Monday, October 19, 2009

2009 Frisco Arts Festival: BEST. FESTIVAL. EVER.

This past weekend, I was privileged to participate in the Frisco Arts Festival as a performer, service provider, and festival-goer. I have to say this is the best I’ve experienced out of a very long chain of great Frisco events. From fireworks to concerts to storytelling, the city seems to have done it all—but this one takes the prize.

Over a hundred artists—painters, sculptors, photographers—showed up to sell their wares for three wonderful days in October (the 16th, 17th, and 18th). Newman Village provided the venue and major sponsorship, while the weather cooperated as if God himself wanted to smile on the event. Moderate temperatures and beautiful sunshine lasted from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening.

Performers from the Collin County Songwriters Association and others took the main stage and cranked out one great musical experience after another. The big acts (in my opinion) were the 8-Tracks and Urban Renewal. They both actually managed to take the crowd to a higher energy level, after a string of great performances by acoustic bands, dancers, and performing songwriters. I personally got kick off the show Saturday morning while stage manager Michael Schaefer launched a video webcast live to the world (thanks Michael).

I provided sound and support services for the community stage, sponsored by the Music Conservatory of Texas. We had a blast with groups from Neighborhood Arts and Music School (NAMS), School of Rock, elementary and middle-school music groups, fabulous young dancers from several academies, and Frisco Area Children’s Theater.

Three days will wear anyone out, so I have to give credit to my right-hand man—logistics expert, Blane Cox. Blane has some stage experience, so he was invaluable in anticipating my every need. We changed acts, stage and mic configurations virtually every half hour for the entire three-day operation. Phil Harman popped in on Sunday to add his fire-power, and we had the fastest pack-up that I’ve ever experienced with this much equipment. We also received outstanding support from Steve South, now the reddest guy in Frisco (a little sun there, Steve) who was the entertainment coordinator for the festival.

Behind the scenes there was the normal panic that is standard for an event like this. But excellent communication systems ensured that the participants did not feel the stress. To the audience, the vibe was something like a Disney park. You felt safe, the surroundings were beautiful, the music was wonderful, and you couldn’t drop a piece of trash without it being picked up within a few minutes.

I wish I could name all of the organizers, volunteers, and sponsors. The list would take another two blogs. Suffice to commend everyone on an excellent job. And thank you so much!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Losing with a Smile

This year I’ve had the fun opportunity to brag that I was nominated for 2009 Texas State Musician. As I understand it, only a handful (or two) are nominated each time this comes up. Out of several hundred thousand Texas musicians, it is truly an honor to be recognized. The Texas legislature finally got around to holding the final vote a couple of weeks ago, and I wasn’t their pick (this time). I lost to a guy down in the Hill Country who has been known to have a drug problem, financial issues, and unpaid back taxes. He also writes great songs, has the most unique vocal style in Country music, and has never declared bankruptcy. Of course, I’m talking about Willie Nelson.

You know, if I have to lose to someone, I’d definitely choose Willie. In fact, it’s a travesty that he wasn’t picked the very first year. Oh well, better late than never. And now he can brag that he beat out Ryan Michael Galloway!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Anna Thomas’ stunning first outing: Splash of Red

I’ve been following the development of North Texas performing songwriter, Anna Thomas, for almost a year now. She has just released her first EP, Splash of Red, a locally produced venture. I have to say, I’m completely impressed.

Usually when you listen to a small regional release, you find yourself having to make a lot of excuses for shortcomings in the music, production and arrangement. Not so on this one, where the recording and production contain both elegant simplicity and intelligent complexity—all in just the right measure and at just the right time. To sweeten the deal, there isn’t a lame cut on the whole release. The big leaguers don’t even do that most of the time.

I had a feeling come over me when I first listened to this CD, and I can remember the exact moment I last had the same feeling. It was when I put Steely Dan’s Aja on the turntable for the first time and listened to it through some pricey headphones. The texture was perfect; the music engaging, snarky and just challenging enough (I mean all of that in a good way), with little musical surprises that made you feel like the artist was letting you in on something, if you would just listen. Splash of Red hit me just like that.

Anna must be an old soul. I haven’t told you yet that she is merely 13 years old. That means she’s just getting started, which excites me no end. If this is how she’s starting her career, my God, she will be a joy to watch if she decides to continue to develop her art.

The lyrics are very sophisticated for anyone’s age. You could compare her sound to Coby Calais, but she does some more interesting turns in her voice that I haven’t heard anywhere else, and her advanced musical and lyrical tendencies surpass the pop star category. The teens may get pulled into it, but I see her demographic as older and a bit more discerning than even, say, the average light jazz listener. This may limit Ms. Thomas’ following a bit, but mark my word, if she sticks with it her following will be rabid for her sound and her future releases.

