Kris Youmans is an almost constant presence in Deep Ellum. Hop around the neighborhood's patios late at night and you're bound to hear his cackling laugh sooner or later. To most, he's known as a 20-year veteran of concert promotion, one of the partners in Three Links and the head of Transmission Events' Dallas office. At 38, he keeps himself plenty busy in those roles, having just finished a run of 16 shows in 10 days. But in the past he's also been a filmmaker and a touring musician in his own right.
A cellist since he was 7, Youmans started playing in the now-defunct SMU Conservatory Orchestra at 9. His first trip to Europe was with SMU when he was 16. He stayed with the group for 10 years, essentially focusing on music throughout his youth. He continued helping SMU while he was in college, performing in concerts as part of the string section. Youmans studied classical composition with a performance concentration at the University of North Texas. He was thinking of writing scores for films.
“That was the 18-year-old me,” Youmans says. “By the time I was 20 I didn’t want to write the scores anymore, I wanted to make the movies.” He eventually switched majors and moved over to the film department.
Filmmaking has always interested Youmans. His grandmother aspired to be an actress, and even had small parts in films shot in Key West in the late 1940s and early '50s. The first film he saw was Star Wars and it made a huge impression on him as a child, even before music became his focus. He was also taken with Steven Spielberg films, both blockbusters like Raiders of the Lost Ark and lesser-known films like Empire of the Sun.
Back in 1995, when he was 18, he booked his first show, an early emo band from California called Still Life. They played at a venue called the Major Theater on Samuell Boulevard in East Dallas. After that, Youmans moved into a dorm in Denton and worked as a delivery driver for several pizza places. But life as a promoter seemed to be calling him. A venue in Denton called The Argo soon opened and Youmans ended up working the door. Out of the blue, he would receive calls in his dorm room from bands wanting him to set up shows. “I had to get a fucking answering machine,” he says, and laughs. This was before he had a cell phone on him at all times or even started using email.
Youmans remembers an incredible DIY punk and early emo scene in Denton that was largely made up of house shows. Some of his fondest memories are of the shows he booked when he was just getting into punk. He recalls somewhat of a house show festival featuring Dead and Gone, Braid, and Castor. “Back then it was vegan, vegetarian, pita,” he says, with a chuckle. He was also heavily involved with Food Not Bombs, a movement that fights hunger in protest of war and poverty and provides food to protesters and workers on strike. Youmans made food and collected donations from restaurants like Kalachandji’s to feed the needy right behind City Hall.
Youmans has known John Congleton since the mid-'90s and worked with his band, the Paper Chase. “I recorded on all the Paper Chase records except the very first one,” he says. He also toured with the band several times, both nationally and in Europe. “I really enjoyed those tours,” he says. “There was a lot of stress. But I got to be all over Europe.” Driving through England, he noticed the highway splitting ahead, around a configuration of rocks. “I always thought Stonehenge was in some mythical place you had to hike to,” he laughs. “It’s right on the fucking highway. My mind was blown.”
Under the Tactics Productions moniker he would later use as a promoter, Youmans directed music videos for the Paper Chase, as well as Centro-matic, Slowride, Deathray Davies and the Hourly Radio. He also shot video for the Toadies and did some commercials and short films. Youmans even “worked on a couple shitty fucking independently funded video movies.” For 10 years, he has been working on a film script and hopes to eventually make a feature film.
In the fall of 2008, Bill Callahan recorded his classic album, Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle at The Track Studio in Plano with Congleton. Youmans was called in to play cello. “I’d met Bill before,” he says. He had booked Callahan for a few shows. Months later, Callahan asked Youmans to tour with him. “I was working at the Granada Theater then,” Youmans remembers. But by that point he could get a lot of work done with his phone and laptop, so he was able to tour with Callahan both nationally and in Europe.
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During the European tour, Youmans shared a room with the road manager, Stevie Dreads, who is also Belle and Sebastian’s tour manager. The band played festivals with Kraftwerk, Faith No More, My Bloody Valentine, Grizzly Bear, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Passion Pit and Andrew Bird. They were also at the show where Oasis finally broke up for good. The last show of the tour was at The Parish in Austin, but there wasn’t a stop in Dallas.
“I liked it,” says Youmans, looking back. It's the last time he toured. He later recorded on some Micah P. Hinson albums and a tour was discussed, but it never materialized. In the fall of 2013, Spank Rock appeared at It’ll Do Club and Youmans recorded with him that day. Before he started Tactics Productions, he actually considered moving to New Orleans. “I was toying with the idea of trying to get residency in a union local.” But luckily for us, he decided to stay in Dallas and focus on promoting shows full time.