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John Iskander has been bringing a parade of cutting-edge, live performers to Dallas for the past three years—much to the joy of those who pore over the blogosphere looking for indie rock's latest breaking bands. His are the bands from the coasts or from Brooklyn—those whose name you might have heard, but not their music—like Waaves or Little Joy or Man Man or Vivian Girls. Or the local bands that your friends are talking about, like True Widow and Giggle Party. Bands that are good, but not likely to attract a big audience—at least not yet.
Says Iskander: "In a city this size, I don't see why more of these bands don't come through Dallas, instead of...skipping the area completely."
So he's working hard to change that.
As the singular force behind local concert promotion company Parade of Flesh, Iskander is the guy that virtually every week places a bet against long odds by booking bands into local clubs at a ticket price that makes it affordable for just about anybody.
"I do this more than anything because I love the music," he says. "Some weeks, I win and make a little money too. Other weeks I lose. But if I didn't love the music, I wouldn't be in the business."
Let's give the man some credit: He's one of the reasons why there has never been a better time to be a fan of live music in North Texas.
The past few years have seen a significant expansion in the number of quality music venues with the appearance of new venues like the House of Blues, renovation of older venues such as the Granada and Trees, and bars like Double Wide and City Tavern. Also, the music industry itself has been forced to rely heavily on live performance as a source of revenue as the sale of recorded music has tanked. This translates into incessant touring for a lot of acts, bringing more choices to see great live music than ever before.
But as with most kinds of business, concert promotion has a lot to do with positioning within the market and ambition. A survey of the major venues in Dallas shows that they all find success by toying with both. For the local promoters with their own venues and seats to fill (Granada, The Loft), while they all love the music, it is business.
And then there is Iskander, who operates more in the style of a movable musical feast. He books shows into a roster of clubs on Greenville, in Deep Ellum, East Dallas, Downtown—wherever he can to achieve his objective of making it affordable for the audience and beneficial for the venue owner.
"For concertgoers, I try to have tickets priced between $5 and $10, and when appropriate for the band, in venues that allow for all ages," Iskander says. "I try to match the show to a venue that is appropriate for the crowd so that the club sells more product. And I invest in the creation of good posters to promote the show, because I think that is another aspect of the show that enhances the experience for band and for the concertgoer."
But, all the while, as Iskander stays busy in the promotion business, he has a day job too.
"I teach middle school math," the DISD employee says. "And I'm back in school myself, taking coursework for my masters in education."
But the work doesn't end there. The Parade of Flesh radio show was recently launched on CBS Radio's streaming Internet station, The Indie-Verse. Heard on Friday afternoons at 5 on www.indie-verse.com, the show is another outlet for Iskander to evangelize about the music he loves.
"The radio show is an opportunity to raise the awareness in the Dallas community of the bands I like and promote," he says. "The other great thing about doing the show is that I'm learning the radio business and technology in the process."
While Iskander's approach might seem kind of DIY, he's earned the respect of other promoters in the community, band managers and the musicians themselves.
"No local promoter works harder to put together combinations of bands that make for a compelling show," says Jason Reichl of Giggle Party, himself the operator of The Handsome Kitten, a DIY venue in Exposition Park.
And Rachel Eaton, the owner and operator of The Loft, also admires what Iskander does. Eaton, whose father is a senior VP with national concert promoter AEG, "grew up" in the business and appreciates how critical good relationships with bands and their booking agents are.
"I definitely admire John, because forming those relationships are really hard," she says. "John's had to form those relationships on his own, and he's obviously done a really good job because they keep coming back to him."
So where does it go from here for Iskander?
"Sometimes," he says, "I think I'd love to do Parade of Flesh and The Indie-Verse full time. Who doesn't want to have their hobby as their job? But I worry that the joy that I get from it today might be lost. I'm afraid that I might have to make compromises that I don't have to make today if it's a full-time gig that I have to depend on. I just don't want to have to make any deals with the devil that might be necessary if this were to become full-time."
Spoken like a true fan.