Just a few feet from the train tracks that run through Denton’s industrial district is a club that recalls the college town’s rough-and-tumble early days of DIY music venues. Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios was a place that welcomed the experimental, the eccentric, the talented and the uninhibited. In its heyday, young people flocked to its modest stage to hear some of the most exciting up-and-coming music to come out of Denton and the country.
Built almost by accident in a converted factory, the old Gloves was dive-y and dirty, and the regulars liked it that way. For nearly two decades Rubber Gloves served as a hub for the town’s music scene, until its former longtime owner Josh Baish struggled financially during a divorce and had to close the club in 2016, seemingly for good, leaving behind beer-soaked memories and little else.
Since then, Little D has seen a trend emerge: New venues like Harvest House and Backyard on Bell thrived as they opened their doors to a whole community of artists and events. North Texas' indie music fans had seemingly moved on, and these sleek, community-driven event spaces filled the space left behind by Gloves.
Then, after fading into memory for nearly three years, the unexpected happened. Gloves was resurrected with the help of a retired optometrist and is ready to officially rise from the grave with a grand reopening on Aug. 23.
It's a bold move: Music venues shuffle into and out of existence regularly, and the best-loved clubs gain their reputation by capturing something unique at a specific time and place. In Denton and across North Texas some music fans are wondering whether the reborn Rubber Gloves will be true to the old self they remember happily, if not well. What sort or resurrection story is unfolding in Denton: joyous Easter or Pet Sematary?
As usual, the answer depends on whom you ask.
Rubber Gloves Today
Rubber Gloves debuted as a collection of rehearsal spaces for bands in the summer of 1997, before its tenants converted an unused storage room in the building into the music venue side later that year.
As a club, RGRS was tiny, loud and as no-frills as a space could be. Its bathrooms were notorious for being some of the foulest among DFW music venues, which is saying a lot. Walls, columns and mirrors were littered with stickers and covered with graffiti, and the floor was often sticky from spilled drinks. Kevin Cellar, an employee of Gloves in its earlier days, remembers a time when a scorpion fell from the ceiling above the stage and stung a guitar player. He later told the guy that he had just received a "Rubber Gloves kiss."
"Rock ’n’ roll was dirty, you know? It should be dirty. Rubber Gloves, for better or worse, was that," Baish says.
But when optometrist Rob Houdek purchased Rubber Gloves in April 2018, he set in motion a collective effort to revive the iconic venue, bringing more polish and shine to state-of-the-art digs. Houdek and a team of creatives jumped at the chance to renovate the building that once hosted bands like Montreal, Modest Mouse, Tripping Daisy and Denton’s own Neon Indian, long before they made it big.
Houdek, a wealthy retiree and amateur musician who is passionate about the local music scene, watched his son's band play a show at Gloves the week it closed. It was then, he says, that he sensed something special about the club. Houdek had recently returned to Denton after spending around three decades in Houston.
“I’m retired. What am I thinking?” Houdek says with a laugh. “I didn’t want to see Denton lose a music venue, especially one like this that had been there for so long.”
So he purchased the property and space, which had been closed for so long that, to meet code, Houdek had to add several updates to the building. Those improvements took over a year to complete because he wanted to keep expanding. Houdek says he doesn't plan to run Gloves long term but is building a team that will.
The old Rubber Gloves had a single stage and could fit only 200 or so fans. Houdek and his team have added two more stages: one large outdoor one in the new patio space and a smaller, intimate stage inside, upping the capacity to 650. The main stage inside the venue remains largely unchanged since it was rebuilt roughly 13 years ago.
Gloves has hosted several soft openings since April to see what goes well and what doesn’t before the official opening in August. Some of these soft openings have included events other than live music, and some of the updates to the venue involved a complete remodeling of its eight rehearsal studios. Houdek also added a second outdoor bar and had the bathrooms ripped out and rebuilt.
One thing didn't change, though, at least at first: Houdek brought back Baish to be general manager and creative director for the reborn Rubber Gloves. Many longtime concertgoers remember Baish as the excited driving spirit who gave the club its edgy reputation.
