Next month, the Kessler will open its doors to hundreds of people in celebration of Trees, a music venue long revered for its contributions to the historic Deep Ellum community. As one of the neighborhood's earliest and most popular venues, Trees has been part of Dallas nightlife for over 20 years, and has long since established itself as one of the city's premiere music venues for varied and acclaimed talent.
During its rise in the 1990s, just about any musical sound imaginable could be heard pouring through Trees' thick brick walls, from alt-rock favorites like Soundgarden to up-and-coming hip-hop acts like De La Soul and the Geto Boys. Despite a shaky string of difficulties in 2005, the venue stands proudly on the other side of bankruptcy, threatened termination and total renovation to continue serving its special brand of music and culture to visitors across the Dallas metroplex.
Long before its doors opened in 1990, Trees had been somewhat entrenched in Dallas history: in the aftermath of the now-infamous Collin Davis murder trial, Davis' son Brian found himself on the receiving end of millions of dollars of his father's money. Originally intending to open a seafood restaurant, Davis quickly turned on his heels towards the idea of a music venue and immediately hired a local promoter in the area to get the business up and running.
Another fledgling venue by the name of Club Dada had just opened across the street, and it seemed more important than ever to partake in Elm Street's sudden surge in popularity. Once Trees was able to open its doors later that year, the neighborhood's center of gravity shifted from the bustle-and-hustle of Commerce Street to Elm Street.
"Lots of people don't realize it, but there was a time where you could go down to Deep Ellum and see 8,000 people down there," says Jeff Liles, the venue's first artistic director, who's now at the Kessler. "There were all these clubs [on Elm Street] and they were packed every night. When you hear people say, 'Deep Ellum's gonna come back,' that's what they mean - when [there were] 7500 people out there in a single night."
For a location that spent much of the 1980s in solitude, Elm Street soon grew to expect swarms of venue patrons looking for the best of national and local talent. With peers like Dada and the Video Club, Trees rapidly became the center of Deep Ellum's nightlife.
A rather unusual venue at first, Trees sported barren walls, giant staircases and huge tree trunk-like support beams as obvious signs of the building's foundation in the 1930s. For several years, the venue kept its old-school ballroom style while packing in hundreds of fans every night for its variety of rock and hip-hop shows. As alternative rock began to inch into the mainstream, Trees took full advantage of the shift. Among other legendary performances, the venue paid witness to Radiohead's debut tour in 1992 and received visits from Soundgarden, Cypress Hill, Throwing Muses and other alt-rock heavyweights, including a rapidly-rising grunge trio known simply as Nirvana.
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However, the venue was dedicated to delivering a wide breadth of talent to its stages. "We had all kinds of shows, [and] reached all kinds of people," Liles remembers. "[The early '90s] was an important time because a lot of these bands had just come out. Everybody played there during that time. You [could] see any kind of music at Trees."
When hip-hop emerged onto the scene, Trees was quick to invite its brightest stars to the stage. Legendary groups like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and the Geto Boys drew many in the Dallas hip-hop scene to Trees over time, effectively adding another ingredient to Deep Ellum's bubbling melting pot.
The venue enjoyed many success as a music venue, but was met with controversy in 2005. Overrun with postponed concerts, a nearly-barren concert calendar, and thousands of dollars of debt, it would be a while before it was bought and revitalized by local owners Clint and Whitney Barlow after its closing in 2005. After a series of renovations and a reopening in 2009, the venue has moved easily back into Deep Ellum's nightlife, and shows no intentions to rest upon its laurels, despite its longevity.
Organizers for the reunion are working on collecting bands and other artists who've performed at Trees over the years. The show will take place on Friday, July 11 at the Kessler. More information can be found here on the Facebook event page.