Music venues tend to open and shut as often as kitchen cabinets. The tricky part is keeping them afloat for longer than six months.
As the Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff marks its fifth anniversary as a concert venue, we asked artistic director Jeff Liles and theater owner Edwin Cabaniss how it's managed to thrive for so long in a city crawling with live music spots.
"We've found the intersection of where art meets commerce," says Cabaniss, a financial investor by trade and a music junkie at heart. "We want to bring in incredible, artistic acts, but at the end of the day, we also understand how to bring in more revenue than goes out."
"This place is the complete antithesis to those corporate music venues where you have to pay 10 bucks to park and you get wanded at the door," says Liles, sitting next to Cabaniss in the Kessler's art deco lobby bar. "This is a neighborhood kind of place where the people who work here know your name."
Of the 750-or-so shows staged so far at the Kessler, here are five of the most notable from the first five years, in no particular order, as picked by Liles and Cabaniss.
Sandaga Jazz at the Kessler, March 5, 2010
Cabaniss: This was our first informal show. We didn't even have a stage, a marquee or a bar, but we had electricity, and we agreed to have the after-party for Wynton Marsalis' concert. At 10:30 p.m., nobody was there, but by midnight, every jazz cat in the city showed up with their instruments. When Damon K. Clark started singing at 1:30 a.m., I started tearing up because mentally it clicked that this was finally real. It was the night the Kessler evolved into being the Kessler.
St. Vincent, Oct. 22-23, 2011
Liles: When we first started, the economy was terrible and we were able to get artists who'd rather sell out a small room than play to a half-empty bigger house. Annie Clark fell in love with the place. For me, those St. Vincent shows were two of the best we ever had. It was the moment this place arrived.
Wanda Jackson, Feb. 26, 2011
Cabaniss: The place is sold out because she just did an album with Jack White. It's a crazy mob, and it's time for her to go on, but she's got laryngitis and she's still asleep in her room at the Joule.
Liles: She has no voice at all, and isn't going to do the show. But Edwin finally gets her from the Joule and drives her here. Danny Balis, the bass player from the King Bucks, lifts her out of the Suburban, gives her the inspiration to do it and helps her onstage. And boom! After the first song, her voice is back and the show is amazing.
Jake Bugg, Oct. 5, 2013
Cabaniss: His tour bus rolls in behind the theater and Jeff has a football, but Jake's from England and clearly hasn't thrown one before, so he's throwing ducks and people are giving him [expletive]. So Jake goes back into the bus, brings out a soccer ball and says "This is a real football" and starts juggling it on one foot. For the next hour, we have the World Cup of Oak Cliff, Brits vs. Americans, three-on-three, with a hundred young girls lined up on the sidewalk watching. After all that, he takes a rest, and still puts on an extraordinary two-hour performance.
Heavy Make-Up, Nov. 4, 2011
Liles: Edie Brickell was born in Oak Cliff and she and New Bohemians wanted to create a totally improvised show as Heavy Make-Up. And they killed it. So many artists play the same set night after night, but these are musicians with mad chops, pushing their limits. It takes a certain kind of audience to go along with that, not knowing what to expect. And that's the idea of this place. It's a place where transcendental moments happen every single night.
By Thor Christensen