Whatever happiness they felt over his new role took a hit late last month when Baish revealed he had been fired. Baish wouldn't go on the record with the Observer about why he was let go, but he posted on Facebook: "I was given some vague reasons, but the one I keep coming back to myself is that I didn't share in this new version of what RGRS was supposed to be. ... The creative control I fought so hard for and was promised was quickly slipping away. In short, it isn't Rubber Gloves anymore."
Chad Withers, who has replaced Baish as general manager and booker, also declined to go on the record with details about the firing, but he did say, "Try to pin him down on what those creative differences are."
Just weeks before, Baish had talked passionately during soft opening events as he poured drinks behind the bar, taking breaks to show people around the new-and-improved space.
Withers quit his day job as a middle school drama teacher to take his new full-time job at the club, where he has a long history. He hosted events there in years past, and in his college days at the University of North Texas, he says, he would spend at least four nights out of the week at Rubber Gloves or Hailey’s Club, another Denton staple, which shuttered in 2015. Some of the events Withers hosted at Gloves were through Strawberry Fields, an independent bookstore he managed that also sold records and rented videos. Strawberry Fields moved from a freestanding store into Gloves for a few months before closing for good in 2010.
Baish sold the property to Houdek in 2018. He declined to say for how much. "It was a hell of a lot less than what I was offered by other buyers, the reason being that I wanted the club to continue," Baish says. Houdek was the only potential buyer who wanted the building to remain Rubber Gloves.
Baish, Houdek and Withers had been working with others to get the club up and running again, but then Baish received his walking papers on July 19, one day before the club held a "soft opening" to debut the outdoor stage. By the following Sunday, Baish had removed the original metal Rubber Gloves sign, framed posters, signed collectibles and other bric-a-brac he owned that cluttered the walls and served as major accouterments of Rubber Gloves. That only added to the outcry from some old-time Gloves faithful.
Richard Ian Oram is a KUZU DJ in Denton and longtime friend of Baish. He helped Baish remove the collectibles that Sunday. "I see Rubber Gloves on the outside, but not on the inside." He says the memorabilia was a vital part of the place, and while he doesn't wish the new team any ill will, it won't be easy to go back now. "I can't support it as it is currently. If they changed the name, I may be able to go in again."
“RGRS has truly lost its heart and soul,” one commenter wrote in response to Baish's post. “It may be Rubber Gloves by name, but it is not recognizable to me. Won't be able to set foot in there again, and that's a shame,” wrote another.
Ray Gill Jr., former Hailey's Club owner, says he went through a similar situation when his club was bought out in 2015 and turned into something "unrecognizable." Hailey's Club eventually paralleled Gloves' reputation in Denton as a place that brought in bigger touring acts. In a comment on Baish's Facebook post regarding his firing, Gill says, "People who truly matter will remember YOUR Rubber Gloves."
In a phone interview, Gill told the Observer: "I know what it's like to have your baby taken over by someone else, and kind of be raised differently. I know it's hard, and I wanted to give a little support to a fellow colleague of mine from back in the day, because I know what he's going through."
He says that while he can't speak to the changes and new ownership of Gloves, he understands the difficulties of having someone take over his own club without, in his mind, understanding its history. "I just know that what happened to Hailey's was so horrible and to watch it happen, and watch it get sold to someone who didn't understand Hailey's and be turned into some cookie-cutter bar was very hard to watch." Game Changers Bar and Arcade Grill now sits in its spot.
Other current and former patrons of Gloves argue that its legacy reaches far beyond anything that once lined the clubs's walls. Its rich history, they say, is not the work of any one person alone.
First Time Around
Rubber Gloves' origin story begins with the end of the Argo, one of the first DIY clubs in Denton. If the Argo had not closed in 1997, there may never have been a Rubber Gloves.
Memory Wortham and her late husband Jayson first leased the building that became Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in 1996, when Jayson and his bandmate Rob Peters needed a place to practice. They never intended the building to become a music venue, but after the Argo closed, the Worthams were approached by Kris Youmans, a booker for the Argo, who had bands scheduled to play there but now had nowhere to go. Thinking they might be able to make a little extra scratch, the Worthams opened Gloves’ doors to these bands.
“Kris was instrumental in starting the whole thing,” Memory says.
