Galveston island is cool. I’m biased you might say; you’ve lived here your entire life, of course you’re gonna have some kind of island pride, right? But live here for any amount of time and you’ll see it too- it’s a vibe throws island culture into a blender, shaken and stirred with one part vacation, one part subversion, and garnished with a uniquely DIY flavor that flourishes when your connections to the mainstream are separated by literal bridges. I remember how, back in high school, classmates would call the town Galvatraz, lamenting how they were stuck in such a lame town. But there’s a certain level of pride that you can only tap into once you start searching for that core of what makes island life so great. I asked a few local musicians what it is that keeps them coming home here.
“It’s more intimate than a lot of other places,” says DJ Ellis, a musician with Blastdad and Gnar World Order. “As far as the DIY goes we’ve tried to cultivate a good community. It’s kinda off the beaten path. It’s that seclusion from the outside world is kind of inspiring.”
I love it,” says local rapper Erasmo. “It’s funny man, sometimes I play shows in front of thousands of people, up in Houston and different cities, but I love being in Galveston because all my friends are here. I just have way more fun, you know? ...I always feel comfortable here, you know, it’s my hometown.”
It’s the kind of thing you have to stumble on to really understand. Whether guided by the details of posters plastered on lamplights, or teased by the crashing of cymbals echoing through the alleyways on warm summer nights, that pulse of the music scene is a huge part of what makes Galveston so special. Maybe it’s being battered by hurricanes, or just because the island soul, but there’s a true camaraderie when it comes to how the independent musicians of the island establishes themselves.
“It’s ever changing,” said Blaine Lunz of local band Kinkshame. “ It seems like we always go from place to place on the island. For a while we’ll play at the [VFW], for a while we’ll play at Old Quarter. We have a really tight knit group of friends and everyone supports everyone- that’s really great. In other cities… other bands might be scowling at you like, ‘who are you, what are you doing here?’ Here, we have a smaller group of people but we work together to make things happen.”
It’s kind of surreal about how authentic that drive to create can be, and on the island it’s something that stands untainted because of its size. It’s a small town, to be sure. Many would say that we can’t compete with bigger cities like Houston, that in order to make things work as an artist you have to get off the island as soon as you can. But Lauren Eddy, vocalist for local band El Lago, sees how a small town vibe can work as more of a benefit than you would think, compared to more recognized cities.
“Austin is not the promised land of live music that people seem to think it is. Like, there’s a lot of music, but there are some things about those circumstances that make it very very hard to be a musician,” said Eddy. “You can have really disappointing shows because you’re forced to play all the time, and it becomes sort of watered down… you don’t necessarily have a base of people who will support you, like can happen here. Galveston is so personal, we have such tight circles of friends that are still open to other people from out of town. There’s more room, more space to do your thing here. Other places can push you to have a ‘stagey’ performance, like you’re auditioning for The Voice or something, so you have to dress a certain way and have showmanship. In a smaller town, it gives you permission to be you, you don’t have to try so hard to be an individual.”
It is, of course, a double edged sword. The familiar trope of the starving artist is common for a reason, after all, and the city has a duality between its tourist-catering tastes and it’s more independent, away-from-the-mainland vibe. While there are independent artists carving out their own space in the sand, it’s difficult to maintain a foothold among the more vested beach bars and clubs.
“The cover music scene in Galveston is such a huge thing... these guys play Tom Petty songs all night long get paid a thousand dollars, and I’m out here trying to scramble $400 for three bands, a sound guy, and a light guy,” said Clark Hauser, of India Tigers of Texas. “These big places come in and try to capitalize on the culture, but all they end up doing is choking the culture out of it.”
Luckily for me, I don’t think that’s gonna hit the island for a while. Between bouncing through all the garage shows and dancing front row at loft party music jams, there’s something about the energy that drives the independent music scene of the island that’s pure. It eschews the safe, the easy; swirls with the strange and oozes out between your fingers when you try to grasp on. We’re not too cool for ourselves. We just try to have fun. You really have to be in it for the ups and downs. And if it all fades away to dust?
“The music scene here didn’t hinge on us. It was here before we got here and it’s gonna be here after we leave,” says Eddy. “Galveston’s always gonna have entertainment. It’s a place where people like to come and let loose, and music is a part of that. I don’t think it’s gonna go away. It might change forms or whatever, but it’s not gonna go away.”