Most musicians who make it big had to start somewhere. For every sold out arena show or big festival slot, there were at least a couple of open mic nights in empty, seedy dives.
For many area rock stars and former rockers, those dives were on Elm, Main and Commerce streets in Deep Ellum -- often considered the musical hotbed of our city by some and the sinful underbelly by others.
Either way, if the hardest days of your career were spent there, why would you want to return?
Well, according to guys like Drowning Pool's Stevie Benton, who recently opened The Boiler Room, those tough early years were also the most fun. Same goes for Trees' owner Clint Barlow, who drums for Vanilla Ice, and, perhaps the strangest case of all, The Free Man owner John Jay Myers, who played in Huge Peter, Crash Vinyl, Happiness Factor and is now an activist for the Libertarian party.
The trend begs one to wonder: Why are so many musicians opening clubs in Deep Ellum these days? We asked, and all three of these guys cited a desire to give back to the area that acted as the launching pad to their careers as a reason for opening clubs in Deep Ellum.
But perhaps there's more. Maybe they're stuck in the past.
These purchases could be attempts on Benton and Myers' part to relive their glory days, before they went on to make money, when things were just fun.
Maybe so, but I don't think that's the entire reason.
These are guys who love Deep Ellum and have an idea of the way they think it should be. And on top of that, they have the money to do it. It's like Mark Cuban buying the Mavericks -- albeit on a way smaller scale.
It would be absurd to expect these guys to use their hard-earned cash to open a Chick-Fil-A franchise. But how much do they really know about running a bar? A good argument could be made that they've spent most of their adult lives hanging out and performing in bars. But aren't there more lucrative investments out there?
Barlow is certainly proving that re-opening Trees has been a good investment. Not only is he bringing in some of the best hard rock and hip-hop shows in town, he's still able to tour with Vanilla Ice.
"You kind of gotta think, 'Well, how can I still be a part of music and do something I can make a living at and do what I like?'" says Barlow.
Myers, who is opening a Cajun bar featuring the style of food he claims his mother made daily in Louisiana, sees a lot of money to be made with the Deep Ellum lunch crowd.
"You can do a good venue at night and have an excellent lunch at the same time," he says.
It's also possible that the trend is a bandwagon move. It seems that Deep Ellum's revival is experiencing a second wind. Who wouldn't want to jump on board and claim to be a part of the area's revitalization?
On the record, though, Barlow and Myers are hesitant say they want to bring Deep Ellum back to its so-called former greatness.
"I don't necessarily want to say 'bring it back,'" Barlow says. "'Make the area awesome' is the term I'd like to refer to. Because it will never be the same."
Benton seems to have the same idea, opening the doors to The Boiler Room as soon as he got the keys. Eventually, he claims, he'll bring in a good variety of live shows, but, for now, he says it's just a place for him and his buddies to hang out.
Myers on the other hand, is hoping to add to the culture of the area with his restaurant. The stage he is installing will also add another place in Deep Ellum for bands to play.
It would be easy to say that these guys are stuck in the past. But, while they are returning to their roots, they all seem to have a positive idea of what Deep Ellum's future will look like.
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