Finally, some credit goes to a few people helping Anna perfect her sound and her recordings. This is not to take away one ounce of her talent, but every picture needs a great frame—and she has more than one. Front and center is Matthew Gaskins, a remarkable musician with a Masters Degree out of North Texas University. That’s impressive enough, but Mr. Gaskins is more phenomenon than mere musician. He has not only mastered a number of instruments—including his voice—but understands the holistic arc of a production and its arrangement. He collaborated with Ms. Thomas on the arrangements of all the songs, and produced Little Red and My Circle.

The songs Bleached, Trace of Light, and Break Apart were produced by Salim Nourallah, one of Mr. Gaskins colleagues. Mr. Nouralla’s production style on all of the instruments and vocals appears to be, “If it doesn’t need it [an effect], then don’t use it.” The dry, minimalist result is stunning, but only because Ms. Thomas is good enough to pull it off. I’ve been encouraged to try the same approach on my own material, and the idea scares me to death! Maybe after hearing Splash of Red, I’ll get inspired to try it myself.

Behind the scenes is another remarkable person, Ms. Thomas’ father, Scott Thomas. Scott is a wonderfully flashy bassist who was generous enough to play on my last EP, Rock the Big House Down. If Mr. Thomas is a “stage dad,” he’s a very gentle one. He’s been smart enough to stay out of the way of his daughter and her collaborators, only recommending ideas in the most gentle way, and letting the art develop like a mushroom instead of a project.

If there is room for improvement, it will be in Ms. Thomas live delivery. Having said that, a recent performance demonstrated that she is on an improving trend as we speak. It has nothing to do with the quality of her singing, which is confident and convincing the majority of the time. It more has to do with the “selling” of her songs, which starts from the minute you begin to introduce the number and follows through to the final notes. It’s all headed in the right direction though, and one of the more interesting developments has been watching her weave her very dry, understated humor into her act. I think once people “get” her and she works into a really comfortable zone, that we are going to be completely blown away. That’s as opposed to mostly blown away, which is where we are now.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Collin County Songwriters Association News

For all the latest events that feature CCSA members, visit To see an outstanding selection of CCSA member videos, visit The site and the association now claim 72 active members and the number is growing almost daily.

Anna Thomas will appear at Café Bohemia with NAMS founder, Matthew Gaskins, on Saturday, May 23. The duo will appear from 6 to 8 PM, and the location is 2320 Los Rios Boulevard, Suite 10 in Plano.

See Steve Anderson with Scott Berry and Friends on Saturday, May 23, from 7 to 9, at It’s a Grind Coffeehouse at Lebanon and Dallas North Tollway. Steve specializes in acoustic blues, and is the owner/operator of Anderson Guitar Gallery with his wife Jennifer.

Daddy Rocks, a classic blues/rock power trio, appears at Joe’s Crab Shack in Mesquite on Sunday, May 24, from 6 to 9. The address is 1340 N. Peachtree Rd., and you may contact the venue at 972-329-7111.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Collin County Songwriters Association News for April 8, 2009

Collin County Songwriters Association News

Rockin’ the Park ’09—Saturday, April 18th!!! Watch the video trailer here. The CCSA explodes back into the “free concert business” with the return of Rockin’ the Park—after a one-year hiatus. The Frisco Parks and Recreation Department has worked closely with the association again this year to ensure a success. The event has moved to Warren Sports Complex at 7599 Eldorado Parkway in Frisco. Seminars, demonstrations, and the Backstage Open Mic start in the main pavilion at 12:30, the main show starts at 4:30 and goes to 9:30. Overflow parking will be across Eldorado at St. Francis Catholic Church.

Concertgoers are encouraged to bring one canned food item per person for the Frisco Family Services food bank. The Frisco Soccer Association is running their food drive at the park the same day, and the CCSA is joining efforts to help restock the shelves. Bring chairs, a blanket, food and drink (no alcohol) to enjoy a great afternoon in the park.

CCSA members will play on the open mic stage. The big stage will feature Tredway and Friends, Rory Don Moore, The Foundation, U4IX (pronounced Euphorics), and The 8-Tracks. The music ranges from Americana, Texana, contemporary, blues, rock and children-oriented originals, to fun good-time cover tunes. Sponsors include Anderson Guitar Gallery, Neighborhood Arts and Music, and sound reinforcement/engineering is provided by Subzero Sound.

Yes, we know Jimmy Buffet is playing on this date—and we love him, too. But if you’d rather take your family to an event that isn’t “under the influence,” this is your ticket! ;-)

Tons of CCSA Videos are up on the CCSA’s hyper-local social networking site. Go to to check out the fun and eclectic collection. There are a number of videos from the Drury University sound stage/media department in Springfield, Missouri that were shot last November and have just been released.

Dallas Songwriters Association has a showcase at 7PM on April 9 at The Filling Station, 19009 Preston, in Dallas. The host is DSA President, Steve Sullivan.

