On any given Saturday in Deep Ellum, throngs of 20- and 30-somethings roam the streets in small packs, looking for a good time, live music, or their next lay — maybe all of the above. But what’s relatively unusual is to see people forming lines outside the neighborhood’s laid-back watering holes. This phenomenon has largely been reserved for the frat-tastic bars miles away in Uptown, and thankfully still is for the most part.
But a few businesses such as Armoury DE on Elm Street are oftentimes hitting capacity on weekends. On a recent Saturday night, at least 30 eager-looking revelers were relegated to waiting outside the front door. The increase in foot traffic at the upscale Hungarian-themed cocktail bar is largely due to the fact that it started offering free weekly outdoor shows on Saturdays in a series called Locked and Loaded.
Inside, it’s packed. People stand three-deep at the bar waiting to order a drink. There’s no open seating in sight, and it’s crowded enough that it takes effort to navigate to the patio where the shows are.
The patio is no less crowded. Nearly 70 people can fit in the outdoor space, and there are long wooden tables and bleacher style seating to accommodate the crowds, while a small dance floor is planted in front of the stage. Original art by Joseph Schaefer and surrealist murals by Dan Colcer grace its perimeters. Even when the temperature drops to the 40s, the patio is a pleasant place to catch a show thanks to industrial heat bars hovering above. They’re so powerful they melt lipstick.
Jeff Brown, owner-operator of the booking company King Camel, is responsible for curating the lineups for Locked and Loaded. In recent weeks, acts as varied as Migrant Kids, Dead Mockingbirds and Ronnie Heart have headlined the three-act lineups. The formula of offering notable local and touring music for free is working. Sales have jumped around 20 percent on Saturday evenings during the shows from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., according to part-owner Peter Novotny.
Novotny says to round out the week, there are also free shows on Wednesday and Friday nights: D-Sides with DJ Mark Ridlen, who jams all-local music, even taking vinyl from people in the crowd for a spin; and curated lineups by Ken Welker, who books blues acts such as Charley Crockett and Rise & Shine.
Along with increasing sales on Saturday evenings, Brown has also upped the bar’s notoriety amongst the longstanding live music venues on Elm Street in the relatively short time he’s been there, since last October.
“The Locked and Loaded series has catapulted it to another level,” Novotny says of his bar, which has only been open since the summer of 2015. “I’m seeing the same faces every Saturday; they’re coming with regularity. On top of our regular crowd that comes for food and drink, it’s building.”
Novotny says he reached out to Brown to start booking the Saturday nights before they had a distinct concept in mind for entertainment — they were focused on good food and drinks, and also art and music being in Deep Ellum. Novotny chose Brown because he admired the variety of bands he books — anything from synth to shoegaze to garage rock to funk to experimental.
“There will be a thrashy punk-rock band and people that you don’t expect to be sitting out there will sit there for the whole 3-hour set. It’s pretty cool,” Novotny says. “I see the Uptown crowd with the Deep Ellum crowd rubbing shoulders with each other, listening to music they’ve never heard before. We’re introducing new music to a lot of people who would otherwise not listen to that kind of thing.”
Brown is seemingly able to bridge the gap between communities in Dallas, and the fact that he supports lesser-known bands as much as touring bands helps make the venue popular. “I think of myself as the in-between guy between the DIY scene and professional scene,” says Brown. “Part of that community support is putting bands that would normally not have the opportunity to play at places like this in front of a good audience — giving them that opportunity.”
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If music has the power to change minds and bring people together, Brown makes a convincing local guru. Tall, barrel-chested and often smiling, Brown is warm and supportive.
“[It’s about] taking the time out to let them know how important they are, not just to me but to the community,” he says. “I don’t think there’s enough of an emotional and mental support system. It’s as simple as giving somebody a hug and telling them they did a good job.”
Besides the emotional support, he’s known for booking the most talked-about acts around town, and even bringing notable bands like Migrant Kids from Austin, which incidentally PBS is filming a documentary on. Flocks of Brown’s devotees show up every Saturday, and he has an extensive rolodex of disciples whom he can call on at a moment’s notice. Case in point, when one of the acts for New Year’s Eve called in sick, Brown quickly replaced them with R!U!O!K! (pronounced “are you OK?”), a band that regularly performs at his shows.
And it’s no wonder bands want to keep working with him. One of his main requirements for booking with a venue is that it allows the artists creative freedom. “I run the company with a certain level of responsibility to the artists I think was lacking in other sectors in the music industry,” he explains. “I respect them as an artist and let them do what they do on stage, and still make it a professional, good-running show.”