Back in mid-April, there existed, if only for a moment, a glimmer of hope for Dallas' ever-struggling cultural scene: District 14 councilmember Angela Hunt, on a trip to the Pacific Northwest, gleefully updated her Twitter status to share a litany of pleasant experiences she'd had with the public transportation, parks systems and community-driven events of Seattle and Portland. It was all so encouraging, all so exciting, all so promising.
But, alas, it was just a glimmer. Because, that same weekend, back here in our fair city, the very kind of community-driven event that so excited Hunt was taking place. In celebration of both National Record Store Day and its ninth anniversary, Good Records created an all-day affair filled with free food, libations and live music performances at two stages on its property. Only, here, as opposed to in those cities that Hunt visited, such an event was being frowned upon. What had started as a celebratory afternoon at the store's Lower Greenville location, ended as quite the disappointing evening. At approximately 10 p.m., after cruising past and checking in on the event all day long, the Dallas Police Department, spurred by the repeated noise complaints of no more than two or three nearby residents, pulled the plug on the event as Erykah Badu, perhaps the city's greatest treasure in the performing arts, performed a set to a parking lot filled with an estimated thousand people.
Bad as that was, it was only a sign of what was to come. In the past month alone, two other promising culture- and music-driven events were shut down by law enforcement: On May 17, another Lower Greenville record store, The Rec Shop, saw its own customer appreciation celebration broken up by a deluge of police officers who descended upon a crowd of 400 or so people enjoying an afternoon of art, skateboarding and music; then, the following weekend, a night of hip-hop and DJ performances at a vacant, rented warehouse south of downtown saw its liquor removed when the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission crashed the venue, a crew of DPD officers in tow, looking to close an event that had drawn nearly 300 attendees. The warehouse party, like the Good Records event, continued after the authorities left, but, by that point, the damage had been done. And, more important, a message had been sent: We don't want this type of event here.
All in all, it's just another discouraging chapter in Dallas' recent live music history, adding more disappointment to an already sad story that has oh-so-conveniently seen the fire marshal show up to venues on their biggest nights—and only on their biggest nights—as happened at the Lizard Lounge two weeks ago when it hosted renowned celebrity DJ Benny Benassi, just as it had on the somewhat-recent nights when Club Dada played host to highly regarded national touring acts Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Tapes 'n Tapes. Each of these events continued as planned, but promoters were still left wondering: Is the city actively trying to kill its music scene?
To be perfectly fair, no, not all of these events are the family-oriented ones that a city the size of Dallas should be going out of its way to support. But the Good Records and Rec Shop events certainly were that kind of event. And the others getting shut down, too? Well, their stories are just added to that same tale, where local events organizers and promoters look to contribute to the city's cultural landscape, but, instead, find roadblocks at every turn.
"When you do go to other cities, you see great music festivals and community events open to the public," Hunt says, disgust clearly evident in her tone. "Here, we have barricades surrounding them."
Of course it shouldn't be this difficult to positively contribute to the city's cultural side—not when these events finally give residents the chance to leave their homes and appreciate what their Dallas artists have to offer.
"[These things are] what gives a city its soul," Hunt says.
So why, then, all the police involvement?
"I don't know if I've got the answer," Dallas Chief of Police David Kunkle allows. A large part of the problem, according to both him and Hunt, is that, in the instances of both the Rec Shop and Good Records parties, their locations—on Lower Greenville, with its vocal neighborhood associations—were pretty much the entirety of the problems. "That's going to be a political decision," Kunkle continues, "about what kinds of events are appropriate in certain neighborhoods, and with competing standpoints...For some people, the issue of the loud music is almost as important as anything else in their lives. It's certainly not our highest priority, but if we get complaints, we're going to respond."
Everyone unequivocally agrees on this much: Good Records and The Rec Shop are exactly the types of retail outlets that Lower Greenville wants—and, in fact, needs—to move past its reputation as the drunken battleground it can so often become at 2 a.m. on weekend nights. But, here's the problem: In spite of wanting these businesses in their current locations, the neighborhood associations don't want the large crowds attracted to the stores' events (which are held specifically to, y'know, draw a crowd and help the stores promote their offerings). Even so, Hunt and Kunkle both agree: Lower Greenville's just too touchy a neighborhood. Events there will almost always draw complaints.
So, where, then, should these events take place?
Hunt thinks the Etc. Etc. group's promoting the warehouse party at 1800 Lear St. was the right idea, hosting its event in a location far removed from potential resident complaints.
"To me, that's ideal," she says. "But it's not perfectly ideal because you don't want to isolate these things completely. Deep Ellum having these types of events is perfect." Also on her list: Downtown, the West End, Victory Park. The problem of course being that those are, by most accounts, the four least trafficked parts of town.
But at least it's something, right? At least it's a city official offering up an alternative and seeing the music scene's side of things.
"I don't think the city is necessarily supportive of these things," Hunt says, empathetically. "Everyone has a story that they have a feeling that there isn't support."
Unfortunately, like Kunkle, Hunt has no answer as to how to fix the problem. As much as she says she'd like to see the city help out with events like these—by appointing a neighborhood czar to deal with fickle associations, by making sure the city's instructions on its permits were clearer so that fewer events would get shut down, by educating both the permit office and event organizers on how to better work with one another—she knows that the city's hands are cuffed with its reported $190 million budget deficit.
"There are realities of cost," she says with a sigh. "If the world was perfect and the budget didn't suck balls—the upcoming budget is so sucky it makes my stomach turn—I would work on [these things]. I just honestly don't see that happening because of the budget crisis. If there was a way we could fit that in, I would be the first in line. But we don't have so many things—we don't even have prosecutors."
Hunt estimates that the city is a good two-to-three years off from getting to the point where it can allocate funds to support the music scene's attempts to attract crowds to its open community events.
Which pretty much brings things full circle. There doesn't seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, no. Not for a few years, at least. These battles—tricky permit loopholes, pesky neighborhood association complaints, constant police interference, events being forced to take place far from sensible locales—aren't going anywhere. And unless the music scene wants to put its promising efforts of late on hold for a few years—and effectively killing itself off in the process—it really doesn't have any choice but to fight through these issues for the time being.
Which is neither encouraging, exciting, nor promising.