Who’s Got The Deep Ellum Blues?
I swear to Bog, I’m not going to whine. I’m not.
Okay, maybe a little.
There was a ten-year period where the North Texas area had some of the most phenomenal live music options. You had an influx of phenomenal rock and funk bands from Denton, a plethora of potent acts in Dallas spanning the musical spectrum, and Fort Worth was brimming with scads of hard rock and soul outfits. On any given weekend night, you could go to Deep Ellum and see an amazing live club gig from a band that you just knew was going to be the Next Big Thing.
Of course, that was before the Great Gentrification of Ellum.
I’d like to think it was a gradual sloping off of the coolness factor, but the truth is the climate of the district changed a lot in the mid-1990s. Bring me your tired cliches of crime, gangs and hooliganism, your yearning to return to a simpler time. You know the story — the Dallas Observer has chronicled the Decline of Deep Ellum for the last 20 years. Hell, I remember a cover story in the Observer as far back as 1991, claiming the current residents were fearful that the higher dollar developers were invading Ellum and stealing its soul.
I didn’t believe it then. I sure as hell believe it now.
Last month, I did a Saturday fill-in DJ gig at The Bone. It was the week before Christmas, and a fairly dead night. I was floored to find out that we had the second-highest amount of people on Elm Street, and I was certain I was tanking. When I asked who had more people, I expected to hear it would be Trees or Dada. Instead, it was Lazers.
Now, Trees is gone. When you don’t pay your rent for two months straight, you can expect to get your doors locked. But what really stuns me is the lack of hue and cry from people who love, live for local music. Where was the “Save The Trees” fund-raising concert? Where was the groundswell support movement that would have kept Trees open and functioning?
From all accounts, nowhere. The owners, Entertainment Collaborative, kept holding out hope that a white knight would swoop in and buy Trees at the 11th hour, and that never happend. The space’s landlord, the Belmor Corporation, is actively looking for new tenants — so, if you’re thinking about opening up a live music venue with a bit of capital to burn, get moving.
Dada’s gone, too. Didn’t pay taxes. Not to go all L33T here, but WTF?
I guess it means more to me because that area, those clubs are where I grew up. That’s my past getting its locks changed. There’s my history with “Now Leasing” on the front door.
Sure, it’s depressing to think about it. Wail and moan all you want. But, once you’re done with that, ask yourself a couple of questions.
* What are you going to do about it? The concept of taking ownership of something as big as a live music district is a bit daunting, but a handful of people did just that in the late 1980s. Jeff Liles, Russel Hobbs, Charlie Gilder, and Jeff Swaney did it. Where are the people who will — or can — step up now?
* If they build it, will you come? Have your nightlife instincts changed so much (as, I fear, mine have) that the thought of heading to Deep Ellum gives you a headache? The shrinking parking options, the crackdown on cruising that makes navigating the district a nightmare, the bonehead goombahs out looking for a meaningless fight…
I want to believe that the answer to one of Dallas’ biggest music scene problems is forthcoming. The question is, is it too little, too late?