Fight Songs

On Sunday, July 25, a 44-year-old father took his two teenage daughters to an Old 97's show at the Gypsy Tea Room. He left on a stretcher and may not walk again.

What happened in between is uncertain. Around 12:20 a.m. Monday, as concertgoers exited the show, an altercation occurred between the father and a man known to Deep Ellum cops as a troublemaker. Only a handful of witnesses saw what incited the fight, but several saw what happened next. A scuffle, screams, bouncers converging to break it up.

"You saw the yelling, you heard the movement," remembers musician Salim Nourallah, who had opened the Old 97's show that night and was working the merchandise booth. "But it was over in a matter of seconds." When the lights came up, all that was left was a pool of blood.

By now, rumors have grown wings and two heads. One version had the father defending his daughter against sexual advances. One version had the father defending a black man assaulted with cigarette ash. One version involved a beer bottle smashed over the father's head, his neck stomped and face crushed against the cement, skinhead-style. The Dallas police offense report tells a much less sensational story: a verbal altercation over spilled beer, which resulted in a fight and a 6-inch laceration to the victim's head. The report says the victim fell down, striking his head against the edge of the stage. Other sources, however, say the police report is incorrect on several points.

The most harrowing part is the severity of the man's injuries. The victim, who spoke briefly with the Dallas Observer, says doctors have told him he may never walk again. He described his attacker as a member of a "hate skinhead group." An investigator assigned to the case says police have identified a suspect. No arrest had been made, however, by the time this article went to press.

Eric Schlather, part owner of the Gypsy Tea Room, was shaken by the incident. "It's hard to fathom that someone could be injured so badly in that amount of time without a weapon. It's scary," Schlather says. "I've never heard or seen anything like it. I can't believe something like this took place in our establishment. Something like this--you just can't prepare for it."

The suspect fled the scene before police arrived. When asked why Gypsy Tea Room security failed to stop the suspect from leaving, Schlather answered, "He was out of control. I'd heard some suggestion that we were trying to help this guy. There is absolutely no way. If anything, [security was] kind of scared of the guy. He'd really turned into an animal. What he did in the amount of time he did it in is unheard of."

Adds Scott Beggs, a talent buyer for Gypsy who has worked security before, "When you're breaking up a fight, grabbing somebody and having to detain them is a pretty tough deal. You keep somebody around, you're looking for more problems. You just want to get the people out. At the time it went down, nobody knew the guy was that beat up."

It's nonetheless a black eye for the Gypsy Tea Room, a venue that has historically been a haven from the random violence of Deep Ellum, and a club that has been voted Best Live Music Venue in Dallas several times by Observer readers. And even more shocking that such an incident could occur at an Old 97's show, generally known for tipsy sing-along fans and teen girls swooning over Rhett Miller. If an Old 97's show isn't safe, what show is?

The Old 97's had left the stage by the time of the incident and weren't aware of it until earlier this week. Members have since been in touch with the family. "We are shocked and upset that such a tragedy could happen at one of our shows," writes guitarist Ken Bethea by e-mail. "Our hearts go out to the family, and we will help them in whatever ways we are able."

Schlather seconds that notion. "We'd like to try to assist if there is a movement for a benefit," he says. "We'll assist in any way we can."

If anyone was a witness to this incident and has any more information, please call the Dallas Police Department at 214-671-3634.