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.


  • JPR

    amen, mario has his niche but it obviously is not this kind of venue

  • Daniel

    DANIEL: And just what kind of fun have you had with Mario Tarradell exactly?

    ZAC: I just … I can’t.


  • Darren

    Should have put this behind a paywall…


  • Milkman Dan

    “No where in there did he mention that Kanye West was there. Or Diddy. Or Jay-Z.”

    Funny. I thought this was the best thing about Mario’s review.

    • @Milkman Dan: I get what you’re saying. Okay, you don’t like them. But this is news. Like it or not. The pop music critic at a major daily paper has to mention them, at least in passing, if nothing else. Even if it’s just to humble brag, “Hey, I could have gone to see Kanye West, but I skipped that headache to see [this band].” You know what I mean? I know you were just making a flip comment.

  • J-No

    You make me proud, Zac Crain.

  • So hate filled and vindictive. You do know you are surrounded by glass.

  • yourcraig

    The solo J. Mascis show was a highlight for me as well. I have never been so thankful (or ever before thankful?) to hear an Edie Brickell cover. The show was so great that when later on I accidentally beat all the other crowd shut out of Red 7 who were trying to hear his straight set that I just skipped out. I figured nothing would beat what I had already heard earlier that day. It was a bummer because I was really just going to see the Dum Dum Girls before him and was squeezed out by people arriving early to secure their spot for J. I had made it through the outside line, but not the inside line. Sigh.

    Highlight for unique artist had to have been Ben Sollee. He turned electic-acoustic cello into a rock instrument in a way I’d never seen before — with a power attack from the bow more than fast fret work, although their was plenty of the latter. Feeling the cello thumping in your chest was new to me. I didn’t have a problem with his words on environmentalism, but wish he had saved it for just one longer speech, instead of tying it into be banter between each and every song. I can’t explain why I just couldn’t get MacBeth’s witches out of my head as I watched his backup three lady violinists/vocalists sawing away — his only other accompanyment other than a drummer.

    For brave performance, Josh Ritter getting the house to turn out ALL the lights and have the whole crowd hum and sing along campfire style in total darkness was tops.

    Hey Rosetta! was my first sounds of the weekend, and I don’t know if it is just fresh ears or good luck but it seems like so often that the first show I see is one of the best. I can’t say as the material offer that much more than what is on recordings, but they have such a big sound that seeing them live is worth the trouble.

    If I could have caught just a couple more scorching shows like Off! then this would have been a top year. It made me wish I wasn’t wearing Birkenstock’s so I could have joined the mosh pit (OK, I wasn’t really in ‘stocks but I probably had you believing it based on the Josh Ritter comments).

    As far as crowds, this is the first year in a great many that I was able to successfully club hop a great deal with just a wristband. I was discussing how remarkable that was the whole weekend through. They were still selling wristbands to the general public at least until Friday. I have no clue what Mario was complaining about there. I was thinking the economy must have knocked a lot of corporate attendee’s out.

    I can’t believe how underattended She Keeps Bees show at Emo’s was. I guess I am just a sucker for a high quality minimalist duo whether it is bluesy rock or some other genre. Good stuff. She deserves to go far.

  • Zac..I am a fan of SWSX and would have loved to have read your thoughts on the events, concerts, parties, and general drunkedness of it all. I wasn’t expecting a critique of a critic.

    • Fair enough, Jack. I was only there two days so a real recap would be incomplete at best. Otherwise I would give it a go. I can add to my brief thoughts later in the comments.

  • yourcraig

    Also, best band name explanation from the crowd…

    Guy A: You know that guy used to head up Black Flag before Henry Rollins, right?

    Guy B: No. Cool.

    Guy A: Yep. That’s where they get the name Off! from.

    Guy B: I get it.

    Guy A: Yeah, you see he went vegan so now he just wants to scare away the bugs instead of kill them.

    Guy B: I see.

    Guy B: So, Citronella just wasn’t a fit, huh?

    Guy A: Nope.

  • Daniel

    Why can’t they just make Steve Blow their music critic? Because that would be too funny, that’s why, and they have no sense of humor, those glowering gatekeepers at the Belo castle.

    These days they call it Americana. That tickles my ribs. Grampa Blow just called it “music.” But I guess everything that’s old is new again — or, as the French say, “Plus ca change, plus de l’homme fait du mais écrit de la musique.” I guess I saw a lot of this new “Americana” music this week — and some of it was pretty good, but it was all so dag nabbed loud. I guess it’s true what they say about feeding the chickens before it’s hog washing time or your supper will get cold. I spent a lot of time washing my hog when I was young. Lordy, those memories make me laugh today.

  • DMN_employee

    We all agree with you.

  • Charm Offensive

    Late to the party, but seconded!

  • me

    nail hit squarely on the head.
    calling mt a legitimate music critic is just plain wrong use of the english language. the weakest link in dallas’ hope of ever having a “real music scene” is the utter lack of intelligent and passionate “real music lovers” writing in our print media.

  • music fan

    Agree. Sure do miss Thor and Mike!!