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On a Clear, Maskless Night, Deep Ellum Showed Its Face Again

A crowd waiting to go into Opera. Unlike the Phantom, they were maskless.EXPAND
A crowd waiting to go into Opera. Unlike the Phantom, they were maskless.
Elvis Anderson
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When Gov. Greg Abbott reopened the Lone Star State, many assumed Texans would raid Dallas nightlife spots like Black Friday shoppers overrunning a Walmart. They're not.

“It’s calmer than expected," said DJ Inzo from his Volgswagen bus-themed DJ booth at the Backyard bar in Deep Ellum.

Max, a doorman at Anvil Pub echoed the sentiment, but with more color: “Last Friday and Saturday were busier than tonight," he said. "It seems people heard the governor’s announcement were like, ‘Fuck that shit’ and stayed home.”

This week, both Elm and Main Street were sleepy by non-pandemic Thursday night standards, but there was a sense of optimism in Big D's barhopping crowds. The vibe at Deep Ellum Candy Co. was joyful; people were smiling, laughing and having fun.

Delilah DuBois, a maskless burlesque dancer, brought the house down with her seductive sashay on the same stage where BB King once made “Lucille” sing. Her tip bucket-toting assistant, however, was masked up — perhaps as a safety precaution or possibly as a wardrobe strategy to keep the focus on DuBois.

Bottled Blonde had DJ Zillamatic playing an open format set until 2 a.m., and while the bar had the green light to party like it’s 2019, they said they’re taking baby steps. A few folks were wearing masks (most were not); the decision is left to the people.

“These recent changes are a relief because we were dealt a tough hand," said Bottled Blonde manager Mike Massof. “With this location [Bottled Blonde] and our sister venue next door Backyard, we have 115 employees and we’re dealing with real lives and people have to pay their bills, which is tough because we refused a lot of business due to the CDC guidelines.

"Masks aren’t required, but we’re doing things right and taking it slow,” he added.

The only mask-requiring establishment in the area on Thursday night was It’ll Do Club, where Johnny Funk was opening for headliner Gardenstate. The masks at Dallas’ seasoned dance music establishment were a show on their own. Some were Anjunabeats-themed, in honor of the record label Gardenstate represents, while others had laser lights. One LED mask illustrated a sword-wielding samurai warrior surfing on the back of a fire-breathing dragon high in the sky overlooking the Great Wall of China.

Matthew Felner is one half of Gardenstate. Marcus Schössow, the other half, is on lockdown at his home in Sweden. The two created the project back in 2019, just as the pandemic was about to rear its horrendous face. After producing a few tunes to the liking of Anjuna brass, they struck a deal with the label and were sworn in as official members of the “Anjunafamily”.

Felner’s story, however, is the epitome of the contemporary music industry victim. Like many in the business, he wears many hats which were all canceled by New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania where he operates.

“I really envy you guys [in Texas]," he said. "As for the state of dance music now — and I’m speaking as a talent buyer, festival owner, promoter and DJ — I’m just trying to make ends meet.”

An industry refugee, Felner moved from his home in Jersey City to Miami as a survival tactic. He flew to Dallas on a one-way ticket because he can be anywhere right now — except home.

He played a three-hour set at It’ll Do and at its peak, around 1 a.m., the glow-in-the-dark masks on the dance floor were bouncing. A good crowd, but far from max capacity, and the place went off with a healthy fever as people dug into the music. Near the end of his set, Felner put on his black mask and joined the dance floor. Not many realized they were dancing with the man on the controls because, well, he was wearing a mask.

Felner and his fans chatted in the parking lot after the show. People with big smiles gathered around Felner, thanking him for a good time.

“No, no, no, you guys have no idea how much I appreciate you and how much I appreciate everyone coming out,” Felner replied.

There’s incredible irony in the name Gardenstate, which also doubles as New Jersey’s nickname. Felner likely would have chosen another moniker if he’d known his home state would eventually almost run him out of business.

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