If the music business is often cyclical, that might be more true for commercial hard rock than almost any other genre, and, at the moment, the scene is in a downturn. Contemporary hard-rock bands aren't filling basketball arenas at the moment, and the Billboard rock charts are filled with acoustic-based bands (Mumford & Son, the Lumineers) and pop-oriented acts (Phillips Phillips, fun., Ed Sheeran).
Memphis' hard-rock scene has often launched bands into national prominence, from Tora Tora Tora in the pre-Nirvana late '80s to Saliva in the post-rap-rock early '00s. But the scene's national downturn has been felt here, according to Gary Segars, the charismatic, energetic lead singer of Prosevere, one of Memphis' most successful and promising young hard-rock bands.
"It's taken a hit since 93X went away," says Segars, referring to the local modern-rock station, which was often credited with cultivating the local hard-rock scene and providing initial radio exposure for many bands. The station, the property of Entercom, was flipped in the spring of 2009, becoming 92.9 ESPN, an FM simulcast of Entercom's AM sports-talk station 680 WSMB.
Around the same time, prime opening slots became harder to come by via a reduction in major national bands in the genre touring and hitting Memphis. Locally, while the New Daisy Theater has been a stalwart home for hard rock, it's often too large for many up-and-coming locals, while the downtown location is sometimes inconvenient for what has become a more suburban audience.
"The Hi-Tone [Café] shutting down is going to hurt [the music scene], but our crowds wouldn't even go there anyway," says Segars, who agrees with the suggestion that a smaller, suburban venue catering to hard-rock bands might help the scene.
"Too many people have tried to make too much money," Segars says of the general downturn. "But I don't think it has to be that way. People got lazy. Rock bands aren't as creative anymore. They don't push themselves. We [in Prosevere] pride ourselves on ground and pound. You can't just put stuff up on Facebook anymore."
To rally the scene, Segars has partnered with concert promoter Ryan Gill for a 17-band, two-day showcase concert at the New Daisy Theater, dubbed the "Hometown Throwdown."
Headlining the first night of the mini-festival is Surrender the Fall, one of the scene's current best bets, which released a debut album, Burn in the Spotlight, for new Miami-based indie Rum Bum Records last fall. (The label has subsequently dipped into Memphis again to sign Saliva, which has been reconfigured without original lead singer Josey Scott, who left the band to pursue a solo career.)
Saturday night, the headliner will be Shinedown lead-singer Brent Smith and the band's Memphis-based guitarist Zach Myers, playing as an acoustic duo. Shinedown, which has sold more than 10 million albums since their 2001 founding, is one of the most successful current hard-rock bands.
"We got lucky with Shinedown wanting to be a part of it," Segars says. "I've been friends with Zach for 15 years now, and he's always had a thing for wanting to help the local scene."
Myers was initially involved as part of a reunion of his pre-Shinedown Memphis band, the Farewell, but convinced Smith to come in for a second set to anchor the show.
"It's in the middle of a break for them. They've got a big tour starting next month," Segars says, noting that Smith and Myers did an acoustic tour a couple of years ago. "The average price was $57 for a damn acoustic tour. Having them come into a 1,000-seat club for a $10 ticket is amazing."
Segars' Prosevere will play Saturday night between the Farewell and Smith & Myers. The band, which released the EP Burn the City in 2011, has been writing in preparation for recording a debut full-length this spring.
The rest of the bill will bring together promising new bands (Skyline Divide, A Moment Shy) and familiar faces (a reunited So She Sang; Aurora, which features members of Breaking Point; and Arvada, which features members of My Surrender). Metal bands (This Tragic Day, Artifas) and suburban pop-punk bands (Tomfoolery, Looking for Alaska).
The purpose of the "Hometown Throwdown" is partly to introduce these bands to more fans, but it's also to introduce the bands to each other, bringing together bands from different hard-rock subgenres and different parts of the region.
"We want [the bands] to be friends with each other and book shows together instead of [booking] competing shows," Segars says. "And part of this is also to show that there's still a booming rock scene in Memphis."
New Daisy Theater • $10 for a two-day pass
Friday, January 11th, starting at 6 p.m.:
Surrender the Fall, Swoon, This Tragic Day, Artifas, Seed, Tom Foolery, Looking for Alaska
Saturday, January 12th, starting at 4:30 p.m.:
Shinedown's Brent Smith and Zach Myers (acoustic), Prosevere, The Farewell, So She Sang, Arvada, Skyline Divide, Aurora, A Moment Shy, Augustine, Light as Lenses