Melissa Davis Hennings stumbled into photography, really: Her first shot was The Black Keys. But taking photos of local bands isn't how she makes ends meet. She's the bar manager at The Kessler, an ideal gig for someone with such an eye for capturing live performance.
Your very first photography subject was The Black Keys. It was 2006. I went to Houston with a friend who is a photographer to see the Black Keys at the Meridian, and he had an extra camera. He let me shoot the band. I was hooked!
You didn't go to school to learn visual arts? I studied Interior Design at the Art Institute of Dallas, and studied art and its history at El Centro. My favorite subjects in school were art history, history of architecture, art appreciation and drafting.
Where did the affinity for music come from? When my grandfather and his friend would plug their guitars into the amp and play, when I was a kid. I remember hearing Johnny Cash, Willie, Waylon and Loretta. I didn't really like country but have always liked Dylan, The Doors, Allmans. I was a teenager when I got obsessed with The Cure's Disintegration and everything they did before that. I HATED most '80s music, especially pop. GACK! Today, I love The Black Keys, St. Vincent, Spindrift, Black Mountain, Grizzly Bear, and The Black Angels.
Favorite local music subjects to shoot? I love shooting St. Vincent, Damon K. Clark, Hunter Hendrickson, James Hall, Luna Matto, Tiger Darrow, Dan Dyer, Cricket Taylor and Jim Suhler.
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Additionally, who's in your playlist that's based in town? RTB2, Mike Graff (Halls of the Machine), Polyphonic Spree, Kirby Kelley, Kristy Kruger, The Beaten Sea, Fox and the Bird, Lalagray, Descender, Maleveller, Lucky Peterson, New Fumes and the list goes on.
Before The Kessler, you were at Terilli's, at the time it burned down? I was working at Terilli's at the time. On March 2, 2010, it burned to the ground. Luckily, the Kessler was about two weeks away from opening, and needed a bartender and bar staff. A handful of us have been there ever since.
I imagine there's just as many hurdles as perks. The hardest part is since we are a pretty small crew at the Kessler, there are a ton of responsibilities and many of our individual tasks often overlap. Sometimes it makes it hard to get out from behind the bar and shoot photographs. On rare occasions, like when The Black Angels, Roky Erickson and James Hall played, I'll take the night off just to shoot pictures. The easiest part is hanging out after the show and sharing the experience with those of us who helped to put it on.
Logistics and practicality aside,what would you alter/change/improve about DFW's local music community if you had the political power to do so? Music and politics are kind of two different things. I like the idea of the music scene developing organically, without a political agenda. It doesn't need a mayor or single spokesperson.