By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
When the people standing in a circle introduced themselves, I became increasingly nervous. Out of the 20 or so who arrived for Monday night's very first Save the Scene Dallas meeting at the Darkside Lounge, half of them either were affiliated with musicians/companies I've bad-mouthed or who had previously made their disdain for me clear: members of local rap-rock band Mad Mexicans; various staff members and patrons from nearby hard-rock venues; an employee at Clear Channel's Dallas offices.
Who was next? A bitter ex? Curtain Club booking agent Doug Simmons appearing from the darkness with a baseball bat?
But when I introduced myself ("I'm Sam from the Observer, and I'm here to get beat up"), I only received a few scowls amidst the laughs. Fair enough: These local residents, employees and musicians came together on fairly short notice with a call to arms about "saving" Deep Ellum. Someone may as well try to place blame for the music district's current perceived reputation, which we have most certainly reported about.
"If [the Observer]'s gonna fuck us, fuck them," one visitor soon said. Whoo boy.
But that snippet was the exception. As head organizer Vanessa Chambless put it, "We're not here to talk about the problems. We know what they are." She, along with Sabrina Gunaca and Jahlyn Stewart, headed a surprisingly efficient and organized introductory meeting. The group is open to any random patron, after all, and the event could've been one shouting match away from chaos, but the women's resolve and optimism held all potential problems at bay.
And what good is a new nonprofit organization without some ideas? For starters, they're preparing a Save the Scene fund-raiser series. If all goes according to plan, more than a dozen bands will perform to help the group raise money, which will then be spent on adding more lights to the district, among other things. To encourage bands, Gunaca says Deep Ellum music venues such as Curtain Club will donate outdoor wall space as advertising for whichever band raises the most funds.
A plan to not only brighten the district but pay for said lighting themselves? Not too shabby. They also proposed an increase in private cleaning crews, along with a "long-term agenda" that would revolve around dealings with Dallas City Council, though those plans weren't explained fully. For the most part, the meeting was a statement of purpose rather than an attack plan, which is forgivable for a meeting that had only been announced hours earlier on MySpace and by a few DJs on 102.1 The Edge.
But one of the more interesting guests at the meeting was DPD Officer Kraig Thomas from the Central Business District. His news wasn't superb: Though police forces dedicated to his district (which stretches from downtown dance clubs such as Blue to Deep Ellum to the edge of Exposition Park) have been bolstered in light of recent shootings at downtown clubs, those forces "will be back down at the end of the summer." Unless DPD takes the matter of downtown and Deep Ellum security more seriously, their current efforts will be nothing more than a stopgap blip in the scene's reputation.
Thomas' statement about special use permits (SUPs), the use of which city council recently approved to control which clubs can stay open in the district, was also peculiar: "We're trying to make it harder for some of these clubs to get their SUPs, or at least make it more expensive for them." Thomas watched his words--"I won't mention the names [of the clubs]"--but stranger than that was the underlying notion that the dance clubs targeted by SUPs will be affected by nothing more than a higher price due to the city...which they can probably afford.
This initial Save the Scene meeting was populated entirely by rock music fans, all of whom made their disdain for dance clubs (and their recent wave of bad, crime-related publicity) known, at least in nudge-nudge, wink-wink fashion. But if Thomas is right, those clubs aren't going anywhere. "Saving" Deep Ellum will require their participation, along with representatives from other nearby venues (Club Dada, Gypsy Tea Room, Tom Cats and Galaxy Club were among those not represented). If Chambless and friends want their efforts for improving publicity and increasing city involvement to be seen as productive for the entire district--and not just a small subset--they have to figure out how to encourage other clubs to attend future meetings. As if it's not enough of an uphill battle already, right?
But the night's end was a good sign. One attendant began passing out fliers and CDs to the crowd while someone else was speaking...tacky, right? Gunaca quickly spoke up: "This is about PR. Everyone, plug your things here." If Save the Scene Dallas maintains its open-arms stance, it may very well earn its moniker. The next meeting is 9 p.m. Monday at the Darkside Lounge with an open barbecue beforehand.