Rock Bands Only

Above: Robert Gomez, Below: Kristy Kruger, Shaolin Death Squad, The Orange, and Generic

It's hard to fault a hastily organized benefit for a good cause, and really, no cause was better (and no concert more slapped together) than Sunday's Deep Relief. Though Dallas has already seen its fair share of Katrina benefit concerts, DR was easily the most ambitious local one to date, as eight venues and more than 80 bands teamed up across Deep Ellum to raise a boatload of cash for various Katrina-related agencies.

That said, I wonder if the festival would've made more money by having people pay for the bands to not play. See, bashing a benefit might rank highly on an "evil" list, next to making fun of old people and the handicapped, but with a cause as worthwhile as helping Gulf Coast evacuees, why couldn't more than a few strong acts peek out from the middle of Deep Relief's butt-rock circus?

Everywhere I turned as I walked through Deep Ellum for hours resulted in the blasting of "buh-thunka-thunnnk" guitars and the screams of a Phil Anselmo wannabe from the front door of a given club. Of course, with 80 bands, a few stinkers are bound to show up, and in the end, if you're in a band that raised any money for the cause, then you're all right.


Rock Bands Only

But the biggest problem was that Deep Ellum's opportunity to unite its diverse audience for a good cause was blown. Guess how many dance or hip-hop acts threw down at Deep Relief? None.

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The entertainment district that has become famous for massive crowds at Club Hush, Palm Beach Club and Nairobi proved itself stubborn and, dare I say, blind to the reality of Deep Ellum in 2005. As I walked around asking people how they felt about the benefit's lack of hip-hop, I heard a few people say that "those shows cause trouble." I had to remind those few that the last troubling Deep Ellum event to grab headlines was a country show with the Old 97's.

Another passerby asked if I'd heard about the successful gospel benefit hosted by Bishop T.D. Jakes and Kirk Franklin on Saturday at the Potter's House. Indeed, that show brought together some of the biggest names in American gospel music to the city, but comparing a gospel benefit to Dallas' hip-hop community is like comparing swing music to heavy metal.

Event organizer and Liquid Lounge employee Elizabeth Eshelman agreed, and she pointed out other problems. Tickets, which allowed entry into every venue, had been advertised at $10, but the Gypsy Tea Room decided to charge $25 for its tickets at the last minute. Also, Gypsy's showcase, sponsored by 102.1 The Edge, started at 2 p.m. while all other showcases started at 7 p.m., which caused further confusion. And with only two weeks to gather performers and arrange venues, and without any promotion other than bulletins on e-mail and MySpace, she's amazed that the show came together at all, with or without hip-hop.

"We had a lot of people come through our doors for a Sunday," Eshelman says. "I think it's amazing that we were able to put that together in such a short amount of time. I can't even tell you how happy I am about it."

Luckily, a few intriguing acts stood out amongst the fray. Robert Gomez and Kristy Kruger delivered an amazing one-two folk punch with smoky vocals and dark, deliberate songs. The Orange pulled off an impressive imitation of Jimmy Eat World with charisma and some nice piano flourishes. And Irving's Madly proved that Keane and Coldplay clones can still be captivating, thanks largely to the pipes of singer/pianist Joshua Minatrea and the swirling, U2-caliber guitars of Brandon Foreman. Keep your eyes on that quartet.

Benefit revenues weren't available as of press time, but crowds at Curtain Club and Gypsy Tea Room were sizable, and The Burden Brothers chipped in by allowing fans to stand onstage during the band's acoustic set for the cost of an extra donation to charity. Still, in spite of the benefit's apparent success, Eshelman wasn't shy about the disconnect between the two sides of Deep Ellum: "We're just not connected to that market. We don't know those club owners."

The upcoming North Texas New Music Festival gives the district a second shot at turning Deep Ellum's hip-hop ignorance around, as three showcases will host the best that Dallas rap has to offer. But for now, this is a problem. In the aftermath of a slow response to Katrina survivors, Kanye West famously stated that George Bush doesn't care about black people. On a night like Deep Relief, Deep Ellum proved that it might not, either.

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