Dallas' most popular venues are bars as much as they are places to hear live music. Deep Ellum joints like Three Links and Club Dada offer strong drinks, fast service and the chance to mingle with friends while music plays in the background.
But there's at least one music venue in Dallas where you won't find any of that, and it's been in operation for 35 years.
The Rev. Trey Hammond, who at the time was the associate pastor of Northpark Presbyterian Church, started Uncle Calvin’s Coffeehouse in 1982. Hammond was inspired to create a wholesome nonprofit space where people could listen to singer-songwriters. It would be quiet and free of alcohol and smoke.
The coffeehouse concept followed the church when it moved in the '90s from Park Lane and Central Expressway to its current location near Walnut Hill Lane. It offers live music every Friday.
Bill Nash has been a dedicated volunteer at Uncle Calvin’s for 24 years. A singer-songwriter, Nash fell in love with the idea of Uncle Calvin’s while attending the 11th anniversary show in Dallas in 1993. Nash has also hosted three CD release parties there.
“It was just kind of like the beginning of the rest of my life,” Nash says. “When people have actually listened to what you have written, well, it’s a life send.”
Over the years, Uncle Calvin’s has hosted performers from all over the world. The Dixie Chicks played there during their early years as a band in Dallas.
“This live component where you can be in this acoustic room and sit and hear some of the best songs that you have ever heard is a really special thing,” Nash says.
Recently, however, the coffeehouse has struggled to keep people coming back week after week.
“It’s been difficult for us because our attendance has gone down over the last 10 years or so,” Nash says. “We are still desperately trying to find people between the ages of 40 and 60 who still want to go out and see live music.”
Because Uncle Calvin’s caters to an older crowd, its future is uncertain. Nash says he's concerned for the musicians who rely on Uncle Calvin's as an outlet, many of whom he says are struggling in the age of the internet, when almost any song or artist is available to stream instantly and for free.
“They can’t make a living at this anymore, and so it is really an important part for us to keep these individuals afloat as they are bringing such depth and artistry to our venue,” Nash says.
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Uncle Calvin’s is also a big contributor to local charities. Through donations and coffee and dessert sales, it has donated about $3,000 to $4,0000 annually.
While crowds are dwindling, Uncle Calvin’s is still regularly hosting shows. Soon, it will have its 1,600th.
“It has been a real stable thing, and we enjoy putting on shows while other venues around us have gone down to one or two shows per month and are generally on their way out,” Nash says.
Visit Uncle Calvin's Coffeehouse's website for more information and a list of upcoming shows.