Best Club DJ 2017 | JT Donaldson | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
Bryan Coonrad

JT Donaldson is so much more than just a DJ. With his involvement with local vinyl holy ground Josey Records, Donaldson has the well-curated label New Math Records, a more than 20-year career as a producer and a string of reputable residencies around town. With his New Math Mondays Residency at Off the Record, he has also filled the role of talent buyer, featuring some of the most forward-thinking Dallas artists along with notable artists and DJs from all over the country, like house heavyweights Seven Davis Jr. and Honey Dijon. The connecting thread through all these roles is curation, one of the most important roles of any club DJ, and Donaldson's fine ear runs through everything he does, especially his actual DJ sets. Although his discography of music boasts more than 50 releases stretching back to the mid '90s, his expert cart-digging skills have served him well.

Readers' Pick: DJ Red Eye

Kathy Tran

Rock music has a home in Deep Ellum, and that home is Three Links. With a calendar that leans heavy toward the punk side of things, Three Links still covers all kinds of ground, from touring punk and indie acts to up-and-coming local bands of all stripes, along with a who's who of classic punk bands. Every Tuesday, it hosts a performance by funk and soul outfit Colab, curating one of the most consistent weeknight events in Deep Ellum showcasing bands from the groovier side of the Dallas music scene. The room is the perfect size for small road shows and local acts without skimping on top-notch sound. This makes for a standout experience for live music fans. In a neighborhood that seems to look less and less like the Deep Ellum we used to know, Three Links is a welcome constant for live music.

Readers' Pick: Gas Monkey Live!

Dallas Observer

In the outskirts of Fort Worth, Tomcats West offers local metal bands a more intimate experience with their fans. It's been called a true dive bar with a good stage setup and a great sound system. The location has been called scary, adding to the bar's overall underground feel. Customers have complained about the smoking but complimented the staff members on their ability to make a drink. "This place is great to catch some of the best local bands as well as national acts," wrote one four-star reviewer on Yelp. Some would say longtime Urizen bassist Rustin Luther was the key to the bar's success. He opened the bar about seven years ago and recently opened another bar in Dallas called the Dirty 30. He died in early August after a yearlong battle with a brain tumor.

Readers' Pick: Gas Monkey Live!

Roderick Pullum

In its five-year existence, JMBLYA has quickly grown to become one of the city's biggest and most anticipated annual music festivals by blending top artists from hip-hop and EDM for a daylong festival setting with all the accouterments of mega festivals like ACL or Lollapalooza. This year, headliners Chance The Rapper, Steve Aoki, Gucci Mane and Migos drew an estimated 25,000 people to Fair Park, and anticipation for next year's edition is already ramping up. Presenter ScoreMore turned the annual music festival into a must-see event by tapping into the extensive network of rappers it's had relationships with since before they were stars. Teenagers are the priority of the festival, which has a motto of "for the students, by the students," offers internships to local kids and works with organizations to give tickets to the needy. Superstar performers and teen buzz have turned JMBLYA into one of the most popular music festivals of the year, but ScoreMore's concert expertise makes it the best festival in the city.

Readers' Pick: Deep Ellum Arts Festival

Nick Rallo

Lee Harvey's, nestled in a neighborhood just south of downtown, has won plenty of awards in the past for being a dive bar, but its patio remains a year-round attraction worthy of this praise. The wooden seating area is large, and sometimes bands play there. Even in the coldest of winter, no matter how short it is in North Texas, the heaters and sealed plastic make the place warm and friendly. The dog-friendly patio has plenty of room to move around with an excellent menu and substantial beer list. And it's a free place to get into, so if you haven't made it out there yet, what are you waiting for?

Hannah Ridings

There's no better spot to watch the sun set over the Dallas skyline than on HG Sply Co.'s massive rooftop patio. With fireplaces, lengthy bar and herbs growing all around the rustic space, it's a gorgeous spot to settle in with a kombucha Moscow mule and vegan queso.

Readers' Pick: HG Sply Co.

Dallas Observer

The Cockpit has been an institution in the neighborhood north of Dallas Love Field for decades, but nowadays instead of serving the now (hopefully) outmoded stereotype of the hard-drinking airplane pilot, this neighborhood bar has become town square to some and a hidden gem to others. While the selection of craft brews and exotic liquors may be somewhat modest compared with most Dallas bars, The Cockpit makes up for its shortcomings with both atmosphere and price point. Like you've stumbled into an episode of Cheers, you see the clientele is largely local regulars looking to partake of the bar's $2.25 pints of beer and $3.75 wells between games of video golf and buzzing conversation. While The Cockpit isn't the best-known Dallas dive bar, it's definitely an overlooked gem that may leave you with a headache in the morning but plenty of cash left over for aspirin.

Mike Brooks

Despite a bevy of changes that continue to alter the landscape of Deep Ellum, music remains at its core. As patrons file out of the numerous neighborhood venues, the Twilite Lounge serves as a shining beacon for those looking to keep the evening's festivities going. With a top-notch jukebox, a rustic outdoor patio and some of the most attentive bartenders in town, the atmosphere serves as a natural coda to any live music experience. The bar also doubles as a fine live music venue in its own right. Indoors, there's often a steady stream of singer-songwriters and jazz bands performing. On special occasions, the back patio opens up into a larger space that recently hosted the likes of Old 97's, Sam Outlaw and Erika Wennerstrom. It's been four years since local musicians Danny Balis and Jess Barr opened up shop, and their endeavor shows no signs of slowing down.

Beth Shelby

Scott Shelby has been dominating the stage as a metal guitarist in the Dallas-Fort Worth area since the days of Rascals and The Tombstone Factory in the late '80s. As a member of Gammacide, he traded licks with guitar maestro Rick Perry, formerly of Warlock. He went on to perfect his chops in other metal bands such as Hammer Witch, Rotting Corpse and Null & Void before hooking up with Perry in Texas Metal Alliance, which later changed its name to Warbeast. Shelby has been called "the last man standing" after the untimely deaths of local metal alumni Dimebag Darrell Abbott Mike Scaccia in 2004 and 2013. Now, with lead vocalist Bruce Corbitt announcing the end of Warbeast, Shelby finds himself without a band, but it's never been a major concern for the "Beast." "The fact I've been able to put out records, play and tour, that's the biggest thing for me," Shelby once told the Observer. "I dreamed about it when I was little, and now I have records on the wall."

Dallas' Jim Suhler is known for his no-holds-barred approach to blues-inspired rock 'n' roll roots music as part of his band Monkey Beat. As the lead guitarist for George Thorogood & the Destroyers since the late '90s, he's helped to infuse classics such as "One Bourbon, One Shot, One Beer" with Texas swagger. Buddy Magazine made him a member of the Texas Tornado Hall of Fame. Alhough his playing can become a swirling storm of licks, it's more precise than chaotic, blues picking at its finest from a local blues veteran who has shared the stage with Johnny Winter, Billy Gibbons and Buddy Guy. Suhler once told the Observer that he didn't consider himself a "true blues artist," but he's spent most of his life playing the blues."There are blues Nazis, and I'm not one of them," he says. "The blues isn't for me to decide."

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