Musicians like Mike Mitchell, Bobby Sparks and Frank Moka, all of whom have either won or been nominated for a Grammy, don’t want to be told what to play. They want to do what they want to do, says Corey Pond, founder of restaurant-live music combo The Common Table. When they’re at The Common Table, there are virtually no rules.
“The rules are, try to start on time, which they rarely do, and don’t be a jackass,” Pond says.
Pond could have never imagined acts as big as these would play at his place for what he can pay them. The musicians get taken care of at The Common Table, Pond says. They get fed, they get a pretty large tab and they get paid a pretty standard rate. It’s nowhere near what they’re worth, but they keep coming back, he says.
The Common Table has been pretty middle-of-the road over the years. There was a good mix of original acts and cover artists being booked by local event producer Spune, but generally speaking, it was a safer selection of music. Spune still books all the live shows at The Common Table’s Frisco location, but a little less than a year ago, Pond decided to steer his Uptown spot in a new direction.
A friend of Pond’s, Matthew Kurzman, could be seen at nearly every show at The Common Table, or nearly any show in North Texas.
“(Matthew’s) just a local music junkie, a Deep Ellum guy,” Pond says. “Pretty much all he does is go to shows.”
The two found themselves at the Twilite Lounge on some Fridays to catch local electronic musician Marc Rebillet. Afterward, Pond and Kurzman would venture off to find some soul, funk or R&B set taking place somewhere in Deep Ellum. Through this, they met people like Frank Moka and Cleon Edwards, the drummer and percussionist for Erykah Badu, and many others.
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Meanwhile, Pond was beginning to notice that it didn’t seem to make a difference who he booked. The shows at The Common Table were often not well-attended. Pond would eventually book Rebillet, which he says marked a philosophical change in the venue’s live music. Then, Kurzman took over the booking in Uptown.
"(Kurzman) understood what was going on at The Common Table at a granular level much more than Spune did," Pond says. "He started booking it in October. The philosophical changes preceded that, but only by a few months."
Given the venue's live music direction, which somewhat resembles what John Jay Myers is doing at The Free Man Lounge and Cafe, some might liken The Common Table to a slice of Deep Ellum in Uptown. But Pond does not agree with this assessment. If he had to compare his place to Deep Ellum, he would say The Common Table is more reminiscent of a spot in the '80s and '90s Deep Ellum.
"For years, we got criticized for being in Uptown," Pond says. "Now, Uptown's more tolerable than it used to be and people want to compare us to Deep Ellum, but we're not like Deep Ellum. The only thing that makes us similar to Deep Ellum, to me, is that we have live music."
Additionally, Pond says, everything that used to be annoying about Uptown Dallas has, for the most part, moved to Deep Ellum.
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"All the bottle-service clubs are leaving Uptown and going to Deep Ellum, the traffic is bad down there, all the idiots from out of town go there," he says. "I'm quick to distance myself from the new Deep Ellum."
Now that all these big-time acts are playing The Common Table, what surprises Pond today is that a lot of people still don't come out to see them. Attendance has improved, but it's still hard for the venue to pull a crowd.
"It surprises me that you can have Grammy Award-winning artists play in one of the largest markets in the United States and pay them as little as we're able to pay them," he says. "What's even more shocking than that is how few people come to see free live local music performed by Grammy Award-winning artists."
As a business person, Pond says, of course, he would like to see 150 people turn out to shows at The Common Table. But, as a music lover, he just wishes more people would come out to see the acts being booked because they're so damn good.