Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
The area north of LBJ Freeway is supposed to be no-man's-land for anyone seeking culture or a good time. North Dallas may technically be part of Dallas, but it may as well be Plano for all we care. Well, that's how we used to feel. But then something odd happened: North Dallas got really cool. Blame it on the affordable housing, but once Josey Records went in, the signs became clear. All of sudden making the trip to Velvet Elvis didn't seem far-fetched, and the compound emerged as one of Dallas' most exciting DIY spaces. It may not be Deep Ellum, but it sure ain't the 'burbs either.
Every Thursday night, the rooftop deck of two-floor Red Light Lounge comes alive with music from The Guild, a group of DJs who have played at Burning Man. The real show, however, is the crowd of regulars who show up in wild-ass wigs, feathers, leather, sequins, tutus, body paint and other outrageous disco costumery. How much time should you put into your couture for this club? They enforce a "no effort, no entry" door policy. Adorn yourself accordingly.
If you're going to give yourself a name like Velvet Elvis, you better be tacky in your execution. And if there's anything that Velvet Elvis does well, it's bad taste. It's everything that a hole-in-the-wall dive located in a strip mall should be: dark, grungy and full of bad art, with no beers on tap (bottles and cans only) and drinks that will knock you off your feet. Like any self-respecting dive, Velvet Elvis is the place to get away from other people, but if you want to hate yourself a little more, there's always karaoke.
Readers' Pick: Lee Harvey's
Here's the short-but-simple online biography of The Naked Lens: "I figured the world already had enough wedding photographers," he writes. "Most of my best friends are hookers, strippers or burners." The Naked Lens is photographer Mark Kaplan, a former naval air crewman and lifeguard who now works as a freelance shooter. Kaplan can be found photographing parties and events far off the beaten path, definitely not the dressy society wingdings the shiny sheets cover. His pix celebrate the tattooed, pierced, pink-haired and scantily clad. Burlesque shows are a favorite. Kaplan likes his subjects to have some skin in the game.Deep Ellum, 214-444-FOTO, nakedlens.org
In March, award-winning journalist Janet St. James announced she was leaving her job of 19 years at ABC affiliate WFAA and moving to public relations. The next month came worse news: St. James had been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. The news of her diagnosis and subsequent double mastectomy came from St. James herself in videos posted on Facebook. "I am fierce and strong. But I have breast cancer," she said. She has continued posting updates through chemotherapy treatment (now over). After all those health stories for Channel 8, including exclusives on last year's Ebola patients at Presby, St. James may be doing her best work reporting on her own medical crisis and recovery. (Follow her on FB or on Twitter @janetstjames.)
Dallas Comedy House isn't where you go to see a big-name headliner, but that's what makes it good. Head to the recently relocated Deep Ellum institution if you want to catch Dallas' best up-and-coming stand-up comedians (who might one day become big names) trying out new material and honing their acts. You can take an improv class here, too, and it's the site of the annual Dallas Comedy Festival, which serves as a showcase for hot comics on the way up in the biz.
Club Dada's patio gives it a bit of an unfair advantage in this category. Sure, shows indoors at Dada kick plenty of ass; moshing along to Total Trash just wouldn't be the same in the fresh outdoor air. The dingy, don't-really-give-a-shit decor is a nice touch, and the bathrooms are, shall we say, very rock 'n' roll. But Dada's patio puts it over the top, making it an untouchable Deep Ellum double-threat. There hasn't been a better outdoor show this year than Courtney Barnett's, and shows like that only happen at Dada.
When was the last time hype paid off so gloriously? The return of The Bomb Factory, out of commission as a concert venue for 20 years, had been publicized for over a year when the doors finally opened in March. And boy, did it ever live up to expectations: The chic decor, great sight lines and crisp sound quality are hallmarks of a renovation that spared no detail. After the pomp of Erkyah Badu's opening night performance, shows like Jesus and Mary Chain and D'Angelo built on the buzz. Best of all, those lines around the block have continued, suggesting The Bomb Factory and Deep Ellum are truly back.
As what's left of talk radio on the AM dial rants itself red in the right-wing echo chamber, KERA-FM just keeps quietly, calmly providing news, interviews, panel shows and features from local, regional and national sources. The National Public Radio and Public Radio International affiliate is where you'll find This American Life; Morning Edition; Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me; and All Things Considered. The local component is the noontime Think, hosted by the unflappable Krys Boyd. Nearly commercial free, the station switches to BBC news overnight, a reminder that news does happen elsewhere in the world.90.1 FM, kera.org
The feel-good story of Dallas music in 2015 has undoubtedly been the rise of Leon Bridges, who used a contract with Columbia Records to spring onto late-night TV shows, but still takes the time to go busking in Deep Ellum. Listening to Coming Home, it's easy to understand what all the fuss is about. More than a throwback, the album demonstrates strong songcraft, a painstaking attention to detail and a hell of a lot of talent. Coming Home soars highest on the title track and "Better Man," while "Twistin' and Groovin'" and "River" are its most grounded songs.
With its wide variety of guests — authors, arts leaders, politicians, performers — local host Krys Boyd's noontime talk and call-in show on KERA-FM/90.1 offers a calm, well-informed two-hour break from the angry voices doing talk radio elsewhere. Boyd's good at letting her guests make their points with minimal interruption. Listen and learn.
Big ups to Dallas County Clerk John Warren for changing his mind for the right reasons. In 2013, after saying for years that he opposed same-sex marriage because of his religious beliefs, Warren came out in support of marriage equality. This year he dutifully prepared his office for the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, ensuring that Dallas County would be able to issue marriage licenses to couples as soon as the ruling came down. In June, Warren issued the first same-sex marriage license in Dallas County to Jack Evans and George Harris, who'd had to wait 54 years to attain legal status for their union.