In a New Dallas Music Scene, and a New-Look Deep Ellum, Don't Expect the Same Old Trees

It was just another informal meeting for the people behind the Deep Ellum Enrichment Project, or DEEP, as it's called. Which is to say a bunch of residents and business owners gathered at Frank Campagna's Kettle Art gallery last Thursday evening to sling back a few drinks and talk (gossip) about the goings-on in the neighborhood.

Only, at this meeting, there were some special guests—the new neighbors across the street from Kettle Art, Clint and Whitney Barlow, without a doubt the newest heroes of the 'hood, thanks to their efforts to reopen the much-revered music venue Trees. For most at the meeting, it was their first opportunity to meet the Barlows, and, as such, the meeting's early agenda seemed trivial.

So, uh, what's going on this weekend, guys? Oh, OK, sounds cool!

Just a few minutes into the meeting, and suddenly, the final topic of discussion was at hand: The "guest speakers" for the night, the Barlows.

Tell us what's going on over there, guys!

Ah, the good stuff: Together, Clint and Whitney described their efforts to the transfixed crowd. They spoke of the fact that they essentially had to gut the club since beginning work on the venue in late June. They described the new features their club would boast—a sound system that's the equivalent of the House of Blues', a collection of classic arcade games to be lined up in the back, and, sure, since someone asked about it, new bathrooms. And they made sure to point out that, while they'd "refurbished, well, everything," they did so in trying to keep the room in line with people's memories of it from back in the day. And that was all fine and good—heads nodded and smiles formed.

And then Whitney offered up a treat: "Yeah, after this, you're all more than welcome to come on over and check the place out."


There were a few more questions—mostly, it seemed, 'cause no one in this play-it-cool crowd wanted to seem overly eager—and then, finally, the Big Reveal. Or, rather the Not So Big Reveal. Because, as the DEEP crowd would soon find out, though most of the big, important stuff—installing the new bar sprinkler system, stage and toilets—was out of the way, the stuff that gives a venue its true character was yet to be emplaced. Among those items: the sound system, the video games, the television screens, the seating area, the stage curtain, the liquor.

That's why, Clint admitted as the DEEP crowd milled around both floors of his venue, snooping about and sharing memories with each other, he was a little nervous about getting the venue completed in time. Come this Friday night, at the honest-to-goodness Big Reveal, when the club, which famously hosted Nirvana and saw Kurt Cobain get beat up by a bouncer, reopens after a three-and-a-half-year hiatus, all that better be in place. Otherwise, music fans, who once thought the idea of Trees reopening was a near-impossibility, will eat him alive because it's not what they'd hoped it'd be (read: exactly as it used to be).

Thing is, here's what people need to understand, even if they don't want to admit it: Trees, circa 2009, will not be what Trees was back in the oh-so-wondrous and, at this point, the oh-so-OH-MY-GOD-GET-OVER-IT-ALREADY "glory days."

Can't be. Too much has changed. The venue climate today is completely different than it was five, 10 or 15 years ago. Shows that would've gone to Trees back then? Now, they're either going to the Granada, which was but a baby venue at only a year old when Trees closed in 2005, or to the House of Blues, which opened in 2007, or to the Palladium Ballroom and/or The Loft, which opened together in '07.

If Trees is to survive in this climate, it probably will do so on the types of bookings its calendar already boasts: mid-level, touring modern rock acts (which don't have much of a home elsewhere in town at the moment), with the occasional critical darling indie act du jour and strong all-local bill tossed in for variety's sake. Those, pretty much, are exactly the types of bookings this town needs to see, in the kind of mid-sized 300- to 500-capacity venue that this town has been missing for so long.

And, given time, the Barlows' Trees will grow into its own identity, just as the DEEP crew hopes the ever-evolving neighborhood surrounding it will. With any luck, the glory-day trumpeters will realize as much.

Of course, if they don't, it's not the end of the world, because, beyond this sure-to-be-crowded weekend with shows from Slow Roosevelt and Fair to Midland, that crowd isn't likely to be the group that makes or breaks the new Trees.

Nope. If this new Trees succeeds, it'll be because of a new cast of neighborhood heroes. And it won't be the Barlows either, but a cast too young to even know—or care—exactly what a Slow Roosevelt is supposed to be anyway.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman