Is it possible that Leon Bridges is doing too many pop-up shows? Some would argue that it is more than just “possible” and, in fact, the truth, but that doesn’t matter. Fact is, Bridges is a star, and someone of his celebrity would likely avoid somewhere as down-to-earth as, say, a neighborhood dive bar. And if said celebrity decided to make it out to one, they sure as hell wouldn’t announce their presence or gladly suffer friends who do it on their behalf.
Even with the understandable necessity of peace and quiet that does not come as often in a life of frequent disturbance, Bridges has made it a point throughout his career to counter these tendencies. In his eyes, it is probably a duty he incurs in paying it forward to the community that made his thriving career possible in the first place. In ours, it is the chance to see an artist play to a couple of hundred people despite being popular enough to sell out Radio City Music Hall two nights in a row, whether for enhanced effect or bragging rights.
Whatever it is, plenty of us are averse to looking gift-horse in mouth, so when Grammy Award-winning artist Leon Bridges decides to play a secret show at Twilite Lounge on a Monday night, we stop what we are doing and make the trek over there stat.
If you were one of the hundreds who did, you would have been reminded of the old adage “the early bird gets the worm.” Long before DJ Hannah Hammond even began her set, the bar was at a questionable capacity despite the door man's "I don't care who you know" militance. At approximately 9:30 p.m., the bar began to enforce the “one-in-one-out” rule, much to the frustration of the dozens of people who formed a long line on Elm Street.
A handful of people in attendance fussed over the decision to stage the event on the outdoor patio, but they did not consider what would have happened if Twilite Lounge decided to have it on their indoor stage instead. The stage is directly to the right of the entrance, and while pushing through the crowd to get even a peek of the artists on the patio platform was onerous, pushing through the sea of attendees would have been unfathomable were the show to have taken place indoors.
Still, sympathy is owed to the artists more than the short people (this 5-foot-8 author included) who tried to see the show. Making trips between the jam-packed patio and the van has to be an act of penance for some egregious wrongdoing. And the artists who weren’t named Leon Bridges (even Medicine Man Revival, who hosted the entire affair), got only a fraction of the warm reception that the headliner did. Perhaps that’s to be expected, but c’mon – MMR, Atlantis Aquarius, Sam Anderson and the Texas Gentlemen (an artist that has backed George Strait and Kris Kristofferson, mind you) were on the bill.
That right there is a fantastic curation of talent even without Bridges. And there was no cover!
Bridges got onstage soon after 11 (appearing far more recognizable than he has been of late, bearded and in a white suit and hat) and played with some of the city's unquestionable best: drummer Marcus Jones, Gents guitarist Nik Lee, keyboardist Jordache Grant, with Charley Wyles on guitar, Taylor Nicks on backup vocals and bassist Ben Barajas.
Bridges danced onstage for MMR's show while its lead singer, Keite Young, got up from rolling on the floor — possessed by every bit of the devil's music — in time to sing backup for Bridges. Despite the chaotic movement of limbs and smoke crowding their faces, Young and guitarist Jason Burt kept the whole group on time, while more photographers than band members moved around on the stage.
Bridges sang some of his hits like "Coming Home" and "Bet Ain't Worth the Hand," while audience members swayed with closed eyes, though they could probably see just as well as most of those who had them opened.
Even though Bridges performs what others would perceive as a gratuitous amount of pop-up shows in DFW, the attendance we saw Monday night was a testament to the fact that they aren’t gratuitous enough. Does our cup runneth over with him? Sure, but as some artist once said, “If It Feels Good, Then It Must Be."
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Garrett Gravley was born and grew up in Dallas. He mostly writes about music, but veers into arts and culture, local news and politics. He is a graduate of the University of North Texas and has written for the Dallas Observer since October 2018.