And we all weep. . .
09:23 AM CST on Wednesday, December 12, 2007
By MICHAEL GRANBERRY / The Dallas Morning News
Music blog: Where else can teens hang out or catch live music?
Location info: Rock Steady music venue
PLANO – Back in 2006, Lindy Denham got tired of driving his aspiring-rock-star son to gigs as far away as Lewisville, Grand Prairie and Deep Ellum. So, the McKinney dad opted to open his own venue.
Almost overnight, Rock Steady earned its buzz as an alcohol-free venue where teenagers could groove to their kind of rock. For almost two years, the strip-mall club has provided a home to such amateur sensations as Gym Class Dropouts, the Cadillac Incident and those death-metal mavens I, the Emperor.
But as much as kids and parents like it, Rock Steady may soon have to close.
Mr. Denham cites the rent ($4,000 a month) and terminal inconsistency in drawing crowds. He drew 325 for the Scene Aesthetic (his capacity is 241), but for a recent fundraiser to benefit a Plano chess team, not one person showed.
Recently at Rock Steady, left to right: Ashley Levesque, 19; Lindsey Frazier, 17; Alysa Edwards, 17; and Taylor Weig, 19 "It hasn't been enough to justify the rent," says the 48-year-old father of two who has a day job as an information technology consultant. "When I told my staff that I was contemplating closing it, there were tears. They have come to identify with Rock Steady, and if it closes, they may be reduced, once again, to the typical things kids do, such as malls and movies."
That would be a shame, fans say, because Rock Steady addresses what many contend are a pair of glaring needs: safe venues for kids between 13 and 18 to hang out, and places for aspiring bands to strut their stuff. Both are rare in the Dallas area.
"It's just a great place to meet a bunch of new people you've never met," says Collin McKinley, 16, a student at Allen High School. "It's also a great place to see and contribute to bands who are traveling across the U.S.A., just trying to make a living."
Pedro Revilla, 19, is a member of one such band, whose hard-rock gyrations shook the walls Saturday night. "Rock Steady provides an opportunity for local bands to come in and showcase what they got," says Mr. Revilla. "If it closes, man, it will be a travesty."
All but hidden in the middle of a row of nondescript businesses near Parker Road and Central Expressway, Rock Steady doesn't look like much, outside or inside. Past its electric-blue door, the ceilings are low and the curtains are black (hand-stitched by Mr. Denham). Its bare wooden stage, 13 inches off the floor, rests atop a cluster of bricks. Each weekend night, the stage is filled with amplifiers, drums, guitars and electric cords. And, of course, hope.
Owner Lindy Denham speaks to the audience while Sami Kramer and Shelbi Watkins pose for a cell phone photo. The sound is loud enough to shake the floor and walls, which are covered with posters: Green Day, the Ramones, Dead Kennedys.
"The genesis of Rock Steady," says Mr. Denham, "is that parents would not let their kids go to Deep Ellum. The only other place they could hear live music was Fat Daddy's Sound Shack in Lewisville, which I don't even consider competition because it's so far away."
His son Don, 18, formerly of Gym Class Dropouts (they have since merged with Westchester), had played a club near Southern Methodist University that Mr. Denham says was terrifying. A shooting in the parking lot triggered the decision to open his own club.
He took over an abandoned Tex-Mex restaurant that had a liquor license, which he surrendered as soon as possible. He began charging $10 per person (parents excepted) for shows on Friday and Saturday nights and occasional Sundays.
Kids love the concessions (only $1 for nachos) and the fact that Mr. Denham puts no restrictions on noise. (He's never without his pair of $300 noise-canceling headphones.) But booking the bands is often a spotty exercise.
If a touring band drops out at the last minute, Mr. Denham sees a sharp and dramatic downturn. Sure, he doesn't have to pay the band, but because local groups like playing with a well-known headliner, they cancel as well.
Plus, rent and utilities aren't cheap. When a 20-ton air conditioner went bust, it cost him $9,000 – and that was only half the bill (the landlord picked up the other half).
"I was severely undercapitalized for what I needed to do," he says.
The location is not the easiest to find, and advertising has proved to be as tricky as it is expensive. Kids listen to so many radio stations these days, how can you pick just one?
So, the inevitable may soon arrive.
"If I don't get a dramatic increase in what's going on, I'll probably shut it down," possibly within weeks, he says.
He says he was recently approached by a Dallas club owner (whom he declines to name), saying the potential buyer envisions Rock Steady as a kind of farm club where acts could be groomed before heading to sexier venues.
Continuing to go it alone is almost out of the question, says Mr. Denham, since he has operated at a loss since the venue opened.
"From a financial standpoint," he says, "Rock Steady has been a silly idea. But that's the only way it's been a silly idea."
He treasures the fact that kids have a safe place to go on weekend evenings, something they continually tell him. He's proud of having showcased the likes of Sages and Saints and the Secret Handshake. His stage has served as the launching pad for such singers as Patrick Alan, the Allen-based lead singer of Shorelines End, whose acoustic indie rock recently led to a record deal.
Mr. Denham is also proud of the Rock Steady crowd. He acknowledges that one of his strip-mall neighbors has complained about the noise. But over the course of 400 shows, he says, "I've had only two incidents": one involving a kid with marijuana, the other a fistfight. Security has never been an issue.
"This is a great place," says Brandon Wilson, 18, a recent graduate of Allen High. "It's a good place for kids to come out and have a good time, to hang with friends. It keeps them into the music. They're not out drinking. They're here, relaxing and having fun. On a Friday or Saturday night, I can't think of any place I'd rather be. And if it goes, yes, it would truly be a shame."