Live entertainment is nothing new to downtown Arlington – venues like J. Gilligan’s and Arlington Music Hall (remember Johnny High’s Music Review?) have been entertaining us for years. Somewhat suddenly, though, the area is becoming more of a magnet for local artists.
Bartenders now polish craft beer glasses, and local musicians showcase their skills, in places that once showcased the latest model vehicles. And with venues like Lester’s Backyard Bar, Live Oak, and Tipsy Oaks moving in, there will soon be more places to share their talents.
One of the district’s newer craft beer vendors, ON TAP, hosts MOMOM, a middle-of-the-month open mic night led by
Arlington singer-songwriter Kasey Tackett. Tackett’s friend, Austin Leach, also conducts a monthly open mic at Legal Draft Beer Co. on Division Street.
“On Tap is killing it right now,” Tackett says. “There are a lot of new businesses moving in. It’ll be interesting [to see] how this is going to turn out.”
While lunching at Mellow Mushroom, Tackett talks about Arlington Music Hall located next door. He describes the former-movie-theater-turned-music-venue as a “true, hidden gem in the middle of Arlington.” He also recalls Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Maren Morris’ gigs at the nearby Grease Monkey Burger Shop.
Tackett says “a lot of people are extremely hungry for new music,” and notes that he would like to see more original talent downtown as well as a bit more diversity. “Music is for everyone.”
People come to Arlington to work and raise their families, Tackett says, adding that among the working class people who frequent the Downtown Arlington district, there appears to be a lot more men than there are women. “And that’s something that needs to change,” he says. “On that note, the music suffers.”
Many of the same people who attend outdoor concerts at Levitt Pavilion also go to other downtown venues, but at different times, Tackett says. Levitt Pavilion hosts more than 50 free concerts each year, and according to its website, the summer concert series attracted about 120,000 people last year.
Live Oak, which recently closed in Fort Worth but plans to reopen in downtown Arlington, is owned by the same group that also hopes to open Lester’s Backyard Bar in downtown Arlington this July, says Brooks Kendall Jr., the venues’ entertainment director. Lester’s will most likely complement the great shows that already happen at the Levitt Pavilion, rather than compete, Kendall says. He also believes the City’s recently expanded smoke-free ordinance will not have an adverse effect on the establishment, as its indoor space was intended to be smoke-free from the start.
In addition to live entertainment, Kendall says Lester’s menu will offer a dozen or so specialty craft margaritas and about a half dozen specialty frozen margaritas. However, the specific drink details have yet to be unveiled.
While a few local venues may experience negative effects because of the recent smoke-free ordinance, Tackett says others could actually see a boost in business. “A lot of people can’t be around [cigarette smoke],” he says. “So it drives out the other half of the crowd that might want to see a show.”
Division Brewing, which is actually located on East Main Street, has an outdoor patio where live music is played every weekend. Tackett says the music is top-notch, plus, he adds, “their beers are phenomenal.”
“When Live Oak actually comes here, that is going to bring more attention to the area,” says Arlington Nights founder David Conant, adding that nearby “Texas Live! is going to bring more people to the game and keep people here longer.”
Although Conant claims he is tone deaf and lacks rhythm, that did not stop him from majoring in music. In fact, he loves it so much that he and his girlfriend, Alicia Elam, keep track of where area musicians are performing in order to keep everyone in the loop via Arlington Nights.
Conant, who is also a board member for Arlington Proud, which promotes everything Arlington, says he helped secure most of the 25 bands for this year’s East Main Street Arts Festival, which drew about 4,000 people to downtown last month. “People want music, I get music,” he says. Tackett says Conant has done more to promote Arlington musicians than anyone he knows.
While waiting for Tristan Bugenis to begin his open mic session at J. Gilligan’s, Conant describes the artist as a “true musician,” who plays solo electric guitar rather than acoustic. Tackett and his band, Super Lotus, have also played at Gilligan’s, and Conant says some UT-Arlington students recently put on a good rap show there. In addition, JR Bentley’s on Abram Street hosts occasional open mics.
Conant hopes that Urban Alchemy Coffee and Wine Bar, which is expected to open in Downtown Arlington this summer and is being billed as a community gathering place, will become a gathering spot for local musicians, as well.
He says he expects Downtown Arlington to have a different vibe within the next three years, while Tackett maintains the area could use more spaces like Urban Union’s plaza, to create “little nooks for people to walk around and enjoy the area businesses.”
Although people can currently park in Downtown Arlington, walk around, and be entertained, Tackett says a bridge from Main Street over to Front Street would help people avoid having to walk for “huge blocks or jump the [railroad] tracks.”
“[It would be good] if we could make the journey of getting to these places a bit more joyful,” he muses. He also would like to see helpful signage and larger walkways. But for now, even though it generally means no pay and very few tips, Tackett says he is thankful to be part of Arlington’s “underground” music scene, to have a place to play his music, and to be able to go somewhere to host an open mic.
“It has nothing to do with the music business and everything to do with fostering the music community,” he says. “It’s about passion, giving the art back to the community, and fulfilling yourself, you know, as a musician.”