Open Letter: Please, Dallas Morning News, Make Hunter Hauk Your Music Critic

Hello Sirs and/or Madams,

I know, on occasion, Hunter Hauk graces the pages of your GuideDaily section, usually via a piece from Quick (the Belo-owned weekly where he serves as entertainment editor) that you have had the good sense to repurpose. Now I am asking — no, begging, because, yes, you grim-faced jerks have reduced me to that — to make him a permanent fixture. Make Hunter Hauk your music critic. You don’t have to fire Mario Tarradell. Just reassign him. Do you have an internal Belo newsletter? Maybe he can write for that.

ANYWAY. It has come to this because, just now, while drinking a cup of coffee, I read Tarradell’s recap of his trip to SXSW. As it happens, I just returned from there myself, so I was obviously interested in the subject matter. I will state up front that I did not read any of his other dispatches from Austin, if in fact there were any. But this piece (yes, commenter NoPay, it’s behind the pay wall, so save it) is positioned as a wrap-up, so I should be able to judge it on its own merits.

Listen, this this is terrible. An embarrassment. I know I’ve had plenty of fun with Mario over the last few years — so much fun that I believe this is the second or third time I’ve actually said “I’ve had a lot of fun” etc. — but really. Come on. Because of the economy and maybe some managerial mistakes and so on, the staff at the DMN, especially at Guide, has been decimated. This is the choice you made. Thor Christensen and Mike Daniel and whomever else took buyouts or were laid off, and you stuck by Mario. And so we get this kind of thing.

After a few words of setting up his premise — this year’s highlights and lowlights framed in pop chart speak — he gets to his first group of favorites. Some up-and-comers that caught his eye? An of-the-moment star that blew him away? NOPE. Duran Duran. And Men Without Hats. And the Bangles. Which I guess would be okay if the write-up amounted to more than “I had never seen them so that was cool.” Unbelievable.

Next up, he mentions that “Each year SXSW becomes more difficult to endure. It’s simply too big for the city to accomodate.” This is after he mentioned that this was only the fourth time he’d ever been: once in 1995 (which he notes later) and the past three years. But, whatever — the attendance actually has gone up, so he’s accidentally right. But only for a moment, because one of his examples about venues not being big enough — Stubb’s — is just insanely wrong. He says Stubb’s keeps having this problem and points to the Duran Duran show (again) and Metallica’s gig there in 2009 as proof.

I mean, no, he’s not wrong about it being crowded. Obviously. Stubb’s holds maybe a couple thousand people but I would guess it’s much less. Metallica is one of the biggest selling acts around, even after several awful records in a row. The fact that they’re playing a tiny (relatively) gig IS THE POINT OF THEM BEING AT SXSW. There are lines, yes. People don’t buy wristbands or badges and then hope against hope they can get into a rare club gig by their favorite band. This happened this year, and last year, and pretty much for the past 25 years, since SXSW first started. But let me restate this: people go to SXSW in part to see shows like Metallica at Stubb’s — i.e., big band at smaller than usual place. This is not a problem. This is the point.

Then he’s onto the keynote addresses. “No. 1 with a bullet! I’m not much of a speech guy, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the last three keynote speakers: Quincy Jones in 2009, Smokey Robinson in 2010 and Bob Geldof in 2011. All of them engaged my undivided attention with warm stories, intriguing anecdotes, intelligent conversation and thought-provoking statements.” First: I’ve read press releases that had a more critical tone. Second: Could Mario, I don’t know, quote from one of the “warm stories, intriguing anecdotes, intelligent conversation and thought-provoking statements”? Or even mention what they were about?

Okay, then — and I can barely even get into this — but then he talks about the sudden plethora of Americana and country acts. [counts to 10, slowly] A guy from Dallas. In Texas. Who used to write mostly about country and Americana acts says this. I just…I can’t.

And that, a few more non-opinions aside, is pretty much it. Now, this is the wrap-up piece of the biggest music festival of its kind written by your music critic. I will now name all of the bands he mentioned in it: Duran Duran, Men Without Hats, the Bangles, Metallica (didn’t play), Quincy Jones (didn’t play), Smokey Robinson (didn’t play), Bob Geldof (played, not that Mario mentioned it), the O’s, Hayes Caril, Cee Lo Green (didn’t play), Lupe Fiasco (didn’t play), Raphael Saadiq, Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears. This is unacceptable. This is a sportswriter going to the Super Bowl and talking about pregame warmups, last year’s game, and one of the halftime acts.

No where in there did he mention that Kanye West was there. Or Diddy. Or Jay-Z. Not even a mention. Or even Odd Future, the hip-hop collective that blew through town, upending just about everything in sight. Which, whatever, fine — another way to go is  see and write about a ton of hot new bands. Not trendy ones. Good ones. The ones that really move your soul and make you love music all over again just from a song. But he didn’t do that either. He could have also written it as a straight biz feature and talked about attendance, with real facts and figures, and so on. He didn’t do that. This is a scatter-brained wish-you-were here postcard written by someone who doesn’t even sound like he was there.

I learned more about the festival by following Hunter Hauk (@hausofhunter) on Twitter, let alone his own recaps, one of which is here.

Please, guys. I can’t do this anymore.

I am second,

Z.L. Crain

P.S. Oh, and if you want my recap, well, Christopher Mosley and Dick Sullivan have more on FrontRow. I wasn’t working, but I would highly recommend the following: Wye Oak (sort of a powerful fragility, like Muhammad Ali’s hands), the Head and the Heart (zero-irony white soul music, which is to say folk or Americana or something while trying not to say it), solo J. Mascis (best electrified acoustic guitar noodling I’ve seen), the Strange Boys (getting better and better since leaving Dallas for Austin; always had style, now really have songs), Lower Dens, Shabazz Palaces, and a few more that I am forgetting just now because I’m doing this off the top of my head.

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