“Beaumont needs a little more weird.”
Looking around Beaumont lately, anyone can see that the city is changing and one person thinks Beaumont could change a little more.
Beth Rankin, writer for the Beaumont Enterprise, editor of the Cat5 magazine and the host of “The Local Scene” on 91.3 KVLU, is trying to make sure this change keeps going.
“We’re lucky to be here right now,” she says. “Beaumont is going through a real something. Two and a half years ago, when we started Cat5, there was no such thing as craft beer, there was no such thing as a food truck, there was no such thing as a bike lane, and there was no “First Thursday.” There were strip mall businesses and guys in bars playing acoustic guitar covers of ‘Wagon Wheel.’ There was definitely an underground culture that you could see through The Art Studio and the Vortex, but they were having a hard time.”
Through the Cat5 magazine and “The Local Scene,” Beth has been chronicling the rise of the “young creatives” as she calls them.
“I think the recession took a lot of young creatives who would have left, who wanted to leave, who either had to come back or they just never left to begin with, and they just started opening their own businesses and doing their own thing,” she says. “I think young people in this town just got sick of strip malls.”
When Beth first moved to Southeast Texas from Ohio four years ago, she used this creative scene to make Beaumont her home.
“It was my first job out of college,” she says. “I’d been unemployed for nine months because the job market was really bad and I came here to be a crime reporter. I was afraid I was going to hate it and I knew I couldn’t just fly home on the weekends. So I just really dug in and I started going to a lot of shows, to The Art Studio, to the Art League — just kind of getting to know this creative community that Beaumont has really always had — because I didn’t have anything else.”
When Beth’s bosses at the Beaumont Enterprise realized her involvement in the creative scene, they asked her to leave crime reporting and start Cat5, which focuses on local food, fashion, arts and music. It was an easy transition to “The Local Scene.”
“Honestly, the radio show is kind of easy to make, as it’s my job to always know what bands are playing when, so I’ve already got a running list of shows and often I’m planning to interview the band, so now I can kind of kill two birds with one stone,” she says. “I’ll interview the band by email and I’ll have them send me a couple of tracks that I can play on the show.”
The show picks up where the magazine leaves off, delving listeners a little deeper into the musicians she interviews, and giving them a chance to actually hear the music. She uses the show as a chance to give local artists a rare chance at radio time.
“I just had this wealth of stuff, of music and band interviews that I was using for the magazine, and a lot of bands around here lament the fact that there is no way of getting radio play really,” she says. “A couple of rock bands might get a song on Big Dog 106, but otherwise there’s just no hope of getting your independently produced, original music on the radio.”
Beth says that it’s impossible to really convey music through words.
“I constantly wished that Cat5 could be like one of those musical greeting cards, where you open it up and it starts playing,” she says. “I would even put QR codes in the magazine, which I’m pretty sure no one has ever used, I don’t know why I keep doing it, but the idea is while you’re reading about the band, you can scan the QR code and it would go to their new music video so you could listen to the band. This show is a great opportunity for me to just play the damn song.”
The show doesn’t only play locally produced music though, it also plays tracks from bands who are going to be coming through town playing shows.
“Right now, I’m just working to create a database of local music,” she says. “I’ve had all the local bands who have material send me their stuff that I can just pull from every week. It’s about 50/50 in each show, locally-produced music and music from bands that are going to be coming through town while on tour.”
Although Beth tries to give everyone a chance at radio play, not everyone is able to make the cut and she tends to skew towards certain genres, such as indie, alternative, blues and a little country.
“If I can’t listen to the music, it’s just not a good show for me,” she says. “I am getting a little more into country, but that pop-country shit, there’s no way. Even if I don’t like the song or love the song, I have to feel something. I find that with a lot of popular, mainstream music, it feels like its lacking that soul that I think is missing in radio.”
Beth uses her contacts in the community and music blogs to help keep up with what is happening.
“If you’re not in that community of young creatives, you might not know that shows are going to happen,” she says, “It’s a little more work. On the one hand, being in a city like Beaumont is less work because there is less traffic, you don’t have to worry about parking. I can go to 10 great functions in a weekend. It’s affordable, you can pop in and out and feel good about it.
“On the other hand it’s difficult, because Beaumont is kind of insulated and segregated in every way, culturally, racially. There are people who never leave Dowlen Road and there are people who never leave Old Town. You’ve kind of got to know different people and different crowds. Social media definitely helps keep track of all the things that are going on, but even still I miss stuff all the time.”
Beth thinks that Beaumont needs to foster its culture and atmosphere so that the talent and young people won’t leave and the city can grow. She also says that Beaumont gives an opportunity to these creative people that they wouldn’t get elsewhere.
“You have this opportunity to create something where it would be a lot harder to create something in a city like Houston or Austin,” she says. “You’d be just one drop in a giant bucket. I think you should burrow into the ground and find your one little spot and one little thing that you do that makes you happy and that people want and need, obviously, and do that thing.
“I think a lot of young creatives found that they could do that in Beaumont because it is cheap to live here, it’s cheap to start businesses, and then with this sort of cultural renaissance we’ve got, they’ve got the opportunity to really grow. It’s kind of like having a baby business. Maybe one day they’ll grow and take it to a new city, maybe not, but it’s a good opportunity for people, I think.”
Beth wants her show to be something that someone could just sit on the floor and listen to with their headphones on because of the nuance that the artists put into their records. She has also teamed up with Polarity Studio to record tracks and interviews with local bands.
“There’s a lot of local bands that I want to play, but they don’t have tracks recorded,” she says. “What we’re going to do is take these bands, and a case of beer, into the studio and make some recordings and see what we get.
“In a lot of cases these are just kids. Some of them are traveling the country in rickety vans. The one thing that has always impressed me about Beaumont is all these great local musicians who spend so much time and money to buy studio time and create these beautiful records ,and I just want to play them on the radio. I just want to get these artists as much exposure as possible. They deserve it and their music is good.
“People who say that Beaumont is this terrible cultural black hole are just wrong. They’re just not looking. We’re just trying to get this music out there.”
“The Local Scene” plays twice monthly, on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month at 9 p.m. on 91.3 KVLU.
To submit profanity-free tracks, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The Local Scene” can be streamed the day after airing at www.mixcloud .com/beaumontbeth, or at kvlu.org/the-local-scene.
Contact Beth at twitter.com/setxlocal scene or Facebook.com/setxlocalscene.
Story & Photos by Kristen Stuck