After a string of renovations and soft re-openings earlier this year, Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios is poised to ring in a new era for Denton’s creative scene. With more than just concerts on the books these days, the club is undergoing an identity change under the ownership of a retired optometrist, including last week's firing of Josh Baish, the club's former longtime owner turned creative director and general manager.
Just as Gloves was gearing up for last weekend’s fundraiser for Denton radio station KUZU and its inaugural set on the new outdoor stage, Baish lost his job.
“Yes, I was let go,” Baish confirmed when reached by phone Monday afternoon. “I’m currently reviewing my options. And I wish the current staff the best of luck.” Baish later elaborated on Facebook on Wednesday afternoon: "I was given some vague reasons, but the one I keep coming back to myself is that I didn't share in this new version of what RGRS was supposed to be ... the creative control I fought so hard for and was promised was quickly slipping away. In short, it isn't Rubber Gloves anymore."
Rob Houdek, the club's new owner, is a retired eye doctor who moved back to Denton a few years ago after living in the Houston area for over three decades. He says his son played the club the week it closed in 2016, and when he heard that it was for sale, he jumped at the chance.
"My goal is to make it as good as possible for the people playing, for the people listening and attending, and be as connected with the community as we possibly can," Houdek says. He also says that although they are expanding their reach beyond musicians, embracing all mediums of art, music will still be Gloves' bread and butter.
For people who walked in to Saturday's show, the framed and many-signed gig posters that cluttered the club's walls helped conjure memories of shows past. But by Monday morning, Baish, who owned and had removed the posters Sunday after he was fired, posted them for sale on his Facebook page. (The iconic signed "Statement/Floor Shaker" single by the band Boris that sat with part of Baish's ear behind the bar from a concert gone wild is also gone.)
Gloves has always welcomed a variety of talent to their stage, but Baish can likely be credited with cementing the club’s reputation for punk, noise and underground shows. Houdek declined to elaborate on details of Baish's firing but did say: "It's unfortunate. He’s just no longer associated with the business or the operation of the business. I wish it’d worked out."
Bryan Denny, music programming director for the music and documentary film festival Thin Line Fest, put on shows independently at Gloves in 2005, and about a year and a half later became head talent buyer and booking agent, until 2013. He says Baish gave him creative freedom at the club. “He used to call my tenure the ‘metal years,’” Denny remembers. Thin Line Fest's show at Gloves back in April was one the venue's first soft opening events, and Denny says he hopes to continue hosting Thin Line Fest events there in the future.
But this shift in staff is not untimely, as Gloves’ booker and calendar coordinator Chad Withers hints at big changes ahead: “We’re definitely not just a rehearsal studio and music venue now.”
Withers, who remembers first heading to Gloves the day he checked into his dorm room at the University of North Texas in the early 2000s, says that he and others who operate at Gloves understand its rich history. And Houdek says he wants to see the club's legacy remain and has been reconfiguring the indoor area, including the addition of a second acoustic stage, and the eight rehearsal studios are still under renovation for at least another month.
"The creative control I fought so hard for and was promised was quickly slipping away. In short, it isn't Rubber Gloves anymore." — Josh Baish
These days, Gloves is slated to serve as a center for community events and work with local nonprofits like the Denton Music and Arts Collaborative. Withers says it will also be used for a variety of other artistic purposes including photography. Houdek says he plans to open the club six or seven days a week and draw in an afternoon crowd.
Last Saturday’s fundraiser drew in a crowd eager to check out the club’s updated digs. With two bars, three stages, and improved sound system and stage lights, Gloves has risen from the ashes after shuttering back in 2016, and based on social media buzz, has already reclaimed its title as Denton’s premier music venue.
The club's hosted many memorable shows since it originally opened in 1997. Some now well-known acts passed through the club's rail-side stage in their early days, including Modest Mouse, The Shins, of Montreal, Neon Indian and Cat Power. Denny remembers a time when the Riverboat Gamblers' Mike Wiebe snapped a gas line while on stage. "The whole venue had to be evacuated," he says.
But Gloves is now set to host artists of all stripes and, Withers says, will serve as a community hub for not just Dentonites, but anyone in North Texas who needs a creative space. He says any creative in town will have a home base in Gloves.
As for the venue's future, Houdek says: "Is it going to be exactly like it was? No, nothing is like it was 20 years ago. But I've done everything I can to keep the feel and the spirit and the music alive."
Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios has a few more soft re-openings scheduled, including this weekend's Anarchist Book Fair, and its grand reopening is scheduled for mid-August.