Deep Shit

Thought Deep Ellum's rep was bad? It only gets worse at this weekend's Dallas Music Festival.

People, I am royally pissed about Deep Ellum right now. I become angrier every time I read and re-read a page from last week’s Dallas Observer. It’s like a car wreck—I can’t help but repeatedly look at the page and feel an overwhelming mix of shock, hopelessness and frustration.

I’m not talking about last week’s column, in which I wrote at length about the arrest of Michelle Metzinger on Elm Street on Friday, January 13. Nor am I talking about Robert Wilonsky’s news piece on John “Beard” Brewer, although the way he got dropped on his ass by Club Dada and Steven Shin still burns my hide.

No, there’s an advertisement in last week’s Observer for something so heinously bad it will do more damage to Deep Ellum’s reputation than the Metzinger arrest, the closure of Trees and the Jesse Chaddock beating combined.

Strangleweed, led by a grown man who calls himself "Starchild," is seen here at last year's disaster of a Dallas Music Fest.
Strangleweed, led by a grown man who calls himself "Starchild," is seen here at last year's disaster of a Dallas Music Fest.

I’m talking about the Dallas Music Festival.

This three-day event, lovingly referred to by most as “the one that isn’t the North Texas New Music Festival,” descends upon Dallas from Thursday to Saturday. The annual event—up for its third renewal—has always been a crap circus, but truly, this year’s iteration is the mother of all butt-rock beatings. More than 150 bands that have never gotten anything resembling a kind word in this publication will fill up Deep Ellum venues like Gypsy Tea Room, Texas Tea House, Galaxy Club, Reno’s Chop Shop and the Curtain Club.

The schedule looks like some seventh-grader’s notebook, filled with “totally sweet” band names like God’s Joke, Scared to Be Fearless, Under the Black Hat and Shiver Tree, but this is no middle-school dream—it’s a nightmare come true, headlined by such train wrecks as One Up, Hope Dies Last and freaking Drowning Pool.

To be fair, a few worthwhile acts sneak in. Seattle no-name singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile was apparently tricked into coming all this way for the fest. Also, two solid rap acts—Kin Folk Kru and solo artist Voice Rock—will provide a much-needed dose of local hip-hop to the festivities, though the latter is playing with Blunt Force Crew, a gaggle of Rage Against the Machine wannabes that lack both the musicianship and passion of their mentors.

But that’s only three standouts in a sea of sewage, and the blame for that rests solely on John Michalak’s shoulders. The DMF organizer (who, by the way, doesn’t even live in Dallas—he operates this and other fests through his Cleveland company Sugarlight Productions) has run the fest into the ground two previous times with a selection process we’ve bemoaned: The bands that sell the most tickets get priority scheduling.

Sarah Hepola took this process to task last year, pointing out how likely it is that quality and sales are going to link up, and 2005 top-sellers Strangleweed are utter proof of that. But worse, this allows pretty much any band in town to play. “You can sell 20 tickets? Yeah, sure. We don’t care if you suck. You’ll be the opening band at Tom Cat’s on Thursday. That’s over $100 for us and nothing for you idiots.”

Last month, I received a bizarre cold call from Michalak. He told me how he wanted to win back bands that were screwed-over in previous years by last-minute schedule switcheroos but then said that schedules couldn’t be finalized until the last minute. Um, Michalak, you can’t have both—and judging from the schedule, you don’t, because nobody good was foolish enough to sign on. In addition, his adamant stand about his selection process—including explanations about how good bands generally sell more tickets—was nowhere near rational. In the end, all he could do was insist that his company “barely broke even” last year. Boo-fucking-hoo.

I have no sympathy, John. Even with the district’s reputation on the line, you’ve been allowed to fill Deep Ellum with your crap for another year and collect as much profit as possible. Because of you, anybody who walks through Deep Ellum this weekend will hear the musical equivalent of a barium enema coming out of every club. Because of you, those people will think that local music is a wasteland for butt rock and generic emo rather than the fruitful—if decentralized—hub of worthwhile, original music that it really is.

Right now, Dallas’ musical reputation is already shaken enough without your fest stinking it up. People all over the city are talking actively about what to do—in Deep Ellum or anywhere else—to reinvigorate the live music scene; in particular, people such as Lance Yocom are doing a much better job—see Critics’ Picks, page 68, for details on his Spune Back2School bash on Saturday. But we definitely don’t need DMF’s “help.”l

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