Welcome to Local Music 'Mericans , where we meet some of the people behind the local music scene -- those who aren't necessarily members of local bands, but more the people who make the scene move.
In some ways, Chelsea Callahan is kind of like the mayor of our local music scene. And, we here at the Observer certainly haven't missed an opportunity to nominate and award her for such in the past.
Roughly eight years back, she got her start in the scene while working part-time at Good Records. After that, she moved on to crystal Clear Distribution. These days, it's staggering to think of how many different projects she juggles: She helps book and manage The Double Wide, The Single Wide, Renfield's Corner and the occasional live music series at Bar Belmont; she's on the board for both Art Conspiracy and the Carter Albrecht Music Foundation; she has her hands in the locally-based Prekindle ticketing agency; she runs the national booking arm of local booking agency Manhandler Booking; oh, and she sometimes DJs under the name of DirtyChaCha.
Needless to say, it takes some monumental local music enthusiasm to maintain the sheer amount of energy needed to do all of these things. More impressive, though, is that she's always friendly, in a decent mood and happy to see you -- no matter how crazy of a week it's been at the Double Wide or how much sleep she didn't get the night before.
So whats her secret? Prescription meds? Spinach? We try to pry some trade secrets out of her after the jump.
Is it true you're not a musician at all? Not even in the most remote sense? Not in your childhood history? Nothing? That seems ludicrous considering how passionately you champion music.
Very occasionally, I still sing. I sang for six years in school and was decent at it, but that was a long time ago. I had the wonderful opportunity to sing in a choir on a song on Doug Burr's Psalms masterpiece, The Shawl. I sing backup sometimes live, but not often. It is something I've been thinking about getting back into recently. Mostly, though, my family is very musical. My parents met because they both played violin for the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra. My Dad still owns around 13 guitars. He gave me a guitar, a bass and a violin years ago. I still know how to play exactly none of those.
OK, so if it wasnt playing music, what (beyond inherent inspiration) lit the musical fire for you as a youngster?
I started getting into local music all the way back in high school in the early '90s in Granbury. Bands like Baboon and Brutal Juice came there. They were so good -- and still are on the rare occasion that they play. I had a lot of friends I went to shows with all the time in Fort Worth and Dallas. Then I went to school at the University of North Texas, where there was and still is a plethora of amazing bands. I went and saw them most nights. Wasn't great for my grades, but I'm glad I did it. I didn't really think about going into the music industry, though. I went off on some other adventures, like living in some other places and working for Corporate America. But I ended up back in DFW, and after getting laid off from an insurance company in 2005, I ended up with a music industry job. Because of my experience in retail, I was offered a job at Crystal Clear Distribution, where I worked until it shut down a few years back. The booking job at the Double Wide was offered to me in 2005 as well, and it was my first booking job ever.
This August, I will have been there for six years, and other projects have come along regularly since then. It was never my plan to get to do music full-time, but I consider it a blessing that I get to.
I'd love an update on a couple of your lesser-known, but still fascinating, ventures. Let's start with Manhandler. How goes it? Are the Dead Twins (and other roster artists) traveling and leaving their stamp in other parts of the country? Is it working the way you hoped?
Manhandler Booking has been very exciting, and I think we (my business partner is Justin Bowers) are now figuring out how to make it work better. The response from bands has been overwhelming! We want to work with everyone, but there are only two of us and we're both doing it part-time, so it's not feasible. We have not booked a full-on tour yet, but are making more contacts in other markets and have booked some out-of-town shows here and there. I'm really proud of the roster that we have, and hope to help get our bands better shows and out on the road soon!
What about Prekindle? It seems like a successful ticketing function. So far, so good?
Prekindle is going super strong! I've been lucky enough to have worked with the Prekindle guys for several years now -- since before the software was written. It's been so awesome to watch the company grow and grow. We have all sorts of new, awesome clients and have done some big stuff, like 35 Conferette and Homegrown Festival. And we have managed to keep the service charges very low, which is far more difficult than the general public knows! There are a lot of new ideas and features we will be incorporating into the software. Exciting things in the future there.
