A unique thing happened in Deep Ellum last night: People crowded into a bar, filling it wall-to-wall, and looking on in attentive silence at person in the front of the room. But that person wasn't playing music; they were giving a lecture. The person was Jeffrey Liles, the artistic director of the Kessler Theater, and the bar was Off the Record. Monday night was the scene of the first installment of the High Fidelity Lecture Series, a new concept that signals an exciting new direction for the still-young bar-slash-record store on Elm St.
The High Fidelity Lecture Series is the brainchild of Vanessa Quilantan, a former Dallas Observer staff member and current bartender at Off the Record. The idea for a lecture series had been kicking around in her head for a long while, but once Off the Record was putting the pieces together in August she found an outlet that made perfect sense. People, music and alcohol offered the space for a community powered discussion that just needed the catalyst of a speaker to set it alight.
"They're letting me run with my ideas. They've been very supportive and welcoming with everything I've brought to the table," Quilantan says. "It's been a great fit so far."
The combination of unique offerings from Off the Record is part of the reason why co-owner Josh Florence (he's one of four partners) believes it will be successful. He says that working with Good Records, being a huge music fan himself and having a passionate driving force like Quilantan on staff all added up to the inception of High Fidelity.
In addition to the lecture series, High Fidelity will also include monthly book club meetings and crate dating, which is basically speed dating centered around records as the conversation starter. Quilantan is already looking to add more offerings to the series in 2015, as long as the community continues to respond positively to the project. Florence is excited to develop High Fidelity as well, saying the current events are only scratching the surface of what they can do.
Quilantan's resume is diverse to say the least. She's gone from doing real estate, music writing, nail work and now bartending with a touch of promotion. But being involved in the music scene was always her first love -- it was the place where she first found like-minded characters as a disconnected teenager. Like many of her kind, she found refuge in the shows in Deep Ellum and has been involved in the scene ever since. Now, you couldn't rip her away from that scene for any amount of money, regardless of how many "ramen noodle" days she's had in pursuit of doing what she adores.
High Fidelity is her slice of giving back to the community to help Deep Ellum continue to thrive. Quilantan's longtime involvement and connections as a music critic made it almost inevitable that she would come up with an innovation like the lecture series.
"I've always considered myself a child of the Dallas music scene, I used to go to shows constantly," she says as her dog, Beyonce, barks in the background of our phone call the afternoon before the lecture. "Growing up in that environment was the foothold that led me to be involved in the scene."
Although similar ideas have been tepidly attempted, a consistent, monthly music-centered lecture series is largely uncharted territory for the Dallas area. Quilantan hopes that the combination of choosing the right speakers and using her own insight will keep High Fidelity around for the foreseeable future.
The framework for a lecture series was inspired partially after Quilantan attended a hip-hop symposium at El Centro College. She recognized how it promoted growth within the community and bridged a gap between the different members of a music scene that normally might not ever meet. The example she applies this to is the relationship between music writers and bands, where one might not fully understand how the other one works and the effort that is put into their respective fields.
"The ultimate goal, really, is to inspire people to have conversations about music," she says. "Some of the important relationships in my own life have started because of music." In picking Liles, Quilantan says one of the most important parts of being involved in a community is understanding its history. Liles was her and Florence's first choice to start off the lecture series because his history would lay down the foundation for the rest of the series to be built off of. "I consider him a Deep Ellum and local music historian," Florence says. "The guy is a walking history book."
Quilantan's dream slot would be getting Erykah Badu to give a lecture. She interviewed Badu once while she was writing, and says she was immensely insightful. "I could listen to that woman talk all day. She has a beautiful way with words, even just in conversation," Quilantan says, gushing about the experience. "I think talking to her about the creative process would be a huge asset to any musician in Dallas." Florence, on the other hand, thinks it'd be rad to book Robert Wilonsky, managing editor for Dallas Morning News, radio hall of famer Mike Rhyner and, of course, Willie Nelson.
Next month, the series will be "The Year in Dallas Music Criticism," and feature three speakers from three Dallas media outlets: The Observer, Central Track, and D Magazine. Jeff Gage, Pete Freedman and Chris Mosley will be representing each publication, respectively, and talking about the effects and influence of music writing in the city. Don't worry, Florence says, he's going to make sure there's extra security so the evening doesn't end with Freedman putting Gage in a headlock (Sorry, Jeff. His words, not mine).
Quilantan and Florence, first and foremost, wanted to turn Off the Record into a hub of creativity, bringing together the minds and efforts of Dallas music scene members. By continuing to push High Fidelity to be more community-driven and inspired, Florence says he hopes to bring together as many different people as possible.
"We want to bring together musicians, bands, vinyl lovers, journalists," he says. "We want to be the place where people come to discuss the goings-on over a pint. Or three."
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