Hindsight now tells me that my first night out in Dallas was nothing exceptional. It was just another night on Lowest Greenville Avenue in early 2008 — a good time for that part of town, no doubt.
It was late January, and I'd just arrived in Dallas from Colorado Springs that morning. Suddenly it was pretty late at night; after a long day spent finding a home and dragging my belongings out of my rented U-Haul and up to my move-in-ready, second-floor Oram Street apartment, I needed a break.
So, too, did my friends Frank and Ben, who'd joined me on my trip and were up for any adventure. Something (Ben, specifically) told me that heavy lifting wasn't doing the trick for them, so we stopped what we were doing and started walking. We ended up in a venue called The Cavern (now The Crown & Harp). Since I was coming to town specifically to handle the task of covering music for the Observer, it seemed like a good place to see what the city had to offer.
Two birds, one stone. Plus, my friends were up for it.
It turned out to be a good call. The performers on the tiny venue's stage were nearing the end of their set as we entered the room. No matter — they sounded great. It just felt like a perfect match from the start: The band (an alternative country outfit I'd later identify as Somebody's Darling) was covering my mother's favorite song, "Me & Bobby McGee," and her preferred Janis Joplin version at that; the band's lead singer (a vocal powerhouse I'd later meet named Amber Farris) quickly proved herself up to the task of tackling the song impressively. Seemingly everyone else in the room — absurdly crowded, despite just a couple dozen attendees — started shouting and dancing along with the band.
I was enthralled, but after spotting at the sound guy — a top-hat-wearing, freakish-looking character with a Fu Manchu and feathers in his hair (a man I'd later come to know as John Mudd of Ishi) — my friend Frank was mostly intimidated.
"There's just no way I look cool enough to be in here," he said.
He was half-joking, I think.
Frank's view of Dallas shifted later in the night at a faux jazz club called Gezellig (later the Pussycat Lounge) when a girl we met excitedly told us that the last concert she saw was a cover band, and that the next one she had lined up was a Sublime tribute band. Suddenly, we were less enthused.
"Maybe this place isn't that cool," Frank said as we downed our last beers of the night.
He was kidding, of course. I'm almost certain. On the walk back to my new home, Frank, Ben and I all agreed that it had been a good first night out. I don't think they were just humoring me; it really was a good night.
Now that I think about it almost four years later, I'm not sure that I've had any bad nights out in this town. I credit the Dallas music scene for that. There's no disputing that the last couple of years have been good for Dallas music. Think about how much has changed in the past four years.
In my first column for the Observer ("Myspace Stalking Dallas Music," February 14, 2008), I adoringly mentioned a young singer-songwriter named Sarah Jaffe who'd yet to release even her first EP; these days, she's fast becoming a household name in the region thanks to her hit single, "Clementine," which remains, 18 months after its release, in near-constant rotation on KKXT-FM 91.7, a radio station that plays local music and didn't exist two years ago.
And then, at the risk of repeating nearly everything I've ever written for the Observer, there's Deep Ellum, which arguably didn't really exist itself four years ago. Look at it now: Dozens of music venues line the once-barren streets. Better yet, crowds fill these venues — people eager to pay money to hear the likes of True Widow or Telegraph Canyon or A.Dd+, probably my three favorite area-based acts at the moment.
I'm not altogether sure what's changed over this time, what's made the scene seem stronger or better. My hope is that people are just more willing to look for good local music these days. I want that to be true because if there's one thing that I've learned in my almost four-year study of Dallas, it's that ignoring what's new and different and settling for another night at another nameless bar in another nondescript strip mall is the easy choice here. There are a multitude of reasons why this is true, ranging from painful suburban sprawl to the short skirts on McKinney Avenue, but none of them justify taking the lazy road. The truth is that if you take the time to look at what Dallas truly has to offer culturally, if you scratch beneath the stereotypically plastic surface and open your mind to the unknown, Dallas will pay you back with interest.
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As my friend Frank's initial experience proves, sure, it looks like an intimidating task. Granted, since my paying job has been to seek these things out I've had more motive than casual music fans. But I can tell you this: This has been a fun job — the best I've ever had, without question, mostly because it never really felt like a job. Looking back on it now, it feels more like an adventure. And those are always worthwhile.
So — warning, here comes the cheesy part — in my final column as the music editor for the Observer, I simply implore you to start looking. Put in even the slightest amount of effort, and the people behind the scenes will take care of you. They took care of me, showing me the ropes — scene guardians like Chelsea Callahan and Kim Finch at the Double Wide, ambassadors like Mike Schoder of the Granada Theater and Joshua Florence of City Tavern and Dada, risk-takers like Tactics Productions' Kris Youmans and Parade of Flesh's John Iskander, taste-makers like Will Rhoten (DJ Sober) and Kirtland Records' Tami Thomsen — and I'm forever thankful for it.
These people taught me something important: There aren't many unexceptional nights in Dallas, not if you look. There's plenty to keep you entertained. Things are good right now. Bask in it. Enjoy it. Support it.
I'll see myself out.