Concrete dust still lingered in the air, and the emptied Redi-Mix warehouse that would become Rubber Gloves was littered with debris and junk. The Worthams received a modest $25,000 business loan to lease the place and start opening the studios to bands, which Memory says was spent quickly on renovations and cleaning. They lived in the space for a while, with their bedroom upstairs in what later became the greenroom.
“Almost every night we had just a lot of people over. They were all musicians,” Memory says, remembering spaghetti dinners and other vegetarian meals. She used to cook dinner for everyone who would come by. “That’s where the magic was, just hanging out in that living room. Those were really just the best times.”
She remembers hand-drawing the original, emblematic logo of a woman in front of a microphone wearing rubber gloves. And she credits Jayson’s then-roommate for coming up with the club’s unique name. “We bought these cleaning supplies. It was our first purchase, and we were trying to think of names.” She says Jayson’s roommate mentioned how cool and ’70s-looking the rubber gloves package appeared and said, "What about Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios?"
Youmans, who became a booker for Gloves after the Argo closed, says the first show at Gloves took place in September ’97 in a corner of the building before the stage was built. The headliner was a San Diego band called T Tauri, and a practice sound system from one of the rehearsal studios was all they had for the bands to use. By the second show the following Saturday, on Youmans’ birthday, Youmans, Jayson and others built the main stage that stood until around 2006. They scrounged up enough lumber to build the stage only hours before the show started, with The Get Up Kids. Youmans says Rubber Gloves was the club that bands played on their way to bigger Dallas stages.
In those early days, Memory says, it was almost entirely punk shows. She and Jayson were far from being punk themselves, but welcomed it just the same. “It felt like the community wanted it. We just had to follow the momentum.”
That momentum would ultimately lead to Rubber Gloves hosting more local bands from other genres and drawing much larger crowds. More work was necessary to accommodate the growing popularity. Eventually, Gloves would host packed DJ nights, regularly sold-out shows, and for a while, was the only venue in Denton that booked national and international touring acts. On one of the venue's busy nights, the line to the bar could rival rush hour on Interstate 35.
“We started getting some bigger shows, and we wanted to do some of them outside,” Memory says. “So we had to have a permit to have outdoor amplified music. We went to the city to get the permit, but apparently there was a law that you had to have a parking lot for a venue of that size. It was going to cost like $15,000 or something to put in a parking lot.”
That’s when, she says, a young bar manager entered the picture. “Word was getting around that we might have to shut down because we couldn’t put in a parking lot. That’s about the time Josh approached us about getting something going. He said he’d invest some money to get a bar in and get the parking lot.” A hefty inheritance from his grandparents and a few legal formalities later, Baish acquired ownership of the club.
After Baish came on, Memory says she continued doing what she did before: booking bands, managing shows, running the rehearsal studios and overseeing general operations of the club. "Jayson was the people person, kind of the face of the club," she says. He would answer the phone, rub elbows with other musicians and make everyone feel welcome. She says that in his early days at Gloves, Baish was primarily focused on building the parking lot and acquiring a beer and wine license.
But tensions eventually rose and the three relatively inexperienced 20-somethings began facing challenges.
"I remember that things started to feel tense all the time, and we weren't having much fun anymore," Memory says. She mentions financial stress and a lack of good communication skills and business diplomacy as some reasons she and Jayson considered leaving the club. After Baish joined the partnership, Memory left.
"We decided that I'd leave so there would be less tension overall, one less cook in the kitchen, as they say." She says she and Baish are both fiery and prone to bold emotional expression, leading to some heated arguments back then. Jayson stayed on at Gloves for a few months after Memory cut ties but left on amicable terms and, Memory says, resumed a solid friendship with Baish for over 20 years. “We were all so young. It scared the hell out of us, the whole thing did.”
Baish is responsible for getting the main bar up and running, as well. Two years after the venue’s first show, the bar opened and the club thrived even more. Memory says she only went back a couple of times after leaving Gloves. “I was really done with that place.”
