In music, everything seems to go back to a breakup. Some of the best lyrics of all time were written by artists nursing a broken heart, but others decide to get a little more proactive after getting dumped. For Jessica Martinez, the end of a relationship motivated her to build something that would eventually become a community. And it all started with a Facebook page simply titled Dallas Music.
After ending her relationship, Martinez, who has a background in marketing, decided she needed to break out of her comfort zone. “After that relationship ended, I was feeling a little isolated and alone, so I started trying to get out of my bubble and expand my circle of friends,” she says. “I started biking to Deep Ellum with a friend, and we just sort of stumbled upon what was LaGrange at the time. They were having an open mic night, and we watched this guy drag this huge drum kit out of his Mustang.”
From there, Martinez began regularly attending open mic nights at LaGrange (now Three Links) and noticed that the crowd was looking a little thin. “I’m looking around, wondering why it’s just me and a few other people,” says Martinez. “It was so much fun, and I wanted other people to experience that.” From there, she decided to put together a Facebook page just to see what would happen. Now, more than three and a half years and 5,000 Facebook fans later, Martinez has helped build a community around this rapidly reinvigorated neighborhood.
From the beginning, Martinez had only one goal: to connect people in Dallas to the city’s “amazing” music scene. “People needed to see what was going on in Deep Ellum. They needed to see how much fun people were having to inspire them to get off their couch and go out,” she says.
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She teamed up with Deep Ellum fixture and photographer Jenna Banuelos, who could frequently be found at shows four or five times a week, taking photos. “We would go to all these shows every week, which is insane looking back,” says Martinez. “But these artists were coming away with amazing professional photos.” The fans of Martinez’s Facebook page were also starting to respond.
“I think people just naturally want to get behind something cool and be part of something bigger,” she says of her page’s rapid and consistent growth. To build that interest, Martinez used her marketing background to create content and contests that would engage people and keep them coming back to her page. “It’s a passion project,” says Martinez. “I’m not making any money from it. I just hope that what I’m doing gives people the opportunity to stand behind something they love.”
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The growth of Martinez’s community has coincided with massive growth in Deep Ellum. Once a home for dive bars and dingy concert venues (not to mention crime and, in some quarters, a bad reputation), this entertainment district and hipster destination is now home to some of Dallas’ trendiest restaurants and is attracting a more affluent, suburban crowd than ever. Still, Martinez contends that the changes in Deep Ellum are a positive thing. She says she isn’t worried they'll kill the historic neighborhood’s vibe.
“I’ve had an opportunity to be a fly on the wall at some of the meetings that [real estate developer] Scott Rohrman has hosted with business owners in the neighborhood to talk about how to make Deep Ellum better,” says Martinez. Rohrman owns dozens of properties in the neighborhood, including Kettle Art Gallery, Twilite Lounge and Pecan Lodge. “He owns a lot of the real estate there, but he’s not going to sell it out, at least the parts he can control. He doesn’t want to run everyone out, he wants to make sure that there are still places where artists can get cheap drinks. I think the right people are at the helm.”
She does, however, think that Deep Ellum still has plenty of room to grow in the right direction. “I would like to see a more walkable and connected downtown area,” says Martinez. “I’d love to see Deep Ellum connected with downtown, Trinity Groves, Oak Cliff, West Dallas. That would be amazing, and I think we’ll get there eventually.” In the meantime, Martinez is doing her part to highlight Dallas’ under-utilized green spaces in her work booking the entertainment for Park(ing) Day Dallas, an event that transforms metered parking spaces into short-term art installations, complete with music.
But for now, Martinez plans to just keep on keepin’ on with Dallas Music. She’s working to develop unique content for the page around the Dallas music scene. “I want to create this really unique content that makes it personal for people. That’s what gets them engaged and interested in what’s going on with the scene,” says Martinez. “I love to do things that inspire people. Within the next year or so, we’re going to be doing some really cool stuff. I don’t know what it all is yet, but it’s going to be a lot of fun."