October 21, 2011
Better than: lots of Deep Ellum shows during Frankie and Adam's formative years. Deep Ellum is picking back up. Although it may never be what it once was, it's turning into something cool.
In some ways, the sense that the Deep Ellum scene that shone so bright in the '90s was really over didn't quite sink in until these two bright young things, scions to an Ellum legacy, took their own lives.
When Frankie died in January, the Ellum arts community rallied around his family and friends in the form of a tribute concert at Dada. Tons of people, young and old, showed up to that concert. Folks spilled out into the street, hugging and laughing and crying. For a moment, the scene on that chilly evening at Dada looked like the old days -- the sense of hardscrabble solidarity that pervades our collective hindsight when it comes to Deep Ellum was present in spades that night.
Then Adam took his life in March. He too was memorialized with a concert in Deep Ellum. It too reeked of the old days.
Funny thing, though: Adam and Frankie were small children during Deep Ellum's '90s heyday; they cut their teeth during the Red Blood Club days, when Deep Ellum was considered a joke, and the few punks that stuck around gathered in dingy dives, hearing bands that, much like Spector 45, mainly played to small crowds made up of their friends.
Friday night, hopefully, showed that things, in many ways, have finally changed for the better.
45 Fest, held at Dada with a concurrent art exhibit up the street at Frank Campagna Sr.'s Kettle Art gallery and on what would have been Frankie's 25th birthday, drew a crowd that dwarfed the number of people at the average Spector 45 show.
Seems that, these days, Adam and Frankie's names have become a call to arms, a battle flag beneath which the denizens of the Deep Ellum scene, past and present, gather to show support for struggling artists. The success of the winter and spring's tributes added fuel to the fire of Deep Ellum's revitalization -- so it just makes sense, then, that people wanted to do another one.
This time, though, the event came in the name of raising awareness of mental health issues amongst those in the arts community. Anti-suicide brochures were handed out at the door, and many concertgoers sported rubber bracelets with a suicide hotline number printed on them. The crowd spanned the decades in age and appearance -- stately older ladies laughed and chatted with bespectacled hipsters, and mohawked punks moshed happily next to white-haired guys who first experienced punk rock 30 years prior.
Feel-good vibes make for very forgiving audiences; as such, the wildly varied bill, comprised of 10 bands and two stages, was universally embraced by the crowd. Jim Suhler, guitarist for George Thorogood and the Destroyers and Monkey Beat, started out the night with a set of acoustic blues, which showcased Suhler's impressive guitar chops. The Phuss' Josh Fleming also took the solo acoustic route; although Fleming announced from stage that he's not used to performing without a band, he capably plowed through his outdoor set, and his shortcomings were an afterthought. Solidarity breeds respect for effort, even if that effort doesn't quite pan out. Such was also the case for the Mike Haskins Experience, fronted by the legendary Nervebreakers guitarist. Although the band came across as an old-guy hobby band, they looked like they were having fun. It was impossible to watch Haskins' set without thinking of Frankie and Adam; if they hadn't passed so soon, they might have someday settled down, had families and spent their golden years as gray-haired legends like Haskins, playing punk-club reunions and enjoying every minute of it.
Highlights of the evening came courtesy of Black Habits, the charismatic punk band that rose from the ashes of Spector 45. The band was a sweaty, writhing bundle of energy; led by the lone surviving Spector 45 member, drummer Anthony "Animal" Delabano, the Habits whipped the crowd into an absolute frenzy, blistering through their set and turning the Dada floor into the evening's first mosh pit. Old-school punkers the Assassins turned in a lively performance later in the evening, belying their age with a set that inspired several crowd surfers to dive atop the now happily drunken audience. Local favorites bands Hello Lover, Here Holy Spain, Dog Company, and Houston's the Sellouts all put in solid efforts. The evening closed out with the alt-country Marfalites, whose infectious alt-country helped wind things down as closing time approached and the exhausted crowd began clearing out.
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SHOW ME HOW
Many of the young people in the audience were too young to remember the Deep Ellum heyday; as such, they are hungry for a scene that has the kind of camaraderie displayed at Friday's show. As they spilled out of Dada after the show, the crowd was greeted with a Deep Ellum that has changed in the months since Frankie and Adam passed. People lined the sidewalks, and taxicabs crowded the streets.
Ellum may not be what it once was in the '90s, but it's not the ghost town that it turned into in the mid-2000s. We can only hope that this cohesive mentality continues, and grows. Such an atmosphere is necessary for fostering the kind of fragile young talent that, if left vulnerable to a hostile environment, can leave us far too soon.
Personal Bias: I didn't really know Frankie and Adam. They were just guys that I said hi to in bars. But I traveled in the same punk-rock Red Blood Club/Swiss House circles that they did in the mid-2000s, and many of my friends were deeply affected by their deaths.
Random Note: Red Blood Club bartender/manager Josh Peek was in attendance. He was very close to both Frankie and Adam. When asked how he thought Frankie would feel about becoming a symbol for Deep Ellum community solidarity and revitalization, Josh laughed. "Frankie would be like, 'Fuck you!'" he said. "He'd be over at the dirty dive around the corner."