CoLab’s Shows Have Stayed ‘Always Live, Always Free’ Every Tuesday Night for 15 Years

Jessica Waffles
Some of the CoLab group members. There are so many, we couldn't fit the rest in the photo.

It’s a Tuesday night like any other Tuesday night, and just like any other Tuesday night you can hear CoLab, a band that offers a Tuesday night that you can't experience anywhere else in this city. There’s never a cover to keep anyone from walking in the door. CoLab’s motto is “Always Live. Always Free.”

"That was from a graphic we used when we were at Zubar," CoLab manager and vocalist Moses Habtezghi says of the motto's origin. "It was from Al [Allerick 'Al Lyric' Jamerson] on the mic saying, 'Always live. Always free.'"

But how does a long-standing Dallas residency manage to stay always live and always free?

For the last 15 years, the jazz-funk-R&B-hip-hop collective CoLab has gathered its rotating cast of about 40 musicians somewhere in the Dallas area on Tuesday nights — only canceling a handful of times due to severe weather.

The residency first started at Zubar, then moved to Prophet Bar, then Wits End, and for almost five years now, they have been welcomed at the punk club Three Links.

Each week, the Elm Street club (dubbed HQ by its loyal patrons) fills up like it always does, with an average of 150 regulars and passersby drawn in by the original jazzy flair of the Tuesday night residents.

"Like you can just come here and not worry about shit," Habtezghi says. "I think right now, as opposed to like 10 years ago, this is where we want to be and who we want to be with. No crabs in a barrel mentality."

For many of the 3Links2sdays regulars, attending CoLab’s performance is like going to church, and it’s hard not to understand their sense of worship. While the music brings fans together, it’s the fellowship that keeps them coming back to CoLab's shows.

"It's definitely spiritual, and it's definitely medicine," Habtezghi says.

CoLab recently lost one of its founding members, Jamerson, a loss that was followed closely by news that one of the collective's own, Rain Dandy, had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. This one-two punch left Habtezghi and the rest of the collective struggling to cope, but they found the power in the music that keeps devotees showing up every Tuesday.

"Last week I just wasn't in a place to talk," Habtezghi says. "Stuff just adds up. You can't keep up the face forever, but what helps is being with these guys. [CoLab and Cure for Paranoia's] Stan Francisco, whenever he walks in a room, it's motherfucking sunshine."

"It's fucking crazy to think about the list of the guests that we've had — Grammy winners, up-and-comers and cats that I can't even book anymore because they've just gotten too big, like JD Beck." — Moses Habtezghi

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It's precisely that positivity and the rare blend of music that brings this eclectic bunch peaceably together to the Deep Ellum watering hole; there's an unmissable camaraderie felt in the space. On any given night, you can expect to see college kids, hip-hop aficionados, punkers, drag queens, older folks, street philosophers and even those suits in town on business.

"You'll never see no fights or nothing out here, and there's a reason for that," Habtezghi says of the venue. "The people that populate this place are good souls — the guys in CoLab, they're incredibly talented musicians, but they're way better people. That's why it all works."

In its earliest formation, CoLab played three sets every Tuesday night, but as the years have gone by, those first two sets have been replaced. The first set is always a local, wild card opener that could be a psych-jazz group like Skinny Cooks, a post-punk band like Rosegarden Funeral Party or a dream pop band like Daydream Sleepshaker.

"We just have a guest spot every week as just another way to bring more of the city in here," Habtezghi says. "It's fucking crazy to think about the list of the guests that we've had — Grammy winners, up-and-comers and cats that I can't even book anymore because they've just gotten too big, like JD Beck."

For the last seven years, the second spot has been occupied by alt-funk act Friday's Foolery.

"I remember the first time I saw them playing, I was right in front of the stage, and I just didn't move," Habtezghi says. "We clicked with Foolery so quickly. They invigorated us, and they challenged us. They're so good. We're like, 'Oh my God, we better get back in the studio,' and I think it was vice versa."

Every Tuesday night around midnight, CoLab finally takes the stage with their signature opening, followed by originals or improvisations of whatever they feel sounds good.

For all of their weekly success, CoLab has never put out an original album, a live album or even an EP, but that will be changing soon.

"Everybody has own individual groups that they put music out with fairly consistently, but we are talking about actually putting that together finally," Habtezghi says. "I know we've been on that for the last six or seven months. We want to record and maybe put out an EP this year. That's the plan."

3Links2sdays is just as much about music as it is about the experience. Tuesday nights also feature clothing and jewelry vendors, artists and street food to keep hungry guests fed in a place that doesn’t otherwise serve food at these hours.

"It's a family affair," Habtezghi says. "We want the whole community out here."

Come with a date. Come with friends. Come alone. Whatever. Just come together every Tuesday night, because there’s no better place in this city to be where the music is “Always live. Always free.”