Why music pros like Robert Ellis and Jimi Bowman are calling Fort Worth home

A neon sign says "FUNKY TOWN"

Fort Worth pride is prevalent inside of Curfew Bar. Photo: Jessica Waffles

Austin might have the mystique as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” but when it comes to musicians, cities and the state of Texas, it’s hard to argue against Fort Worth’s momentum.

Consider the fact that the North Texas city was the first to be designated by the Texas Music Office as a “Music-Friendly City” back in 2017, or the fact that Fort Worth has easily absorbed the addition of a range of music venues — from arenas to clubs — or the fact that it seemed, in almost any conversation I had with a Texas artist in the last 10 months, Fort Worth and its dedication to the creative class would be discussed, sometimes with no prompting.

So, as we have on other topics at various points in the past year, we’ve assembled a collage of perspectives on just why it is Fort Worth seems to be the destination of choice for musicians eager to have civic and community support, the value of a good community vibe, as well as a place where the tradition of breaking the mold has long been the norm.

What follows are lightly edited, condensed responses from larger, separate conversations.

Robert Ellis, standing in a field with a grand piano behind him, looks off to the right

Robert Ellis. Photo: Alexandra Valenti

Robert Ellis, musician and producer
There’s so much opportunity. … I had been coming up [from Austin, where Ellis lived] to Fort Worth to make records with Josh [Block of Niles City Sound] and to play on stuff. I just loved the vibe. … And I love Austin, you know, I really love the vibe of the city. But I’m from Houston, and there are things about Houston that Fort Worth shares that I’ve always really missed. Some of that big city infrastructure. … There’s stuff that you just don’t get in a city like Austin. Then, at the same time, the music scene is like — there’s tons of stuff going on. I just think of South Congress in the ‘90s, for instance. That’s what Fort Worth feels like to me. … There’s just some magic to the city that I really am thankful for.

Simon Flory faces the camera, cradling his acoustic guitar

Simon Flory. Photo: Brooks Burris

Simon Flory, musician and producer
At the end of the day, my audience for my work and my writing and the people that I was really connecting with were consistently in Fort Worth. … It all just felt much more communal, which is what I personally am looking for. … [The creative infrastructure is] driven by the civic effort by community leaders. And what they did is they got a lot of local musician input and involvement, and a huge push to make something beautiful. … It actually only works in that kind of symbiotic collaborative. [There’s] Amplify 817 at the Library, which features local artists, curates playlists and such. And then the work [the city of Fort Worth] did with the COVID grant program. That was just absolutely huge. It sustained so many artists that I know.

Tiffiny Costello, with a hand raised to her face, looks off to the left

Tiffiny Costello performs as Housekeys
Photo: Courtesy Tiffiny Costello

Tiffiny Costello, musician (performing under the name Housekeys) and producer
I am originally from the DFW area … and lived in Fort Worth for a few years until 2014, when I left to live in various places like Denver, Seattle, and New York City before returning in July to Fort Worth after being gone for 8 years. I tried living in Austin and Dallas for a couple of months before deciding on Fort Worth again, but I have friends and family here in Fort Worth, and am familiar with the scene, at least as it was 8 years ago. I know it’s changed, but it feels like there are so many great changes happening with record labels that have started up and neighborhoods like Historic/Near Southside helping to place focus on supporting and engaging artists. … With other cities having a more established, saturated art scene that can be easy to get lost in, Fort Worth has and I believe, will maintain a tighter, community vibe where everyone knows and supports each other.

Jimi Bowman, wearing glasses and a hoodie, faces the camera

Jimi Bowman. Photo: Courtesy Jimi Bowman

Jimi Bowman, producer
It is such a breath of fresh air. Just the fact that I can walk out the front door from Niles [City Sound] and go to the deli, go to get coffee, or walk down the hall to have a drink if I need to blow some steam or whatever. Just having access to all that stuff is just amazing. Then in terms of a vibe, I mean, I think it’s really cool. [The Near Southside neighborhood] reminds me — probably the closest thing in Dallas, I would say it definitely reminds me a little bit of parts of Bishop Arts, but not as commercialized as Bishop Arts. Not that Bishop Arts isn’t cool, but Fort Worth seems way more organic. … So it’s, for me, very exciting to see that, because I’m like, man, this feels like the right place to be for a recording studio.

Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. Email him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter (@prestonjones). Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.