It's fitting, perhaps, that Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West, played Dallas last week. The guy's starred in a few movies, like Field of Dreams. And a few others, I think. But let's keep the focus on Field of Dreams—or, more specifically, on that one line from that movie.
You know: "If you build it, they will come."
'Cause, with any luck, that's what should be happening in the Knox-Henderson area of Dallas right about now, at least as far as local live music is concerned.
Last Thursday night, at Vickery Park, just one of a whole slew of Henderson Avenue drinking holes, local rock trio Dead Twins entered the decidedly non-music venue to play a free 45-minute set as part of the bar's "Thursdays in February" event. The weekly affair features four different music acts performing each Thursday night this month to a crowd that isn't actively pursuing that kind of night out on the town.
As such, Thursday night tossed a few challenges the Dead Twins' way—most notably, the fact that a good 50 percent of the crowd really didn't give a crap that the band was there to entertain them.
"You guys having a good time tonight?" guitarist and frontman Gabe Cardinale asked the audience two songs into the band's loud set.
The response? Modest applause.
"Well, fuck you," Cardinale retorted.
He was half-kidding, sure. But were he serious, that would've been OK too. Because, let's be honest, Vickery Park is a fine establishment, but it's not a bar ready-made for music, even if the band's performance added a small shot of adrenaline into the already decent vibe of the room.
There was no stage—just a spot in the front left-hand corner of the barroom, nestled into a cave-like area in which a column partially hid the frontman from the crowd. The sound was makeshift: The temporary PA system brought in by the bar's owners was decent at best, leaving the band's set marred by squeals and loud buzzes during and between songs ("That's the bad kind of feedback," Cardinale pointed out at one point). And the temporary lighting—a set of LEDs hung from the ceiling a few feet in front of the "stage"—also had issues. At one point the lights went out and, instead of waiting for the performance to come to a close, bar employees grabbed a chair and tended to them, again blocking the performers from sight.
To Gabe, Nick (drums) and Justin (bass) Cardinale's credit, Dead Twins didn't let these issues hold them back; their very Todd Vaden Lewis-inspired brand of good ol' fashioned rock 'n' roll managed to maintain its swagger throughout the short set, even as it became somewhat difficult for the bar patrons who were paying attention to remain interested.
"We're the Dead Twins, and we're the last great thing to happen to this town," Gabe shouted about halfway through his band's performance. Gotta admire that kind of bravado, even if it's flat-out false. But other sentiments the Cardinales shared over the course of the night rang truer.
As Dead Twins bounced through its set, fans who'd shown up to support the band and the event (which is being thrown by former Gypsy Tea Room booking agent Scott Beggs) focused on the band as best they could, but aside from a few whoops and claps after songs, the audience remained largely disconnected from the performance.
"Let me hear you," Gabe pleaded with the audience at one point. "I'm sending out all these messages of love. I need to hear you back."
When the crowd responded nonchalantly, Gabe turned back to his band mates, somewhat dejected: "This is the life you chose. The three of us."
Finally, the crowd responded with knowing laughter. Those paying attention—mostly musicians, booking agents, sound engineers, label execs and band managers—appreciated for a moment the audacity of what the band and the event were trying to do.
For years, the Dallas music community has been fighting the good fight, trying to get audiences to attend the shows it holds in the few parts of town that still support local music: Deep Ellum, Exposition Park, Lower Greenville, South Lamar Street, a few spots downtown and maybe Upper Greenville, if you count the current location of the Barley House. But since the demise of the old location of the Barley House, just down the road from Vickery Park, there's been nary a live music show worth paying attention to in the town's busiest nightlife districts in Uptown.
On this night, at least for a brief moment, you could see the good that could come out of bringing live music back to this part of town. You could see the industry types excited about the fact that there was somewhere else for them to ply their craft. You could see the audiences that the music scene hasn't yet tapped.
And, surely, as The Riverboat Gamblers take to the stage this Thursday night, the crowds will be more captivated by the offerings. The venue, too, will be more prepared with how to present its shows.
Which brings us back to "If you build it, they will come." Let's put things into perspective here: This was the first go live music's had in this part of town in quite some time—and, from what I could tell, the number of people in the bar was at least comparable to if not bigger than the usual crowd.
Since the Barley House moved north of Mockingbird Lane, the idea seems to have been put to rest. But why? On this night, which hadn't exactly been well-promoted, the bar seemed to do OK. And now that the first night's out of the way, the crowds are likely to only increase over the following Thursdays.
Because, in this town, if you bill it, and you don't totally screw it up, people will come. If only to see what the fuss is about.
"Remember back when Dallas had a music scene?" Gabe Cardinale asked the crowd toward the end of his band's set. "Yeah, that was cool."