The Bomb Factory

Doing something well once is easy. Doing it again — and again — is quite another. Clint and Whitney Barlow have made a habit of doing great things in Deep Ellum. First there was Trees. Then there was The Bomb Factory. Back for the first time in 20 years in March 2015, The Bomb Factory had an impressive, if sometimes a little patchy, first year, but that's to be expected when you're getting things off the ground. 2016, however, has seen the biggest room in Dallas' most important music neighborhood hit its stride. The big shows have been more regular — Ms. Lauryn Hill, Robert Plant, Erykah Badu's 45th birthday party — and so too have the big crowds. So it's only natural that the Barlows should be looking to do it yet again, with plans to reopen The Bomb Factory's old next door neighbor, Deep Ellum Live.

Readers' Pick:

The Bomb Factory

The venue formerly known as Red Blood Club has had a checkered history, to say the least. Stabbings, closures, infighting — RBC has had them all. But at the beginning of 2016 the old speakeasy got a new lease on life, first under the booking hand of Moody Fuqua and later Anton Schlesinger. Long known as a metal and punk bar, RBC embraced a new taste for hip-hop and dance music — thus the new name, Rhythm Beats Culture — and consequently the club enjoyed some of its most successful months in its history. The drama didn't entirely disappear. Fuqua abruptly left after only a few months on the job, but RBC's renaissance has been great news for owner Tammy Moss and for Deep Ellum, which has yet another essential music spot to check out.

This year has been transitional for Denton, and that may be putting it nicely. Since the start of the year, the college town/music hub to the north has lost two of its longest-running and storied music venues, Hailey's Club (which closed after one last New Year's Eve party) and J&J's Pizza, which lost access to the basement that had been home to free all-ages shows for two decades. But no loss hurt more than that of Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, the rough-and-tumble embodiment of Denton's gritty DIY roots and the soul of the music scene since Fry Street went to Valhalla. It even doubled as a practice space for local bands. Denton can certainly recover, but clubs like Rubber Gloves can never truly be replaced.

The Kessler Theater
Mike Brooks

Think all-ages venues, and a few stereotypes probably come to mind: X's on hands, dingy venues with bad sound systems, probably punk bands onstage. Point being, the places that cater to the kids aren't always the ones offering the blue-chip concert experience. Gotta earn your stripes, you know. But The Kessler bucks that trend, offering an entirely different type of show, one that entails seeing living legends — Mavis Staples, Nick Lowe, Robyn Hitchcock — in an intimate setting and with a great sound system to boot. Like those scrappy all-ages shows we all grew up on, however, the young 'uns are peers with their elders, especially with the frequent meet-and-greets where the stars themselves are there to say hello, give an autograph and even take a photo. These are the sorts of memories that will stay with any budding music fan for a lifetime.

Main Street Garden Park

On sight, the dog run at downtown's Main Street Garden park is nothing special. There's a lot of concrete, half an agility course and a water fountain that works about half the time. It's pretty small, too, but weekday afternoons, just after everyone gets off work, the concrete patch turns into dog happy hour central. It's packed with big dogs, small dogs and a group of owners who've all gotten to know each other. Everyone gets their play time in and everyone goes home happy.

One of the great things about living in Texas, when you can get past the crippling summertime heat, is the luxury of year-round patios. Own a bar in Dallas? You'd better have a patio. And with Deep Ellum's continued boom, you're never more than five steps away from a spot to sip a drink outdoors. One of the best is Twilite Lounge — and that's without even considering the live music that they host on the patio. Over the years, they've packed out the patio with the likes of Old 97's and Sam Outlaw, and most recently featured a rare live performance by Dividends, the electronic project of Sarah Jaffe and Grammy winning producer S1. Oh, and all Twilite's shows (patio or otherwise, in fact) cost zero dollars. The only drawback? You better show up early if you want to get in.

Readers' Pick:

Truck Yard

From the minute that Guns N' Roses announced (most of) its classic lineup was getting back together, the joke was inevitable: "How long before they break up?" Which was followed quickly by, "They must need the money." In case you didn't know, Axl Rose and Slash don't like each other. Like, really don't like. They hadn't shared a stage in North Texas since 1992 before they landed at Jerryworld in August, and the tour had already started on the wrong foot when Rose broke his. But, in spite of a late start, there really wasn't much drama to be had with GNFNR — just a two-plus-hour romp through the band's biggest hits and occasional deeper cuts in all their sometimes-bloated and often fireworks-laced glory. Are Rose and Slash BFFs now? Probably not. But sometimes all you need is a little patience to make it work.

The Bomb Factory

Least surprising fact of 2016: Erykah Badu knows how to throw a party. Ms. Fat Belly Bella herself has been celebrating her birthday in style for years now, but for her 45th birthday (yeah, hard for us to believe that too) the Queen Herself made sure to make it an extra special occasion. The Bomb Factory, which is starting to feel a bit like Badu's personal 4,000-people playground, was the obvious place to throw this gala, and Dave Chappelle was the perfect person to host it. Well, "host" was a bit of a loose term, as Chappelle came and went on his time, doing a brief bit of stand-up and a rendition of Radiohead's "Creep" that went viral when video surfaced months later. Pretty well everyone was there, too — even André 3000, who sadly never took the mic himself. The only real question is, how do you top that? The answer, of course, is only Badu knows.

The Foundry

ZZ Top fans had reason to be disappointed this summer: The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers were supposed to play North Texas with Jimmy Buffet, a piña colada-fueled party. But alas, health issues forced the Houston-by-way-of-Dallas trio to drop out. Billy Gibbons, however, wound up hanging around Dallas anyway, popping into The Foundry for a friend's private birthday party. Lo and behold, Mr. Dark Sunglasses hopped onstage, too, jamming out with the Relatives on a rendition of his band's classic "La Grange." The magic moment might've been lost to the wider public if it hadn't been caught on video. Gibbons seemed to enjoy himself, too, popping up later that night for an after party at the nearby Belmont Hotel —but you actually had to be there for that one.

Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie

Remember last winter, when some still held out hope for a cranky old senator from Vermont? Those were the days. But for one North Texan in particular, Bernie Sanders' unlikely presidential bid made for a truly "One in a Million" experience: Jessie Frye. That's because the Denton goth-pop singer wound up receiving an even more unlikely endorsement from Sanders' campaign, which picked her to perform at not one but two of his rallies. Sanders himself wasn't present for the first, but the second — held at Verizon Theatre in front of 7,000 people — was the real deal, a warm-up for Sanders' address to his DFW faithful. Frye, whose song "One in a Million" had appealed to Sanders' local campaign staff, got offered the gig on 36 hours notice and enlisted the help of the Vandoliers' Dustin Fleming to get Sanders' supporters riled up. Feel the Bern, indeed.

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