Echoes and Reverberations: At the Theatre Gallery, Capturing Lightning in a Beer Cup

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Russell Hobbs: "I basically traded prioritizing making money, buying new cars and collecting shiny materialistic possessions for this amazing feeling that comes with experiencing creativity and art in real time. It felt beautiful to be a part of something that was dirty and raw and transcendent. Every day was a spiritual experience stripping away the status quo from my soul... while at the same time, becoming at one with the history of the area. Walking the rail lines by the ice house, the brick facades, this ghost town spoke to me, told me stories and led me to the truth." __________________________________________

Russ and I often stayed up late cutting and pasting artwork for show posters by hand. It wasn't uncommon to see us at the Kinko's on Greenville Avenue at three in the morning, rubbing off letterpress numbers and snipping together random, oddly juxtaposed imagery for our monthly calendars. An eccentric local cut-and-paste artist named Richard Hoefle designed an amazing series of band fliers as well. His art opening at Theatre Gallery was a phenomenal success.

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Barry Kooda (musician): "Theatre Gallery was one of a kind. It was like "The Little Club That Could" always chaotically balancing between success and closure careening headlong into the annals of Deep Ellum's history. The front room, which was the art gallery, was deceivingly clean and civilized but as you ventured further into the bowels, you found yourself in one of the really true, unadorned, unabashed punk rock clubs of the time. Bare rafters, concrete floors, the smell of stale beer and teen angst sweat." ______________________________

Things were a lot different in 1985. An 18-year-old kid could legally buy alcohol. Ecstasy was everywhere; people who had never taken drugs didn't think twice about experimenting with it, because the pills were still legal. The overall effect that the drug had on the community was tangible and real; musicians were excited about supporting other bands within their peer group. It wasn't a stretch to the guys in Rigor Mortis hanging out at a New Bohemians show, and vice versa.

Everybody loved everybody else. We were all creating and participating in something that felt new and important. In July of that year I moved into the building and threw myself into the lifestyle, 24/7.

Free beer also was an essential element to the success of Theatre Gallery. On the afternoon of shows we would cobble together a hundred bucks, pile into Russell's convertible and hit the beer store for a couple of kegs. Beer was the common denominator. Our cover charge was five bucks, and you were given a plastic cup to use all night at El Barco. There were really no rules to speak of. Nobody ever checked IDs; in fact, three of our door girls were only 17 years old at the time. For almost two years, the venue managed to exist under the TABC radar. When police eventually raided the building during a show, Beak and I spent the night crawling the walls in of the drunk tank at Lew Sterrett Center. That wasn't about to stop us. A month or so later, Russell borrowed some money and we began the process of "going legal."

Meanwhile, Austin noise was dovetailing from the frenetic noise of bands like the Dicks and Scratch Acid into something more organic and twerp-accessible. They called it "New Sincerity": True Believers, Doctor's Mob, Timbuk 3 all made regular trips north on 35 to make our scene. Dino Lee's White Trash Revue was twisted and weird; Bad Mutha Goose and the Brothers Grimm were like a cross between P-Funk and the Big Boys. Theatre Gallery was the Dallas venue of choice for all of the notable 512 freaks of the frame. __________________________________

Alan Levy (Peaches Records): "One of my favorite bands that rolled though TG from Austin was called The Wild Seeds. More than once, I felt like it was a good idea to jump up on stage and join them for the last song of the night; invariably a loud, sloppy wonderful version of Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting." There was a point where TG had lost their alcohol permit and my friend Brendan and I loaded up a case of beer in an ice chest and just brought it in with us. Good rock and free beer. Hard to beat! Plus, friendships that are still a part of my life were cultivated there. It was a very important time and place for me."

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When Zeitgeist (later renamed The Reivers) played at an early art opening, the members of a teenage Highland Park-based art rock band called The End wandered in and asked Russell if they, too, could book their own show at the venue. Within six months they would be drawing at least 500 teenage Park Cities kids to their own TG performances.

Butthole Surfers, The Replacements, Bad Brains, Suicidal Tendencies, Husker Du and Meat Puppets all came through when they were at the top of their game. Jane's Addiction was supporting their debut record on Triple X Records, and the Flaming Lips were making the drive down from Oklahoma every few weeks. It was a great opportunity for local bands like Three On A Hill, New Bohemians, Buck Pets and Shallow Reign to share a stage with national touring acts.

It was also a place where the usual disconnect between artist and audience became nonexistent. The bands and their fans hung out before and after shows, doing the kinds of things that Conservative Dallas didn't want young people to do. __________________________________

Scott Johnson (Musician): "In 1985, I was a student at Arts Magnet High School. Living in Plano, I developed an aggravated sense of urgency to escape and find a better way to live -- or at least have a good time trying. People at school told me I had to check out Deep Ellum, and that we could get into the Theatre Gallery even if you were under age. An early New Bohemians show really blew me away; so many people dancing, tripping, the crazy clothes. I immediately fell in love with the club. There was art exploding all over the place. It was my first introduction to a world that I would dwell in for years afterward."

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Jeff Liles