Say this much for Leon Bridges: Fame doesn't appear to have changed him one bit. Despite all the attention he's received this year with the release of his debut album, Coming Home , on Columbia Records, including a series of network TV appearances, the Fort Worth native remains a man of the people. As Wednesday night turned into Thursday morning, he took to the streets of Deep Ellum for a surprise busking session on Elm Street.
Bridges first appeared at The Bomb Factory during the Best of Big D party to sing “Happy Birthday” to DJ Spinderella. From there he made his way to Black Swan Saloon, and after that he was spotted stopping in at the Twilite Lounge for a drink. Then Bridges was found sitting between Anvil Pub and Deep Sushi next to two long time Deep Ellum buskers, borrowing one of their guitars and strumming songs from Coming Home.
Bridges had been known to do this sort of thing before he became famous, but the sight led to some confusion for those new to Deep Ellum. The best rumor of the night was that one of the buskers was ex-Dallas Maverick and well-known viral video-maker Steve Nash, leading to a flurry of rumors that the whole ordeal was some type of viral stunt. This rumor of course was untrue, and it turns out that Bridges is really as sweet as everyone says.
Mollie Reyes, who was on her way from Braindead Brewing to a Best of Big D after party with a friend, picks up the story. “Right as we got to Deep Sushi I looked up and was like, 'Whoa! That's definitely Leon Bridges playing guitar on the street,'” she says. There were four or five people there already watching Bridges play. "He'd borrowed a guitar from one of the street musicians and started playing, asking for donations for the gentleman whose guitar he borrowed," she says.
Twilite Lounge co-owner Danny Balis had seen Bridges before he went out to start busking, as Twilite was one of his many stops during the night. Blues singer Charley Crockett was playing at Twilite at the time. "Turns out Charley and Leon are friends and when Leon stopped in he decides to watch Charley's set. So, Charley’s doing his thing, and Leon is having a drink, really no big deal," Balis says. "Around the time Charley took a set break the bar ends up almost completely emptied. Which is a little weird, but then we found out Leon was busking on Elm.”
Gradually a crowd gathered outside, and Bridges said he'd continue to play so long as those watching made donations to the busker whose guitar he'd borrowed. “He played for maybe 15 minutes. A few small groups stopped over to watch; you heard the occasional, 'Holy shit, that's Leon Bridges!'" Reyes says. "A few couples stopped for photos and he got passed some business cards.”
That wasn't the end of the story, though. After he'd finished busking, Bridges popped back in to Twilite. “When Charley got up to do his second set Leon got up to do back-up vocals for Charley, and after a bit of that Leon ended up talking to Charley's band, and they ended up doing a new song," Balis explains. “It was all just Leon popping in to hang out, be a cool dude, make some buskers some money and deciding to play a little music.”
So Dallas’ most exciting night was born out of an artist enjoying some down time in a city he grew up around, and trying to make the most of his free time. "It was really cool. I used to watch Leon at open mics at Magnolia Motor Lounge and he was always the sweetest guy," says Reyes. "Nice to see things haven't changed that.”
The above video of Bridges was provided by Alex Sahliyeh.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.