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?

3 Comments so far

  1. Leemer (unregistered) on January 6th, 2006 @ 9:13 am

    Great entry, Devin…

    I remember the good old days of watching my brothers’ band. They played Deep Ellum several times (Trees, Deep Ellum Live), but the scene down there was much different then.

    In the early-to-mid-nineties, it was all about the music. And love. And amity.

    Naturally, based on where I lived, I tended to habituate FW dives. The Aardvark (nee: The Hop), The Mad Hatter’s, Garage Cafe, etc. Great places all, though the Aardvark is the only one left standing, I think.

    But let’s get to the larger problem – the true bugaboo: Local music, while making a nice comeback, effing sucked for a while. Once the Toadies and Tripping Daisy “made it” (both good bands), artists like pop poppins, Digbees, and even the mellow yet extremely talented Brad Thompson found themselves locked out by Tom, Dick, and Harry and their wannabe grunge sound.

    Wow… I cannot believe I just wrote all that. I planned on just saying “Hello”.

  2. Diane (unregistered) on January 6th, 2006 @ 9:14 am

    I couldn’t agree more, and it makes me so sad that there is no decent place to go and hear local music anymore. The venues are not much better here in Denton, with Rick’s gone and the Groovy Mule (not that it was ever a great music venue, but hey it was something) being the location of some wrestling venue now. There really is no great place in Denton to go. Then when Fry Street Fair went away…well that was a sad sad day indeed.

  3. jonathan (unregistered) on January 7th, 2006 @ 5:27 pm

    It’s quite sad. The City doesn’t seem to care that Deep Ellum is dying a slow death. If they were smart they would get rid of the parking meters or at least change the time on them. Let’s see….Sambuca left, the Aarangement (no loss), Deep Ellum Cafe, EastWind, and now Trees and Dada where I have seen some great shows. If Gypsy leaves, wer are in deep you know what. Granada & Gyspsy are the last hope.

    Dallas has never been a music town – people could really care less unless Brittany Spears or U2 are coming to town.

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