The groundbreaking at the Kessler in Oak Cliff on Friday evening provided one of the most surreal sights I've seen in my seven years of covering local music: a dread-locked musician standing side-by-side with the mayor of a major city, as both used golden shovels to dig into ceremonial dirt piles.
Specifically, Jeff Liles and Dallas mayor Tom Leppert were among the handful of officials and musicians to join theater owner Edwin Cabaniss in the symbolic beginning of the restoration process that will transform the burnt-out shell into a mixed-use venue that will include a performance space, dance studio, art gallery and more. (Full disclosure: my wife will likely use a studio at the Kessler for piano and vocal instruction.) Liles and other Dallas music veterans (including former Decadent Dub Team-mate Paul Quigg and Nervebreaker Barry Kooda) are consulting Cabaniss on music booking and sound at the venue.
Cabaniss gave a thumbnail history of the theater, which was started out as a swanky single-screen movie theater, was briefly owned by Gene Autry and later used as a tabernacle during the 1950s until it was damaged by a tornado in 1957. As audience members chugged bottled water and fanned themselves in the sweltering theater, he spoke about having the place represent the culture of Oak Cliff while drawing in guests from outside the community. Cabaniss said he and architect Richard Davis are targeting a mid-December opening--which sounded rather optimistic, considering that the place is completely gutted right now. But, he promised, "In six months, you're not going to recognize it."
He then introduced Leppert, referring to the mayor as his mentor.
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"I'm the only idiot with a wool coat, so you can be sure this will be quick," Leppert joked before thanking Cabaniss for having the faith in the community that it would take to turn the theater from an eyesore into "a special jewel in the North Oak Cliff area."
Next, Dallas acoustic guitar whiz Emily Elbert performed a couple of songs, starting with the very appropriate "In The Summertime" and finishing with "Thinking Hybrid, Redirected."
Fort Worth Weekly contributor and former Oak Cliff resident Ken Shimamoto wrote about his visit on his Stash Dauber blog, and over at the Dallas Observer's music blog for the 40+ set, Robert Wilonsky posted a link to Elbert's performance.