DFW Music News

The Rail Club Reopens Hoping to Shake Off Its Tragic Past

Kevin Dunlap stands in the darkness of The Rail Club discussing the changes that he and co-owners Josh Campbell and Kyle Booker made to transform what was once known as Fort Worth’s premier metal venue into a full-blown music venue for all genres of music.

Dunlap, a 26-year-old McKinney native, looks like some of the metal heads who once called The Rail Club a second home. He prefers black outfits that include a concert T-shirt and ball cap.

“It’s definitely my goal to try to get rid of the metal stigma that we have,” Dunlap says. “We’re not trying to kick it out the door, but we’re wanting a more genre-neutral venue.”

That stigma included its fair share of tragedy. Back in 2012, Rigor Mortis guitarist Mike Scaccia died onstage of a heart attack while playing Bruce Corbitt's 50th birthday party. Then followed the even darker mark left by Donovan Warren, former lead singer of 100 Proof Hatred and a Rail Club regular who was indicted by a Tarrant County grand jury for purposely infecting several women with HIV. He killed himself before trial began.

The new and improved Rail Club held its grand reopening on December 31 with Texas Hippie Coalition providing the entertainment to a crowd of more than 250 people, many of whom were impressed with the changes. Some of those changes included the bar and the stage switching places to offer fans more room to gather in front of the bands and more room for the music to flow across the crowd.

Big Bad Rich, lead singer for Texas Hippie Coalition, remembers playing on the old stage and how the music would slap back and hit the musicians instead of flowing across the room.

“Music can travel quite a distance and needs space to grow,” Rich says. “We call them ‘waves.’”

The metal guitars that once decorated the walls were also removed and returned to their rightful owners, Dunlap says. The only remnant of the old club that remained was the giant Rail Club logo that paid homage to the club’s Texas roots now hanging behind the bar.

"We wanted to keep it as a reminder," Dunlap adds.
The history of The Rail Club is rather murky if you ask some of the guys who frequent the club. Some claim it was once a “well-respected strip joint" or “dance studio,” depending on whom you ask, while others remember it as a place that catered to the country music frame of mind.

The Rail Club became the premier metal venue when it opened its doors in 2010. Since then, the club has hosted local acts such as Volume Dealer, Generator and 100 Proof Hatred and national acts such as Warbeast, Down and Texas Hippie Coalition.

Five years after The Rail opened its doors, owner Buster O’Keefe told the Observer that he decided to sell the club to take care of his elderly father.

Campbell, a metal head who frequented the club since its early days, decided to buy the club with his partner after a “gut feeling” that the place had potential to be something greater than it was.

Campbell and Booker decided that they wanted to transform The Rail to resemble clubs like Three Links and Trees in Deep Ellum as well as offer a variety of lineups similar to those clubs.

“As far as I’m concerned, if Alanis Morissette wants to play here, I’m going to let her,” Campbell told the Observer early this year.
Dunlap, who once worked for AEG Live, joined Campbell and Booker on this visionary adventure in early May and took over duties of booking and marketing. He began booking acts such as Sepultura, Reverend Horton Heat and Chelsea Grin.

In late October, Dunlap set up a Gofund Me account asking fans of The Rail to help him raise $10,000 to fulfill Campbell and Booker’s vision for the club. He offered perks that included attending the VIP contributor’s party on Dec. 30 and threw in a free pitcher of beer if people donated more than $50. If someone donated $200 or more, he threw in a private bottle of Grey Goose or Crown Royal, depending on the person’s preference.

The cost of the remodel, he wrote, would be $75,000 to implement the improvements that they wanted to make. These improvements included improving the PA system, relocating the bar, refurbishing the floor and bringing in larger national acts.

Those guys over at Trees lost their asses when they brought in Deftones to play, Dunlap says. But people were talking about it for weeks.

Dunlap raised $95 of the $10,000 needed.

The Rail team was able to raise more funds from private donations but paid for a majority of the remodel job. They closed The Rail in November and spent two months remodeling the club, but they weren’t able to finish all of it by the December 31 deadline. The liquor shelves weren’t completed, although Dunlap says that they would have the shelves hung and stocked by this weekend.

The Rail will be hosting Anthony Green, the lead singer of Circa Survive and Saosin, on Saturday night, 100 Proof Hatred (now fronted by Derek "D-Rock" Walker) on January 15, Lockjaw on the 23rd and Austin Jones on 26th. For more details visit The Rail Club website.   
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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.