Jake Ryan Hull and Nick Melita have mastered the art of the intimate performance. The creators of Dallas-based Cinderblock Sessions — which delivers “one-take” performance videos for up-and-coming Dallas artists with a small, select audience in attendance — brought everything they’ve learned over the past two years to Austin’s South by Southwest last weekend. It was the company's first move toward expanding the brand beyond Dallas.
“Cinderblock has been doing our thing in Dallas and we love the work we’ve done with artists in the city but the future of Cinderblock, we hope, is to expand to a national scale,” co-owner and assistant director Nick Melita said. “SXSW attracts people from all over the country and beyond so it seemed like a natural progression from doing our studio sessions in South Dallas.”
Having a presence at this year’s music conference was important to the duo but they decided to forego the standard, official showcase. These showcases can often be hectic, with a ton of bands on the lineup in a crowded bar, and that just didn’t match up with the company’s mission.
“It’s not what we do in Dallas. We do intimate sessions, so how can we make intimate sessions into a party?” creative director Jake Ryan Hull asked. “Why not go to a badass pool, get some badass artists, get some scenery and bring in some sponsors?”
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And that’s what they did. Just 15 minutes away from the chaos that is SXSW, Cinderblock Sessions hosted The Block Party in east Austin, featuring performances by Charley Crockett, Ishi, Walker Lukens and Castro at “The Cabana,” a grotto-style pool setting with palm trees and an overall West Coast vibe.
Within the first few days of the session announcement, The Block Party racked up 2,000 RSVPs, which was great for getting the word out about Cinderblock Sessions, but the hosts were overwhelmed at the thought of that many people showing up.
On the day of the party an estimated 200 hundred people attended the event, which worked out great for the hosts. “I initially just wanted 100 people here to experience our first year, then I thought maybe 1,000, but what I wanted was what showed up and we were able to keep things intimate," Melita said.
With help from Free Range Concepts, a Dallas-based hospitality management company that’s turned The Rustic and Bowl and Barrel into some of the city’s most popular destinations, Cinderblock Sessions was able to team up with sponsors like KeeVee, Prekindle, Independence Brewing, Gypsy Wagon and Granada Theater, who helped provide amenities.
It didn't seem like Cinderblock's first go at an event of this scale. At the party's peak, the pool was crowded, Ishi was performing, drinks were flowing and Cinderblock Sessions appeared to have accomplished its goal.
“This is as good as I could’ve asked for for a first-year event,” Melita said as he scanned the party. “I know maybe 10 percent of the people here and that’s great. Most of our sessions are crew and friends of the artists but this is something completely different and people really came out.”
Staying true to the brand, Melita and company filmed the party and the performances so each artist will receive a two-song session that will be available online for anyone who missed the event.
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For those familiar with Cinderblock Sessions, it’s not surprising Hull and Melita were able to pull off the party. In the two years of Cinderblock Sessions’ existence, they have battled code compliance issues that forced them to raise $10,000 for a parking lot last year, and have also had events shut down by the fire marshal.
Fortunately, through public support and creative marketing, like their 12-hour Facebook Live telethon, Cinderblock Sessions carried on and remains in a position to branch out beyond Dallas. The Block Party was the first step.
“This is year one. We started Cinderblock to debut Dallas artists and you can’t debut Dallas artists in Dallas for the rest of your life,” Hull says. “You gotta branch out. We want to be all across the world and we want to merge markets, be as immersive as possible and pair smaller artists with bigger names."