Tredway and Friends at Chautauqua, April 11, 2009 from 7pm to 10pm – Getzendaner Park Songwriters Saturday at Chautauqua auditorium, many songwriters, nice open air park setting, 100+year old bldg. Admission free bring the kids, picnic and listen to some Texas Singer/songwriters. Other appearances include Ennis at the Bluebonnet Festival, April 19th, The Outrigger Restaurant and Grill in Palacios, Texas, May 1st and 2nd, and 8pm at Dunn Bros. Addison on April 18th—right after Rockin’ the Park.

Andy Howell invites everyone to join him for an evening of music and stories, readings, musings and what have you this Friday, April 10 at Frosted Java. Frosted Java is at 3685 Preston a couple of blocks behind Stonebriar Mall. It's on the N.W. corner of Preston and Warren.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Collin County Songwriters Association teams up once again with the City of Frisco’s Parks and Recreation Department for Rockin’ the Park ’09 on Saturday, April 18th. This year’s Rockin’ the Park will be held at Warren Sports Complex on Eldorado Parkway, west of Preston Road, and will center around the park’s pavilion. Other supporting organizations include Subzero Sound (providing audio engineering), Anderson Guitar Gallery, and Neighborhood Arts and Music School, and the Frisco Soccer Association.

The event starts with pre-show activities—open mic featuring CCSA members, songwriting seminar and demonstrations—at 12:30 until 3:45. The “Big Show” starts at 4:30, featuring Tredway and Friends, Rory Don Moore, The Foundation, U4IX (pronounced Euphorics) and The 8-Tracks playing until 9:30.
The music runs the gamut from Texana/Americana, to blues, to jazz, to contemporary teen, to classic rock. These acts present some of the best of what North Texas has to offer, and the family-friendly show is sure to appeal to a wide audience.

The CCSA has also joined forces with the Frisco Soccer Association to collect food at the park that day for Frisco Family Services’ food bank. Participants in either the sports or concert events are encouraged to bring canned food to contribute. Feel free to bring food and drinks (no alcohol) to enjoy during the concert.

For more information about the CCSA, visit, or the organization’s social networking site, View the video trailer for the concert at

Monday, April 06, 2009

Passions Play Out at Neighborhood Arts and Music School (NAMS)

Neighborhood Arts and Music School (NAMS) opened in January 5 of 2009, becoming a near-instant success as they progressed into the first quarter of the year—an impressive feat in a deep world-wide recession. If you know NAMS’ owners, Kelly Thomas and Matthew Gaskins, you probably wouldn’t be surprised.

Matt is an amazing musician, able to play a number of instruments at a level that impresses even his seasoned peers. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Performance, Percussion and Voice from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma and in 2008 he earned his Masters of Music in Jazz Studies from the University of North Texas, one of the country’s most renown music schools.

Kelly earned a BBA in Marketing from the University of Memphis, with a minor in Music—a potent combination in any part of the music business. A classically trained flutist, Kelly also plays alto sax, and piano, and writes music and lyrics. As a former Air Force wife, she lived in 8 cities in 12 years, finding a way to continue to participate in music everywhere she lived, whether in community bands, church bands or teaching private lessons.

It is unusual to find accomplished musicians who not only have a passion for playing, but an equal passion for teaching. I asked Matt and Kelly what led them to open a music school at such a dangerous time.

“There is a simple joy in sharing music and what’s been given to me—passing it on to others,” confided Matt. “I always thought that teaching was for those who couldn’t do. But in earning my Masters, I started to dream of having a school. I found there was so much to learn in teaching. Once I saw the results of the performances of my students, I was smitten. It brought joy to my life.”

For Kelly’s part, she says “I love being able to provide an environment where students can learn to love music. Music is such an amazing and powerful gift and is something people can continue participating in their entire lifetime.”

As the concept developed, they knew they wanted to build a school that embraced the performance viewpoint—a place for students to perform and create. They succeeded beyond everyone’s dreams, except perhaps their own. To complete the picture, they quickly hired a number of accomplished teachers, finding those who could instill a sense of fun in the learning environment.

The school facility itself is a beautiful space, with a modern 50s and 60s retro feel that invokes The Jetsons. They currently have six lesson rooms, a built in recording studio, a small recital hall, and a large screen TV and Wii for the waiting area.

As a matter of full disclosure, I’ll reveal that I’ve had the pleasure of teaching fundamental piano and beginning to advanced guitar at NAMS for the last few months. I have a mentoring streak a mile wide, and I can tell you that it is an absolute joy having the opportunity to work for and with like-minded musician-mentors.

NAMS represents another great choice out of a small but impressive array of music teaching facilities in Frisco. If you are looking for music instruction for yourself or your children, I recommend that you consider NAMS.