Welcome to Local Music 'Mericans, where we meet the people in the local music scene that you don't see on stages.
Melissa Kirkendall is a filmmaker. It wasn't always this way. In her younger years, Kirkendall spent a good chuck of her time immersed in the local music scene -- and primarily in the Fort Worth area.
Ever attend a blues, rock or metal shows at the Ridglea Theater? Chances are, you have her to thank for what were your predominantly positive experiences at the venue -- the powerful, gut-punching P.A., the above-average acoustics, and a lineup of music that not only pulled in national acts (30 Seconds to Mars, Queens of the Stone Age). On a local music level there were plenty of other Ridglea showcases and talent battles -- or, basically, support.
That's the kind of local music contributor Melissa Kirkendall has always been.
Back in the day, she ran her own club operation, helming both The Split Atom Café and Electron Lounge, which were birthplaces of the Fort Worth Weekly music awards. Kirkendall played a big part in bringing those awards presentations to life, and in 2009, the paper awarded her an induction into their hall of fame for her 20 years of contributions to the local music scene.
These days, though, following some stints working for film and production companies like 20th Centruy Fox (specifically, on the show Prison Break), she's shifted course to producing her own independent films. And she seems to be having the time of her life. She's currently wrapping up work on her first documentary, called Teen-A-Go-Go, which focises on the '60s garage punk scene in Fort Worth.
Let's get all caught up with her after the jump.
Let's start with your days before you were at the Ridglea, which I personally know little to nothing about.
Oddly, I didn't grow up in a musical household, but I remember being into music -- rock 'n' roll, especially -- when I was in the first or second grade. I have a brother who is four years older, who influenced my music tastes until I was in junior high. I believe the first 7" I bought was in the second grade. I think it was The Bay City Rollers. When I was 14 and living in Manhattan, Kansas, I used to sneak into a bar there called Brothers to see touring bands and local bands play. I continued to be into music through my college years in the '80s, getting into punk rock, Yes,and some '80s bands like Depeche Mode. After I dropped out of college at the age of 20, I met Kelly Parker who owned the renowned original Axis Club in Fort Worth. We met the night that Nirvana played, and started dating not long after that. A year or so later, we opened our own renowned club called Mad Hatters, which had bands such as No Doubt, The Offspring and Rancid play there. The Toadies were our house band -- they filmed their first music video for MTV there, for the song "Mr. Love." After that, it was pretty much in my blood. Even now, being in film, when I decide to make my own film, what do I make it about? Music, of course.
Tell us about how your relationship with the Ridglea came about, and what roles you held while there. It seems like you were doing everything when it came to filling the hall with music and bodies.
Wow, that's a big question. I helped produce the first Fort Worth Weekly music awards that were there after my own clubs closed. Johnny Reno was hosting the awards show at the Ridgelea that night and remarked over the mic to the 400 or so people who were there that "maybe Melissa Kirkendall should turn it into a music venue." The crowd cheered with approval, so I talked to the owners about bringing in national acts. At the time, the Ridglea was only hosting raves, a laser light show and private parties. It took about nine months to get the club ready for bigger shows, but after that I enjoyed four years of booking national and local acts into the theater such as the Wailers, The Flaming Lips and Bo Diddley. And, yeah, doing pretty much whatever needed to be done to get the doors open every night.
From there, it seems like you started to become more of a freelance, independent entity, working production on different shows and booking entertainment at other places besides the Ridglea. Seems like that was an exciting time for you, branching out. True?
[Laughs.] Actually, from there I produced the Deep Ellum Arts Festival and some other larger outdoor events, like the free Butthole Surfers concert I did in Deep Ellum for about a year, while trying to work my way into film. I also took over booking the Wreck Room. It was a crazy time. But, in all honesty, I had to keep booking bands into places like the Wreck and Rubber Gloves to pay my bills while working my way up in film. Don't get me wrong, I love music and the music industry, but, at that point, I had been in it deep for about 12 years and was burnt out. Film was, and is, my new passion -- especially film revolving around music.
It would seem like someone who worked as hard, and was as successful as you've been, would have gravitated more towards the bigger city side of North Texas, But you've always seemed to remain rooted in Fort Worth. Tell us what you love about it. Especially the musical portion.
I like the people. I like the way Fort Worth is a "really big small town," even though that has sometimes been a frustration for me like when the cops were hell bent on shutting Mad Hatters down. But that could happen anywhere. What's different is finding out that a well-known judge will go out on limb for your punk rock club and get the heat off because her daughters like hanging out your club. That doesn't happen in bigger cities. Plus, musically, Fort Worth is just more down and dirty. You don't have to look perfect or play perfect, but you gotta be genuine and passionate. If you have that, people here will support you. I think Dallas likes things to be more cosmopolitan. And that's cool too, but I like down and dirty better.
I always feel like Fort Worth is gravely overlooked by Dallas for its local music potential. Who did we miss out on in the Ridglea heyday? How about nowadays? Whats good out that way that Dallas (and the rest of the cvountry) should be picking up on?
Watch my new documentary on the Fort Worth '60s garage rock scene, Teen A Go-Go! The old-timers in my film from Fort Worth have backed up the likes of Eric Clapton, and some still do. Fort Worth seems to produce really great musicians but they have to leave to make it. Look at T-Bone Burnett, for instance.
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What lies at the beginning of your turn towards film production? Was it a person or opportunity that came about while you were immersed in local music on-goings?
I have always been interested in film. You can ask my friends. I often will say things like "Wow, that should be in a movie," or "He would be a great character in a film." When I started to get burnt out with the music biz lifestyle, I just pursued film with a new found passion for something else creative. Plus, music and film are so intertwined to me. They seems to go together like peanut butter and jelly.
The future for you, while seemingly loaded with lots of hard work, seems to look so exciting. Where would you like to see it head?
Six figures, baby! Seriously, I love documentaries and I have several more ideas I wish to pursue. I am actually in preproduction on a new doc now while finishing my first one. My dream is to make a respectable, comfortable living making compelling films and having time to enjoy my friends and family. Probably the same thing everyone wants, right?
How much of your local music blood have you been able to hold onto with your new direction path? Have there been opportunities to incorporate it into your film work?
I do feel a bit out of touch. But then I talk to friends and find I am still in the know -- only now instead of being in the center of it, I am on the fringe, which does sometimes bum me out as I don't want to ever abandon my music roots. I haven't been actively seeking out new music lately, but it still seems to find me. I think, when I get more settled in film, I will dive back in from time to time and check out whats new and interesting. Also, I think my new film, which is about to be released, will bring about new local discoveries since it does focus on old-school Fort Worth so much.
What vision do you have with your creative direction now? Where would you like to see it end up?
Man, I just want to be able to make a living off of the film ideas I have. It would be nice to eventually have enough money left over to not only live comfortably, but travel the world. Anything more than that, and I'd think I was in heaven!