Situated about 80 miles northeast of Dallas, Sulphur Springs is like a Texas-style Twin Peaks, complete with a quirky diner, the Southwest Dairy Museum and a giant welcome mat off I-30 you just can't miss. A billboard beckons tourists with "Sulphur Springs: It's a Whole 'Udder' Country." But this little Texas hamlet should instead try luring visitors with its most valuable export: Fair to Midland.
Fair to Midland got underway in 1998 when singer Darroh Sudderth and guitarist Cliff Campbell embarked on a series of garage recordings to try and stave off the small-town doldrums. The duo gradually expanded into a five-piece prog-metal brigade, and soon hit the road well-traveled out of Sulphur Springs.
Between 2001 and 2004, the band managed to park the van long enough to record and self-release two albums. Raw talismans of a shape-shifting identity, these records made few waves east or west of I-30. But Fair to Midland traveled on, reaching beyond its grasp to grab national attention on tour.
With its blue-collar approach to rock-opera theatrics, the band has attracted like-minded fans beyond the hallowed halls of art-metal. Kind of like The Sword covering Dream Theater, or the Mars Volta feeding the Screaming Trees through a wood-chipper. Sudderth nestles his brutish growling and crestfallen shrieks amidst Campbell's fret-board acrobatics. Arpeggios take flight from beneath deep bass swells and battle-axe drumming as Sudderth flails about like Jeffrey Lee Pierce doing a new-wave rain dance.
It's no wonder that, after seeing these Texans perform in California, System of a Down's Serj Tankian signed the band to his Serjical Strike Records last year. What followed was the Drawn and Quartered EP, a sort of re-working of songs from the first two self-releases; a full-length is in the works. Should this major label debut change the face of the national Billboard, Fair to Midland's hometown just might have to amend its own to read "Sulphur Springs: It's a Whole 'Fair to Midland' Country."
Fair to Midland, opening for As I Lay Dying with Die Rote Kapelle and Stabbing the Drama. 7:30 p.m. Sat., May 5 (doors at 6:30 p.m.). Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $15. All ages. 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com