Oct. 19 marks the 27th anniversary of one of the most storied concerts to ever hit Dallas. And we mean hit. On that night in 1991, iconic grunge band Nirvana played at Trees in Deep Ellum, a concert now infamous because a local bouncer punched the late singer Kurt Cobain in the face.
On Friday, tribute band the Nirvana Experience commemorates the occasion with a concert at the same venue.
How did the biggest alt-rock band of the '90s land black and blue in local legend? Let's take a walk down memory lane.
According to Stephen Shein, Trees' manager at the time, the Oct. 19 show was booked just a few weeks ahead of the date. That was all the time it took for the band to become a household name.
Nirvana's major-label debut album, Nevermind, dropped on Sept. 24, 1991, and was on its way to topping the Billboard charts. The band's new single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," had only been out for a few weeks, and was in heavy rotation both on the radio and on MTV, which featured its surreal music video. Nirvana shot from relative obscurity to being one of the biggest bands on the planet, suddenly too big to play at Trees, which holds less than 1,000 people.
"There were four or five hundred people outside trying to get in," says Shein. "The police department showed up and told them to go home."
"People were very excited, and that feeling was in the air," says Brad Featherstone, a musician from Dallas who filmed the show with a VHS camera from the side of the stage.
The venue didn't have any barricades, so stagehands stood between Nirvana and the sold-out crowd. Shein says more than 700 tickets were sold.
"It was pretty crazy," says Sean Bailey, who attended the show. "It was wall-to-wall people, way over capacity."
About 40 minutes into the set, Cobain jumped on top of the audience. While crowd surfing his way back to the stage, he hit stagehand Turner Van Blarcum in the head with his guitar.
"I was standing there thinking, 'There goes the (expletive) show,'" Shein says. "It turned into pandemonium."
With blood gushing from his head, Van Blarcum punched Cobain and kicked him across the stage. The other members of Nirvana, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, broke up the fight. The crowd yelled obscenities as the band exited the stage.
"He whaled on Kurt," says Featherstone, who caught the incident on tape.
A few minutes after the music stopped, the venue started playing a Nevermind CD to pacify the angry crowd. But the boos just got louder.
"Their tour manager ran up and asked if we were nuts," Shein says. "We told him to get his band back onstage. We didn't want the crowd to go nuts."
Moments later, Nirvana returned and finished their set, but Van Blarcum would see them after the show. After the band entered a cab to leave the venue, Shein and Bailey both saw Van Blarcum run up and break one of the windows. (Van Blarcum did not return requests for an interview.)
"He punched the window out and tried to grab Kurt," Bailey says. "But once the window broke the cabby drove off."
Featherstone's video of the incident has been widely bootlegged over the years and is still on YouTube. Featherstone moved to Chicago, but eventually sold his video to the band.
"They hired a private investigator to find me," Featherstone says.
A clip from Nirvana's show at Trees appears in Live! Tonight! Sold Out!, a video album released by Nirvana on VHS in 1994. The video for "You Know You're Right," a Nirvana single released after Cobain's suicide, also features several clips from Featherstone's video.
"For all the people that were there, there's about 5,000 others who claim they were there," Shein says.
"I still hear people telling stories about it. But it was just pure rock and roll and pure energy. It was a great show."