Home So... What is this "THIRD COAST MUSIC"? 

This might help ya, it's John Conquest's article circa November 1996...
During the next few weeks I'll be strewing MCT 1996 Austin Music Poll ballots in all directions and one of the categories, as always will be Third Coast Act. Now this is a concept that seems perfectly straightforward to me, but, even with a short, rather generalized explanatory note, which, this year, reads "a Baton Rouge to Brownsville catchall," it seems to baffle many of the Austinites who fill in the ballots. Before my time, there was an Austin magazine actually called Third Coast but, perhaps running into the same incomprehension, it folded faster than most. However, down in San Antonio, people seem to grasp the significance of the term quite readily, judging by the success of Joe Horn's radio show Third Coast Music Network, broadcast daily on KSYM, the San Antonio College station. While Horn's exemplary work as a DJ and music director deserves coverage on its merits, my hope was to use it to illuminate the idea of Third Coast music.

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         Horn and I are, you might say, kindred spirits. I remember the first time we got together, when Horn was a fanatical amateur and MCT still strictly territorial. Brenda Horn shaking her head, saying, "You guys. How long could you sit here just talking about Texas music?" While living in Austin (1977-82), Horn, originally from Hillsboro, was converted, from earlier enthusiasms for blues and reggae, to the cause by Larry Monroe and in San Antonio threw all the support he could behind KFAN during its all too brief apotheosis as a 24 hour, all-Texas music station. When, in 1991, its owners sold the powerful frequency, which, with luck and a little altitude, could be picked up in South Austin, Horn became an activist, persuading KSYM to give him Sunday evenings for Joe X By God Horn’s World Famous Texas Music Show.



      For a few years, Joe and I both chugged along doing the loyalist thing, but in early 1995, in what still strikes me as a rather singular and revealing parallel development, we separately and simultaneously decided to abandon our Texas only formats. On many occasions, we'd both strained the integument, freely, though never casually, bestowing the title of 'honorary Texan,' often on the same people, but increasingly found such expedients unsatisfactory. Whether Texas music is on the ebb or we outgrew it as a sole focus, we realised that concentration on it was acting as a wall, when we were both trying to tear walls down. My solution was a pragmatic/idiosyncratic opening up, but Horn tried to define his new direction by creating the Third Coast Music Network.
      Easier to say than explain. Taking Sunday nights and Friday afternoons himself, Horn oversees seven other DJs, including Larry Monroe (first Saturday of each month) and Jim Beal Jr. of the San Antonio Light, who play whatever they want within a framework Horn imposes by lashing them to his Wheel. "Basically, it’s a way of creating continuity by making sure that in every block of 15 plays, three will be rock & roll or rockabilly, three blues or jazz, three Cajun, Zydeco or New Orleans, three singer-songwriters and three from compilations. For DJs, there's a temptation to get on a roll, but just because it feels smooth doesn't mean you’re doing a good job. You resist trying to work in things that don't seem to fit, so the wheel keeps them roughly on track."           


       Horn’s formula has been spectacularly successful, his show far and away the biggest earner in KSYM's pledge drives, with a waiting list of would-be underwriters. "Companies drop out from time to time, but I never have to make more than one call to replace them. These are solid people making business decisions, so I feel pretty good about it." In fact, Horn, whose picture framing business is suffering from his devotion to the Network, wonders if, given its proven appeal to underwriters, for which read potential advertisers, his show may not have commercial potential. "There are people taking $5 an hour for playing hideous shit. You'd think they'd be happy to get that playing good music!"
       Horn's wheel alone, of course, doesn't define the show, which brings us back to the Third Coast concept. "I guess the main catalyst in going from the Texas show to the Network was realizing that San Antonio's real sister city is New Orleans, not Austin. But though what we play is primarily from the South, it just can't be geographically limited. You can be from LA, like Los Lobos, The Blazers and Dave Alvin, and still be Third Coast. The other two coasts are such arrogant bastards about the arts that anyone who doesn’t fit in is likely to be Third Coast." Though he's a reporter for The Gavin Report's Americana chart, much standard Americana fodder never gets added to Horn’s playlist and much of what he does add never makes it to the chart.           
                Now we get to the really helpful bit. "It's so difficult to describe because it's art, which is always elusive. I think, no matter where people are, they recognize soulfulness, and they know what Third Coast means." Which sounds an awful lot like an update of MCT's old Texas music motto: If we have to explain, you wouldn't understand." JC

1996 John Conquest

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Well, figure New York/etc is one coast, LA/etc is another coast, then South Texas/Louisiana/etc would be a third coast.  I guess the fourth coast is Northern Canada / Arctic Circle, but you don't hear much from them... 


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Try this list if you're still trying to understand: 

Americana  /  roots   /  Independent  /  blues  /  western  /  Cajun, Zydeco, Creole  /  Adult Album Alternative (AAA)  /  Swamp rock   /  Punk Bluegrass  / Hillbilly-Surf  /  rock 'n' roll  /   Texas music  /  classic country  /  REAL country  /   underground Nashville /  anti-NashVegas  /  Twang  /   alt.country  / CRINGE? (country fringe)  /  insurgent country   / cowpunk  /  psychadelic country  /  y'all-ternative  /   Eclectic...


For the history buffs, here's some "historical" newsgroup messages (found searching Deja News),  for some background perspective... 

25 April 98
Go back to the first one