Adios to the Arbor

Two former music editors weigh in on the future of Trees

I haven't stepped foot in Trees in several years--last time, I suspect, was when X's original line-up tore up the place, reducing it to splinters like it was 1979. I hadn't been in the joint in a long time, and returning on those rare occasions was like visiting your old high school populated by tattooed children. I didn't figure it'd be my last time there, but if you told me then the joint would soon be gone, I would have shrugged, muttered something about the inevitable end of all good things and added it to the long list of local music venues put out to pasture. The Orbit Room was long gone too; Theater Gallery and Prophet Bar, decayed and forgotten corpses; Twilite Room, barely a footnote in the history books. Even the old fave hangs were shadows of shadows of their former selves; then, truth be told, I haven't been to the Galaxy Club or Club Clearview since, oh, Clinton's second term or Bedhead's second album, whichever came first.

Trees, to be fair, was different. Almost since its opening, it was my proverbial home away from home, one of the few clubs in which I went to hang out during daylight hours, when most nightclubs look like death-bed patients and smell like fraternity houses on Sunday mornings. I was friendly with the people who ran the joint, among them Jessica Clarke, Jeff Liles, "Big Steve" Shein and bartender Craig Dupois, who surreptitiously got Warren Zevon to sign for me a copy of Warren's out-of-print live album Stand in the Fire, which I will always treasure. After his tenure as Dallas Observermusic editor, Alex Magosci also helped book bands, and Spyche was there, too, the world's most intimidating and beautiful ticket-taker in the history of the music biz. Back then, Trees had the vibe of a local-music clubhouse. I made pals, I lost my hearing. It was a fair trade, even after, some years back, Russell Turns stuck a sign on my back that said something like "Asshole," which I didn't notice till I got home. I probably had it coming.

I had the privilege, both as Dallas Times Heraldpop music critic and Observermusic editor, to be there for more concerts than I will ever remember--though most, I think, were Funland or Toadies shows, for which I will be eternally grateful. (I will never forget the first time I heard Funland perform "Impala," the deafening memory of which still makes me smile.) Jeff Liles, in his accompanying essay, has graciously filled in many of the gaps missing from my memory, which back then was impaired by some substance or another (Were those mushrooms? Nah, couldn't have been), but it would be impolite not to recall the night Pearl Jam played to a couple dozen folks; I thought they sucked even back then and walked out three songs into the set, which I will never regret. Nor will I regret spending an entire day in the club watching Baboon lip-synch to a bunch of extras during the shooting of a Walker, Texas Rangerepisode. Bet you $50 it was the only time Chuck Norris ever went to Trees.

There was the night in early 1991 I groped my girlfriend in the DJ booth during Widespread Panic, who I would only see if my girlfriend promised I could grope her in the DJ booth. There was the night Bob Mould played songs from Black Sheets of Rainduring a torrential lightning storm delivering--what else--black sheets of rain. And there was the night in October 1991 when Nirvana played, then stopped playing. I gave Jeff Liles $20 to blare "Smells Like Teen Spirit" over the PA, which caused the band's tour manager to barge into the DJ booth barking, "Wrong fucking song to play, asshole!" It was a giggle. --Robert Wilonsky

I originally intended to put forth a long-held theory of mine about Trees, to deliver a treatise about how, as far as I'm concerned, the club never really reopened after briefly shutting down for renovation in early 2001. I was going to talk about how the Trees I knew and loved ceased to be at that point. Before, it had been a family, with me as, I don't know, a second cousin or maybe just related by marriage. After it was gussied up, however, some of the soul of the place was scrubbed away too. It didn't take long before we became estranged, transformed into the kind of family you only see at funerals.

So here we are.

But I won't waste more of anyone's time with ancient gripes. No matter what happened in its latter years, I will always love Trees. It was the first place I felt at home in Deep Ellum, the closest local analog to the place that had introduced me to live music in the first place, the late, great Liberty Lunch in Austin. It was where I saw more great bands than I could possibly name, even if I hadn't spent the better part of my 20s getting shit-hammered there on a regular basis. Trees will always be a great memory trapped in amber for me. Or, trapped in amber-colored liquor, at any rate.

Here are a few of the things I (barely) remember: seeing Guided by Voices in 1999 and having a recent ex-girlfriend rightly (but for the wrong reason) call me a "fucking dick" before storming out two songs into the set. Putting Vanilla Ice into a headlock during the aftermath of an Elliott Smith show and parading him around the front of the club, introducing him to everyone as "my boy Robbie." Celebrating the birth of my son--and my first night away from 3 a.m. feedings--by plowing through a pocketful of drink tickets at a Killers concert. Davey von Bohlen of the Promise Ring, during a rather desultory show, summing up the mood of the crowd, which included a pint-size greaseball named Ryan Adams, by saying, "Promise Ring? More like Promise Bo-ring." Matt Hillyer's stage banter during my first show at Trees (a Reverend Horton Heat/Hagfish/Strap bill), which consisted almost entirely of the following question: "Who's ready to fuck shit up?"

But my lasting memory of the club came on September 17, 2001. It might have been the 16th or 18th, but that's not the point; it was still uncomfortably close to September 11. Everyone had been glued to the TV for a week. Nights were spent in bewildered sadness. No one knew what to do, how to feel, when it was OK to smile, laugh, sing, whatever.

At a time when I needed them most, just to feel normal again, almost every touring band had cancelled. But the White Stripes played and a tiny crowd (imagine that now) showed up at Trees to see them. It was the perfect antidote to all that had happened, and it wasn't just the band or the people that were there. It was also the club. It had to be the White Stripes, and it had to be Trees.

We were all family again that night. --Zac Crain

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