Reverend Horton Heat is one of Dallas' gems. The stage name of artist Jim Heath (as well as the moniker of his backing band), Rev. Horton Heat is arguably the most recognizable psychobilly outfit of all time. Forgetting for the moment Heath's legendary pedigree and white-hot '90s heyday, he's more recently helped birth one of Dallas' newest music festivals, Elm Street Music & Tattoo Festival.
In collaboration with famed ink-master Oliver Peck, not to mention a legion of behind-the-scenes personnel, Heath is aiming to create a festival experience unlike any other. Now in its second year, the event has grown to five days, taking over the neighborhood for the better part of a week.
"There are others (combined tattoo and music festivals) around the country, but doing it in Deep Ellum the way we're doing it makes it really special," Heath says. "Oliver is a cool guy, one of the best [tattoo artists] in the world, and Deep Ellum is one of the coolest areas to have music in the whole world." Heath's right, too: this combination proved to be a recipe for success, with Tattoo Fest standing as one the most memorable Dallas music events of 2013.
The concept for the event began when Peck contacted Heath about an idea for a music slash tattoo festival. Almost immediately Heath was on board and things just snowballed from there. Before the two knew it, they had a festival on their hands. "We decided to do a festival only like two months before the actual festival happened," says Heath.
Although the string of events that led to the fest's creation unfolded quite rapidly, the Reverend was well aware of the risks involved. "This is the first festival I've been a partner in," Heath points out. "We were pretty thrilled with the success of last year because those things can have a way of breaking the bank, losing a lot of money. You never know how they're gonna' do; it's a real gamble every time you do something like that." Then he adds with a laugh, "It can be completely successful artistically and completely bankrupt me too."
With that said, Heath insists that he's no stranger to risk. He's also quick to mention that he's willing to take such risks to make Tattoo Fest even better than before. "We're really throwing caution to the wind and just trying to make it as good as possible," he says. One aspect of Heath's eagerness to assure the fest's success sees him wearing many hats, juggling several roles at once: he's a financial backer, an organizer, a performer twice over (he plays both with his band and as a solo act this year) and a promoter. With respect to promotion, Heath's not afraid to get his hands dirty, even doing some of the foot-on-the-ground legwork himself. "I've been going around with posters and flyers and going into shops and hanging posters when I can," Heath says.
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Although 2013 was the festival's inaugural year, in many ways 2014 marks Elm Street Music & Tattoo Festival's true beginning. With considerably more time to plan and promote, the fest promises to be a stronger, more organized affair. "We had a lot more lead time this year," Heath explains. "This year it's promoted right." In other words, this year's Tattoo Fest, along with the event's continued future, looks brighter than ever.
Still, no matter what the future holds, and no matter how big the festival gets, Heath assured me that Tattoo Fest will always remain a Dallas, Texas product: "I want to fly the Dallas flag," he says. "We'll always have the Dallas and Texas and regional stuff. The roots will always be there." In fact, it's not just a matter of staying true to the city's roots; it's also about showing the rest of the world what it can do. "To have something [like this] happen in Dallas I think is really cool because, you know, everybody talks about Austin," he continues. "A lot of people don't realize that Dallas is a scene, man -- an important one...Hopefully this festival will grow and maybe spread the word about that."
Heath, going through the list of acts who are playing this year's festival, allows himself a moment of pride. "It's going to be a memorable event," he remarks, as though thinking out loud to himself. Then, under his breath, perhaps contemplating the festival and its evolution over one short year, he adds, "It's inspiring." Indeed it is.
REV. HORTON HEAT plays Elm St. Music and Tattoo Festival with Scott H. Biram, the American Fuse and Austin Lucas, 7 p.m., Saturday, June 14 at Trees, 2709 Elm St., $15/$20 at the door.