Pickrell has traveled to cities at the top of the list that he says don’t have communities “symbiotically tied to their artists” like Dallas. “Who cares what a list says? ” he keeps on. “I am here, you are here. We see it.