Some offenses are worse than others. But when Cinderblock Sessions co-founders Jake Ryan Hull and Nick Melita hosted one of their recurring live music and interview recording sessions at their warehouse in Jubilee Park on April 30, they didn't realize they were committing one of the absolute worst: They let people park in the grass.
The Cinderblock Sessions have been taking place since November 2014, and featured such artists as Charley Crockett, Kaela Sinclair and Kirk Thurmond & the Millennials, all for the low entry price of $5. Hull and Melita were in the process of prepping for Jonas Martin’s debut session when a City of Dallas code compliance officer showed up to cite them for their code noncompliance. And that was just the first visit of night: The owners say Dallas Police made two more visits that evening. The first set of DPD officers seemed satisfied enough by Hull and Melita's promise to visit the zoning office first thing in the morning. But the second, they claim, threatened to ticket every vehicle parked on the grass.
The Cinderblock Sessions, for lack of a better phrase, was stuck between a rock and a hard place. The City of Dallas had shut them down until they could install a code-compliant parking lot, which, after getting a few quotes, would cost Cinderblock $10,000. So, shortly after Martin’s session, Hull and Melita opened an IndieGoGo crowdfunding account and added several videos explaining their predicament and humbly asking viewers to help them bring their building up to code.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m just too invested in this to let it fall apart now. We’ve worked too damn hard to get shut down by bureaucracy,” Melita says.
“In the first two days we raised just under $4,000,” Hull says. “I’m not a crier, but it made me tear up. And it wasn’t family. That was just community members and musicians — poor, starving artists.”
In the meantime though, they needed to find an alternate location to host their next session, which was to feature pop singer Dezi 5. Except that didn't pan out either. This time, it was a fire marshal from Dallas Fire and Rescue who showed up to the Cinderblock event. This time, Hull and Melita say, the marshal threatened to fine Common Desk if anyone entered the building.
“It was just the most heartbreaking thing I’ve had to deal with," Hull says. "I just felt like I had let myself down, let the city down, let Dezi down, let my team members down. You know, it was just the worst feeling in the world.”
Then Hull and Melita hit on a crazy idea: hosting a 12-hour, Jerry Lewis-style telethon via Facebook Live, complete with musical guests, Mad Libs and booze. They texted former Cinderblock artists, friends, family and anyone else they could think of to participate, and the response was impressive.
Of those contacted, soul-pop artist Larry g(EE), was one of the first to arrive. “I haven’t even done a Cinderblock Session with them, I just really like the way that they do it and their quality of work,” g(EE) says. “[Cinderblock Sessions is] allowing this platform for artists to thrive here in Dallas. If anything, hopefully, this can be an example for the music scene in Dallas to say, we can support each other, we can lift each other up."
Fellow artist and creative Marty Olivo also appeared during the telethon, and shares g(EE)'s respect for Hull and Melita's project.
“This is something that a group of people do for their city,” Olivo says. “It’s not that they make 'x' amount of dollars off of this idea, it’s them really investing their time, more than anything else, and giving other creatives an outlet to express themselves.”
The Cinderblock team’s hard work and gratuitous wearing of v-necks seems to have paid off. Going into the telethon this past Saturday, they had already raised over $4,000. But with the help of their fellow artists and Facebook Live, they were able to reach their goal of $10,000 by the end of that night.
For now, Hull, Melita and the rest of the Cinderblock team are focused on pushing for their plans to be approved by the city.
“Working with the city in any capacity, especially in construction or any kind of zoning, is such a ‘hurry up and wait’ game,” Melita says. "We are currently in one of many holding patterns, while we wait and see what they have to say.”
Undeterred, Hull, Melita and Cinderblock Sessions have survived to fight another day. “If you want to make something," Melita insists, "just friggin’ do it.”