The Future of Rubber Gloves
Moving forward, Rubber Gloves’ goal is to be an all-encompassing artistic hub. Withers says they want to offer all forms of arts and collaborate with nonprofits like the Denton Music and Arts Council. Under its new ownership, he says, they have more money to provide adequate space and serve more artists. As far as any grievances over its shinier outward appearance, lack of stickered walls or seemingly commercialized aesthetic, Withers says of the old Gloves, "Did you really enjoy having to wear rain boots to go to the bathroom?"
This new wave of Gloves also brings with it the possibility to work with more people who, Withers says, wouldn’t work with Baish. Some of those people, whom he asked we not name, are longtime pillars in the local music community. Baish, however, says his door was always open to anyone, regardless of personal feelings.
Youmans, who is now a talent buyer and promoter for Margin Walker, confirmed that the booking agency wouldn’t work with Baish, and says that when he left the club in 2002, he and Baish weren’t on the best of terms. He did not wish to elaborate, but says that the reason he would not work with Rubber Gloves anymore was strictly because of Baish.
Withers and others describe hearing several former Gloves employees and other entities say that they felt Baish was unreliable when it came to the business side of things. “There was a lot of animosity among employees about payment issues," he says. In his opinion, that, and personal beefs, are factors that led some people to stop working with him.
“I couldn’t work with Margin Walker anymore, and they were the level of quality I wanted to work with,” Withers says, because he was initially hired on as booking manager and calendar coordinator. “People are excited to play with us again.” Baish declined to comment specifically on any payment discrepancies but says: "It's not my job to defend my legacy. I'm not going to try to win anyone over."
Aside from the music, Withers says monthly comedy showcases, performance and visual art and theater- and film-related events are all in the future for Gloves.
Isaac Hoskins, who played the first concert on the club’s new outdoor stage a couple of weeks ago, says that after moving to Denton from Kansas in 2003, Gloves was one of the first places he felt like he could be himself and not have to worry about fitting in. “That meant a lot to me,” he says. He even didn't mind that the stage was mere feet from trains as they rumbled by: “It didn’t bother me much, but I could imagine it could break someone’s concentration.” He says he'll always play there and wishes Houdek the best of luck. "I hope it works. I think it's important. Ultimately, my loyalty lies with this town, and if somebody's trying to help the thing I love almost more than anything in the world, which is this town and the art in this town, I'm all about it."
James "Shep" Shepard says that when he was general manager at Gloves over a decade ago, he and Baish had their ups and downs. The two argued frequently, and the stress and bickering became too much to handle. He eventually started a family and left the club in 2014. He says that upon hearing that Baish would take over as general manager in reopened venue, he thought it was a bad idea.
"I don't want to talk a lot of trash about anyone, but I'll say this, and I think he’d agree with me: He was an owner. But just because someone owns the place, doesn't mean that they're going to be a good general manager. It doesn't mean that they're a good people manager," Shepard says. "If it’s either he’s the general manager or he’s not involved, it’s better than he’s not involved."
Shepard does agree with many others that the latest version of Gloves is still hosting music that would've been there during his time working at the club, which is important to many of the club's former patrons. And he says that the club itself has never looked better.
Shepard also says that Withers, a longtime regular of the joint who, as Shepard describes, was "part of the family" is a great choice to take over. Shepard recalls eating dinner at the club's tables with Withers and others before opening the doors for a show. "He was a good time and a large part of the family," he says.
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So, the once junk-ridden cement warehouse that was given life again as a rehearsal studio space and grew into a home for some of Denton’s most ambitious and creative musicians, now has a pulse again. "When you have 20 years of history, why wouldn't you want to preserve that?" Baish says. Houdek says he understands the history of the place but wants to move it forward because "nothing is like it was 20 years ago."
In a college town as cyclical as Denton, with young people bringing their tastes to the forefront of the scene every handful of years, the idea that Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios wouldn't change with the times is possibly a disservice to even its oldest and most loyal patrons.
Gloves’ coming years do promise to ring in a new era for anyone who needs a creative space to practice their craft. There’s just one rule, Houdek says. “As long as you’re nice, you’re welcome here.”
Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios is slated to be open six to seven days a week, opening in the afternoon, with food trucks on-site and 24-hour access to the rehearsal studios. The grand opening weekend will begin Friday, Aug. 23.