On Saturday night, a large crowd packed into a new venue in South Dallas for a show with Crit Life. As cold as it was outside, people still came out and found this new place, many of them gladly standing outside waiting in an enormous line. Inside the atmosphere was very different than most shows; this isn't a club or even a venue but a party with live music. And, remarkably, it had only been announced just a few days earlier. Such is the buzz surrounding We Are Dallas.
We Are Dallas has been putting on shows in various venues since 2012, but in October they found their own place, a semi-circular structure near WAAS Gallery with 4,000 square feet and a granulated steel exterior. Inside, the building has a gloomy antique look that is visually striking. After finding the place via Craigslist, We Are Dallas cleared out the remains of an automobile tire shop and had a couple parties this fall. Last month, they started having live music.
Tommy Jay, owner and creative director of We Are Dallas, recalls the scene over the weekend. "We were wall-to-wall," he says. "The line was crazy outside the door." As a graphic designer, Jay once considered moving to New York or California. But a passion for local music not only kept him in Dallas, but drove him to provide another platform for local artists. He looks at the local scene and sees young geniuses focusing on their craft with endless potential. But sometimes these local artists have no place to perform.
This is where he wants to make a difference. Jay named his brand We Are Dallas because he wanted to do shows that illustrate how specific the culture is in Dallas. He believes the local scene is distinct and formidable not only compared to Houston and Austin, but even New York City and L.A. Jay also views We Are Dallas as a whole new kind of concept, a place to see live music and network without having to spend a bunch of money or worrying about whether or not your attire is proper. "This is something in between a club or a venue where you are not profiled," he says. "You can dress how you want to dress and be who you want to be."
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Jay insists that it's not "his party" -- "It's for the city," he says -- but it is a party. The lights are kept on all night long, they are not dimmed for performers. On Saturday night, a crowd of over 300 crammed into the building. The area where the venue is located is not your typical nightlife hotspot, but the parking lot was full and cars were parked up and down the surrounding streets. The crowd had a great energy. "It was very positive," Jay says. "And it wasn't one demographic."
This is not a full-fledged stage and bar type of venue. The crowd was lively, even rambunctious, but there were no incidents. Jay has a security staff that makes its presence known. It makes everyone feel safe and gives him one less thing to worry about. There was a general sense of astonishment in the air that night. Standing inside the wide open space of the venue in the enormous crowd, it was hard to believe so many different people made it out on a cold night and found the place.
One of the ingredients Jay sees for the success of We Are Dallas is diversity. He wants different types of hip-hop put together on his bills and also plans to have music from all genres. He is interested in showcasing other types of performances and art as well, but sees music as the natural core that attracts all other arts and entertainment. Music attracts art and fashion, for example, and these elements quickly started to become a part of the We Are Dallas shows. "Music brings people together in so many ways," Jay says. "We all have that one common denominator; we like music."
What is perhaps most striking about We Are Dallas and its recent success is the approach to promotion. Jay has a small team that tries to promote shows at least a couple weeks before events. But he has noticed how effective it can be to start spreading the word just a week or even a few days prior. The Crit Life show over the weekend is the best example of this. The event was not originally planned and Jay only had a few days to promote it.
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"Dealing with this social media," Jays says. "People's mind frames are microwaved, they want it quick." Before social media was so vital to concert promotion, it made sense to immediately start spreading the word. But now people are constantly getting notifications about so many events that it can be difficult to remember them all or even tell them apart from each other. "We'll just flood it out for that four-day span to keep it on your mind," he says. "I feel like we get more out of that strategy."
But Jay also stresses the importance of a street team. "We go from the old school approach with the hand-to-hand flyer on top of using social media," he says. "Social media's cool, but there's nothing like that hand-to-hand." Even though he is a graphic designer, Jay actually doesn't see a need for flyers that are artistic or specifically designed for the event. Simple generic flyers that convey the information are effective, effortless and cheap.
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