On her 30th birthday, Callie Dee went to an open mic that changed her life. At the time, she was an office manager with three children. That night at The Where House, a then-unknown Leon Bridges was one of the performers. The place was practically empty.
“He did a song, ‘Lisa Sawyer,’ about his mom,” Dee recalls. “The song gave me chills.” It also inspired her to refocus and pursue something she was passionate about. She started blogging and kept going to The Where House, which has since closed. From there, Dee decided she wanted to do something with music. She had sung in a choir, but didn’t feel like she had anything to offer as a performer. “I’m not an artist,” she says, “but I still have that creative spirit about me.”
In June 2013, she booked her first show at The Where House. It was a charity event and “mustache party.” Bridges performed, along with some bands and DJs. “It was pretty successful,” Dee says. She booked a few rock shows, but quickly realized that Fort Worth was oversaturated with rock promoters. Dee had also enjoyed hip-hop since she was a kid and started making trips to Dallas to get familiar with the scene, networking with people like Joel Salazar of Too Fresh Productions. “I really loved what he was doing,” she says. Salazar has weekly shows that focus on different aspects of hip-hop. She started helping him, working the door and writing for his blog.
Then she decided to do her first hip-hop show at Lola’s in Fort Worth in November of that same year. Over 100 people showed up on a Wednesday. From there, Dee just kept booking hip-hop shows. From the beginning, she was devoted to bringing people together in the name of music. With contacts all over North Texas, she can help artists get shows in Fort Worth, Dallas and Denton, which helps unite the hip-hop scenes. She also seems to have a sophisticated understanding of the sects within each scene. “That was one of my first goals,” she says. “To help bridge the gaps.”
And as it turned out, a background as a parent working in corporate America was actually a pretty good fit for booking hip-hop shows. Dee’s organizational and time-management skills made the transition fairly seamless. “I’m business savvy,” she says. “I’ve worked with lots of executives.” From her perspective, it wasn’t exactly a culture shock: “In corporate America, women are a little bit more of the minority. I worked with a lot of men. It’s kind of the same thing.” And just like she would in corporate America, Dee tries to keep her image squeaky clean as a promoter.
After packing out shows in venues like Crown & Harp and Lola’s, a show at Trees with national acts was the next logical step. Last month, Dee brought Kool Keith and DJ Qbert to Trees. She also made sure to put local acts on the bill. But she isn’t sure where to go from here. With all the different considerations that come with larger shows, she says she will probably join another operation rather than branch out on her own, but what she plans to do and what she ends up doing are often very different things.
Even though Dee's establishment as a promoter has been swift, that doesn’t necessarily equate to profits. Last year she broke even and so far this year she has lost money after taking a couple chances. “It’s kind of like the price you pay for connections,” she says. Dee maintains that a show is successful if people have fun, and that she looks at booking shows as a hobby. But at some point it has to benefit her beyond name recognition, and she can only keep up this pace for so long.
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In addition to booking shows and raising three kids, Dee also has a full-time job as an office manager. Moving forward, she's thinking more along the lines of helping artists to develop their brand and being a manager. “I think that’s where my lane is going,” she says.
“I’ll still do my open mic and DDFW Master of the Mic,” Dee says, referring to the rap battles series that she's hosting through the summer and into the fall. “My heart is with cultivating these artists.” At open mics, she has seen many artists come into their own and she is still devoted to nurturing that process and bringing different scenes together. After all, DDFW stands for Denton, Dallas and Fort Worth. “We have a huge melting pot here with three personalities,” she says. DDFW Master of the Mic will choose two artists from each city and the six winners will face off at Trees in November.
“I want to put the right people in front of the right people and have it cultivate,” Dee continues. “Take the right soil, the right seed, water it a little bit and you get a big, bushy plant.”