So What?! Gets a New Look and New Buzz This Weekend in Deep Ellum

Sam Lao will be one of the prominently featured local rappers at this weekend's revamped So What?! festival.EXPAND
Sam Lao will be one of the prominently featured local rappers at this weekend's revamped So What?! festival.
Kathy Tran

The festival South By So What!? once drew DFW's fans of pop-punk, emo and post-hardcore music. But the company behind the event, Third String Festivals, has decided to give it an overhaul. It's got a new name and new location: The festival will be renamed So What?! and move to Deep Ellum.

“Our desire to keep brand recognition and the growing confusion between our event and South By Southwest was becoming annoying for both parties,” says Third String's president, Mike Ziemer. "Growing up in and around Deep Ellum, I’ve always liked the idea of putting a bunch of shows under one name, and doing it as a festival down there."

This weekend's So What?!, which takes place across three days from Friday through Sunday, will be in the heart of Deep Ellum and spread across multiple venues. Club Dada, Trees, Three Links, Curtain Club and The Door will all be hosting their own stages. "Deep Ellum, to me, is better than it’s ever been,” Ziemer says. “New places are popping up all the time and people love going to the area. The venues are great, the people running them are great, there are so many bars and restaurants in a close proximity; it’s a no-brainer if you want to combine a bunch of tour packages into one festival.”

The change of locations has also meant catering to a more "adult" crowd in the booking of bands: "Being in Deep Ellum, we wanted to bring a lot more bands that would attract the 21-plus crowd," which includes metal acts like Hatebreed and Devildriver.

There's also an array of hip-hop, including locals like Blue, the Misfit and Sam Lao, which hadn't been the case in previous years. Still, Ziemer says it was important to keep So What?! affordable, including for the younger fanbase that has been the event's core in the past. "We also kept ticket prices low so fans can spend money at local businesses without breaking the bank," he says.

For the location portion of the bill, they tasked John Stewart of ALL/EVERYTHING to curate a local hip-hop stage for the festival. "John and I have been talking for a little bit about ways to collaborate," Ziemer says of Stewart. "I think we are very similar in that we both really believe in Deep Ellum and want to help out everyone. Rather than seeing it as a competitive scene, we see it as a community. I love the events he does and asked him to curate a stage for our festival in the fall. I am very pleased with it and excited to see it come to life."

Stewart, meanwhile, hopes to bring hip-hop to a new audience, those who would not be exposed to the Dallas hip-hop scene otherwise, utilizing the evolution of So What!? to facilitate that exposure. “Mike actually wanted me involved with this to help expand the festival and his brand," he says. "They've been dominating one scene for a decade, but they want to grow. Instead of them trying to figure out a hip-hop bill, they approached me, since I'm entrenched in the hip-hop scene”

It did not take much convincing on Stewart’s part, either. When he began to draw up his plans for his stage, all of his prospects were eager to come aboard. “My process for curating my stage was simply brainstorming a bill that I thought would make a killer show and showcase incredible and diverse talent based in DFW. I sketched that out and then reached out to everyone I wanted," he says. "Everyone said yes.”

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This year, Ziemer hopes to replicate an experience he had once in between sets at a concert, one that altered his perception of not only Dallas’ music scene, but also the way he approached his own events.

“It’s always been important for us to include local bands, we’ve always included them, but these artists he brought on are doing amazing things, they are so talented, and we want a different crowd exposed to them," he says. He points to Lao, in particular, whom he'd first seen a few years ago playing a gig at Prophet Bar for Index Fest. "It was an accident too. I was just killing time between artists. I want people to come to our festival and discover the hidden gems our community has like her,” he says.


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