For eight years, talent buyer John Iskander has been synonymous with his production company, Parade of Flesh, which has evolved into a very specific brand of live entertainment. But he also has other endeavors, like booking free shows at The Foundry, a bar paired with The Chicken Scratch restaurant. As it turns out, his approach to booking shows at an eating establishment is just as unique as his work as a regular promoter.
When you walk into an eating establishment that occasionally hosts live entertainment — a BBQ joint with a bar, for example — you typically know exactly what kind of music you are going to hear: country or Americana. These places often bring the same type of music, and often the same acts, week after week. The bands usually aren’t a major draw or a big surprise. “If you’re just playing for background music that’s fine,” says Iskander. “But are you wanting to book to get people to show up? There should be a little bit of both.”
With The Foundry’s outdoor weekend shows that run from spring through fall, Iskander tried a different approach. Instead of announcing a free show a few days prior, he sets up the calendar a month or two in advance. “It allows The Foundry to promote the shows and do the due diligence that the bands deserve,” Iskander says. He also books all kinds of different music, bringing in acts that are both local and national, drawing different crowds. “I don’t want to saturate it with just one thing and have it get stigmatized,” he explains. A few bands have played The Foundry more than once, but there is a great deal of time in between shows. “It’s hard to book or justify paying bands if they are playing every three to seven days,” he says.
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But there have been some recent events that were especially noteworthy. Last weekend, Futurebirds and Roadkill Ghost Choir played great sets and packed the place on a night when the Rolling Stones, Courtney Barnett and several other acts played Dallas. Last month, people all over the city were shocked to find out that Follakzoid, a minimalist cosmic trance band from Chile, were playing for free at The Foundry. Not only that, but they were playing with Ex-Cult, the kickass punk band from Memphis. These are shows that would typically be at a place like Club Dada.
Drawing all sorts of different crowds to a location off the beaten path would seem to be a challenge. But it apparently wasn’t much of a struggle for Iskander, who acts like he never even gave the matter much thought. But it’s an impressive feat nonetheless. “It’s a good atmosphere,” Iskander says with a shrug. Indeed, The Foundry makes you feel like you are getting out of the city without too far of a drive. And with numerous residences popping up all around it, the crowds should be getting even bigger.
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Iskander sees these shows as a break for himself and for the bands. The Futurebirds show was a perfect example. With so much competition that night, the stress of selling tickets could’ve ruined the show; the band may have even skipped Dallas. But they cheerfully played their sets to a great audience and Iskander, for the most part, was able to relax and enjoy the show. For touring bands, The Foundry is a bright spot. It gives Dallas a good look. They know exactly what they are getting paid, they can pull up right behind the stage and unload, and people show up. “I know how awful and grueling and irritating it can be on the road,” Iskander says. “It’s a no-hassle day on a tour.”
Some of these free Foundry shows are also promoted as Parade of Flesh shows. Iskander has started to mix the two. How can Screaming Females be playing a free show at Foundry this fall? A good size crowd would pay money to see them perform in a Deep Ellum venue. Iskander sees this type of show as a gift to both fans and bands. “Why would I saturate the weekend with another ticketed show?” he asks. He wants to give his fan base a break.
But for the majority of these free shows, Iskander is simply doing the booking, with The Foundry and bands handling promotion. After years of promoting Parade of Flesh shows, he clearly enjoys this arrangement. “If the shows are good enough people will go,” he says. “But if you’re in a local band and you’re not willing to just tell people about your show, make an event page, or make a flyer, then why are you doing it?” he asks. “If you can’t draw on a free show, you shouldn’t be playing shows at all.”