On a recent Sunday evening, two seated songwriters, armed with acoustic guitars, performed for a respectful group of a hundred or so hushed patrons. Frisco-raised songwriter Dalton Domino and Stephenville-based songwriter Jason Eady took turns singing songs and telling the stories behind many of the tunes.
From the show's beginning, it was obvious each artist enjoyed the close attention the attendees paid to them in the quiet, dimly lighted space.
"So, this is a lot better than playing at the Midnight Rodeo," Domino said with a laugh, referring to a chain of dance clubs he's also played.
He may have been kidding, but he was clearly blown away by the fact that that night's environment lent itself so well to songs he had recently written, and that the crowd had yet to hear, rather than focus on his more familiar songs. Places like the Midnight Rodeo may be great for whoopin', hollerin' and throwin' down shots, and for Domino, this was a different gig all together.
The reason could be that this show wasn't taking place in one of the many North Texas clubs or honky-tonks that attract veteran performers. It wasn't in one of the many restaurants that double as legitimate stops for the Texas country circuit, a la Hank's Texas Grill in McKinney or the Magnolia Motor Lounge in Fort Worth. And while it was a Sunday night, it wasn't a live radio broadcast for a radio show on "The Ranch" KFWR-FM (95.9) or "The Range" KHYI-FM (95.3).
It was at an apartment-building clubhouse in the gleaming Ascent Victory Park building. It's Downtown Music Series' new home, after being held for the past three years inside of 1505 Elm St. Both addresses offer a unique, urban place for country music fans to sit and listen — a rarity these days in the genre.
The series is the project of Oklahoma native Kenny Stubblefield, who moved to D-FW in 2010 and started hosting house concerts for up to 40 people in his Little Elm home in 2013 before moving the new series to downtown Dallas in 2014.
"The inspiration came from attending a show in Fort Worth called 'Concerts in the Attic,'" he says. "I saw one of my favorites there, Drew Kennedy. It was awesome to be at a show were everyone was there to listen and connect with the artist. I wanted to do the same thing if I could in some way."
Few things go better with country music than booze, right? The Downtown Series
shows are BYOB, which seems like it could invite a good deal of unruliness, but the only noise I heard were effervescent hisses from beer cans occasionally being cracked open.
It is, truly, a fantastic place in Dallas to hear — really hear — a country-music concert. There's nothing else to do here besides listen.
"I've never have had to ask anyone to leave," Stubblefield says. "Most coming to our shows are coming to hear the music and the artist. Plus, when 150 people are paying close attention and it is so quiet you can hear a pin drop, people stay quiet. There is power in numbers."
What's more, the events can be free, though fans are encouraged to give donations of between $10-$20, which go to the artists. The better bet is to buy advance tickets to guarantee a seat. (And not doing so can result in being shut out, since the concerts tend to fill up.)
Stubblefield certainly isn't getting rich doing this, but his rewards for this endeavor aren't of the monetary sort.
"When we moved downtown, Walt Wilkins played for us," he says. "It was spiritual. It was our first downtown show and the first time we could entertain more than 40 people. We offered 100 spots. It filled up in about a day. Afterwards, we had so many people saying how awesome it was. It just spread, and fortunately, other artists were willing to come do shows."
The next Downtown Music Series is on March 25 at 6 p.m. with Erick Willis and Ross Cooper. Find details at downtownmusicseries.com.