Magic is happening at Louie Louie’s Piano Bar where, every Sunday night, acts like Alessia Cara, Shaun Martin, Cure for Paranoia and many others hop onstage for an artist showcase that has rocked the venue for the last two years.
In 2018, the man responsible for the showcase, Gino “LockJohnson” Iglehart, a local musician and promoter, walked into Louie Louie’s on a Monday night. Shake Anderson, a North Texas R&B musician, was introducing Iglehart to the venue’s running #NotJustBluesJam. As he stepped into the venue for the first time, Iglehart says he was in awe of the space.
He sat behind the venue’s drumset and jumped into the open jam. The piano player for the night happened to be Ronnie Wilson, the owner of Louie Louie’s. The two got to know each other over the next couple of weeks as Iglehart became the regular drummer for the Monday night jam. Eventually, Iglehart pitched a residency with a band he was in at the time, Kirk Thurmond & The Millennials.
“I actually started this concept as a tool for a band that I was a part of at the time, basically, to have a paid rehearsal each week,” Iglehart says. “[Wilson] loved the band. He always wanted us to play there, and I was like, ‘I’ve got a way to make that happen.’”
So, every Sunday, the band had a guaranteed spot onstage from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., and they would always bring a guest act to help fill the time.
“We would play first, our guest would play second and then we’d close together doing two tunes, all onstage at the same time,” Iglehart recalls.
This is the earliest iteration of what would later become the artist showcase, LockJohnson's Playground.
“The secret of the showcase is we don’t turn anyone away. If you submit and say, ‘I want to be on the platform,’ we’re taking it that you’re ready. And if you’re not, we’ll all find out together.” — Gino Iglehart
At first, 10 people would show up. In a month’s time, Iglehart says, about 20 people would attend. The show kept growing, but at the six-month mark, Iglehart was about ready to tap out. It was beginning to feel like it wasn’t worth the time and effort, he says.
“Me and the guys just wanted to kind of depart from the idea, and the Sunday I was going to let it go, 250 people showed up,” he says.
Iglehart wouldn’t give up his night at Louie Louie’s after that. Eventually, he was offered a 6-9 p.m. time slot, right before a regular Sunday night jam session. But, before too long, Iglehart was given the whole night.
Now, he stocks the bill with five to six artists from various genres. He calls the stage his musical sandbox.
“So, basically, you get a festival that happens once a week,” Iglehart says. “You can have folk, soul, R&B, gospel, jazz, hip-hop — I’ve even had a mime group there before — you can get all of that in one night.”
Iglehart picked his favorite acts in the city to play the showcase, like The Chet Stevens Band, Mark Lettieri, Shelley Carrol and others. Over time, he began taking submissions for spots in his showcase. He says he now gets eight to 10 submissions a week.
“The secret of the showcase,” Iglehart says, “is we don’t turn anyone away. If you submit and say, ‘I want to be on the platform,’ we’re taking it that you’re ready. And if you’re not, we’ll all find out together.”
Wilson says the showcase has become more refined since he first gave Iglehart the Sunday night slot. At first, the show was hit or miss, Wilson says. But, as it gained notice, the acts got better.
“As a keyboard player myself, I enjoy going to [Louie Louie’s] Sunday nights and just getting my ass kicked by some of those guys,” Wilson says. “These guys are badass.”
Now, Wilson says, everyone knows Louie Louie’s is the place to be Sunday nights in Deep Ellum.
Wilson says: “It’s kind of feeding on itself. It’s got a whole little culture going on there.”
The showcase seems to be developing a network, Wilson says. He says it’s become a musician’s conference as well as a show. New acts meet older acts and some meet managers and recording engineers they want to work with.
“Being a musician, it’s a good place to pass around your business card,” Wilson says.
Iglehart says he has a passion for providing artists with opportunities.
“I’ve done jam sessions in the city for a number of years. [I’ve] put together bands,” Iglehart says. “This is kind of my calling.”
Iglehart has a constant presence in the music scene. He's often seen championing new acts like Remy Reilly, and is a veteran who has worked with Erykah Badu. This past December, when Badu received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dallas Observer Music Awards, she mentioned Lockhart in her list of acknowledgments.
With confidence, Iglehart calls his artist showcase the best in the city, but he wants it to keep growing. Maroon 5’s PJ Morton and Medicine Man Revival are both on Iglehart’s showcase wish list. Until then, he’ll keep booking some of the best acts in North Texas and abroad.