Tell me about the Single Wide. Been open just over a month now, yes? How are you and owner Kim Finch doing with the new spot?
The Single Wide is doing great! It was very flattering that the landlords came to us and wanted us to put something in that space. It was a lot of work for a month -- not sure how Kim did it, but she is pretty awesome! We are very proud of the look and feel and staff we have there. I haven't gotten to do very much so far because we're still figuring out what we want to do exactly, and what nights we want to do it, but expect some DJ nights and maybe some singer-songwriter showcases and other fun stuff. What I have done a lot of there is play Elvis Pinball. It's awesome, and I'm addicted.
Where in the hell do you find time to spin records with all you have going on?
My parents bought me DJ equipment a few years ago for Christmas at my request, and I was just going to do it for fun at The Double Wide. I just play songs and don't do anything fancy, so I had no idea it would turn into a great part-time job. I have residencies at Billiard Bar (first Monday of the month) and Renfield's Corner (last Sunday of the month), where I usually play local music, indie, punk, stoner metal, old-school soul -- lots of stuff mixed together. I also get asked to DJ specific sets sometimes -- all local music, all soul and funk, or the good ol' dance party. It's a lot of fun and has certainly helped me pay the bills! I, DJ Dirty Cha Cha, also have a radio show on deepelleumradio.com called "This Is Texas" that airs Wednesday nights at 8 online. It's mostly local music, with a few Texas artists as well, and I have guests that bring their favorite local stuff as well.
Share with us some of your lesser-known local music picks that you throw into your DJ-sets.
There's a young girl -- maybe 17 -- named Arielle that I booked at Mokah Coffee Lounge last year, who absolutely blew me away. I've tried to book her again, but to no avail so far. She played solo on a keyboard and had just learned how to loop, but she put on an amazing show. She has a terrific voice -- think Fiona Apple and Carina Round -- and obvious talent and the poise to be very successful. Watch out for her.
How about plans for you? Any plans to do your very own thing that you run from the top of the haystack someday? A club? A label? A cult?
[Laughs.] No cult in the works, but if I can figure out a way for it make people support local music more, I'm in. I'll have to think about that one! I stay plenty busy with all the projects I have right now. It's gotta be that way, though, to be able to make a living and to stay entrenched in the local music scene. I watch how hard Kim works (owning The Double Wide and The Single Wide) and, believe me, it is a lot of very hard work. I'm not sure I could do it.
I've tried several different aspects of the music industry, only to find out that I am best suited for booking. Luckily, it's what I love to do anyway.
You're balancing multiple businesses and interests in local music. Obviously, this has to mean lots of distractions (conversations with musicians, label guys, promoters, etc.), and probably lots of shots and drinks placed in front of you. How do you handle and process all these projects and all this attention? What's your secret to avoiding a burn-out?
I'll be honest, I have slowed down a lot in the last few months. For years, I have been going out, like, five or six nights a week. But now I'm on the downhill side of my mid-30s and, unfortunately, I have some blood sugar problems, so I rarely drink these days. I also feel like I am going to get burnt out soon -- at that pace, I mean. And that's the last thing that I want to happen. It's tough because I hate not being at the shows I book. I feel guilty when I'm not. Artists are sometimes crappy to me for not being at whatever show, but I have far too many to even try these days, and so I have been staying home more, and have been able to enjoy it more when I do go out, which is now only two or three nights a week. One tough part is the all hours of these jobs. I sometimes miss only working between certain hours and then being done. This is not like that at all. I get texts and calls at most hours of the day. Luckily, I have a very patient boyfriend. Being with him is definitely my decompression -- going to dinner, watching movies, shopping, playing games on our iPhones. Normal people-stuff that I didn't do for years!