Brave New Sloppyworld
The story of Deep Ellum's downfall has become as played out as the neighborhood itself, but the tale of Expo Park's rise is just starting to get interesting. Over the past several years, the small community of bars, cafes and lofts located at the corner of Exposition and Perry has emerged as an on again off again alternative to the dreary Deep Ellum and dude-brah controlled Greenville, providing an intimate and relatively hastle free environment in which several interesting things might (or might not) be happening within mere feet of one another on a given night. Places like the Amsterdam, Art Club, Fallout and Minc have all hosted at least a few solid shows (along with some bad ones as well) over the past three years, and the popular neighborhood spot Meridian Room has continued to be a favorite of many East Dallas and Oak Cliff residents. Expo Park does face it's share of problems- crime, inconsistent venue booking, and that annoying homeless magician in the parking lot, but one newcomer to the neighborhood might help to raise the bar in area that already seems to be on the up and up.
As I walked through the relatively empty space at the corner of Perry and 2nd Ave that will soon be known as Sloppyworld, scene veteran and Sloppyworld proprietor John Freeman began to explain why he decided to risk a great deal of time and money to open a new music venue in a city that hasn't exactly been hospitable to such things lately. "Expo Park is the last cool neighborhood in Dallas," Freeman says, "and we can't let it die too. This might be our last chance." This kind of intensity and concern for the state of local music is a force that seems to guide Freeman in his vision for Sloppyworld, which will be Expo Park's first full time live music venue. He also seems to possess a keen sense of practicality.
"Dallas needs a cool mid sized venue run by people who are musicians themselves," he says, and any objective observer would have to admit that he has a point. With the closing of Gypsy Tea Room and Trees, as well as the emergence of the somewhat cold and corporate Palladium Loft and House of Blues, it is clear that Dallas could use a mid sized venue (200-500 capacity) run by someone who understands the city and the void that currently exists for more eclectic and experimental shows. Sure, places like Art Club and Doublewide will have a good show here and there, but due either to the size and/or booking preferences of Dallas' current venues, there doesn't appear to be a single place that is looking to consistently book the kinds of acts that many readers of this blog might enjoy. Like many in the area, Freeman realized that there was a sizable niche in the Dallas live music market that wasn't be satisfied, and he decided that it was prime time to seize a golden opportunity.
John Freeman's history in the Dallas and Denton music and art scenes is fairly well known, and his experience as both a musician, a venue employee and a promoter has been highly influential on his vision for Sloppyworld. He has seen and done a lot, working at the Argo, organizing as a member of the Good/Bad Art Collective, and most recently booking quality acts like Beach House for The Amsterdam. Learning from both the good and the bad, Freeman seems capable of taking the best aspects from some of those well known ventures and applying them to the concept and reality of Sloppyworld. "I can promise you that (Sloppyworld) will be like nothing you've ever seen," he says, adding that he envisions the place will be "kind of a mixture of the Argo, the old Good/Bad Art Collective, the Orbit Room, and a bizarre x factor that is all my own." He plans to have the venue open anywhere from 5-7 days a week, and hopes that the place will be seen not only as a venue, but as an epicenter for the musical and creative community in the area, hosting various activities and events in addition to the kinds of concerts that often have to venture north to Denton to find a home these days.
When I visited Sloppyworld a few weeks ago, the two things that became apparent from the get-go were it's size and highly desirable location. Located in 80 plus year old building that previously housed an antique store, the space's high ceilings, structural support beams and large, rectangular shape help create a spacious and warm atmosphere that is glaringly absent at places like House of Blues (duh). Furthermore, it's corner location assures that Sloppyworld will be one of the most highly visible venues on Perry street, situated a few dozed feet away from Meridian Room and Bar of Soap.
Of course, with so many upsides to a place that will be located in the economically depressed Fair Park area, it would seem that the city of Dallas would be more than accommodating to a business owner like Freeman. But unfortunately, things have not gone as smoothly in the planning and permit stage as one might hope. After several unsuccessful and unassisted attempts to figure out what kinds of permits were needed for the venue, Freeman's original opening date had to be pushed back several months in order to get all the paper work in place. "I had been to the permit building in Oak Cliff seven times over three months before they just told me that I needed a special use permit," Freeman said, "so then I had to go to City Hall, and it takes two months to process." City officials were largely indifferent throughout the process, but the problematic delays in construction were at least somewhat mitigated by some of Freeman's helpful neighbors and friends. "The girls at Doublewide have been amazingly supportive. Bar of Soap, Meridian Room, Fallout Lounge, and even Club Dada and Rubber Gloves have all sent their support. They're smart enough to realize that a new bar/venue in this area could only help everyone and bring more business to the area, which benefits everyone."
With the official opening date now set some time in mid to late September, Sloppyworld is just a few months away from opening it's doors. Of course, one new venue is not going to change the face of the neighborhood or the Dallas music scene at large, but talking with Freeman convinced me that he has the experience, integrity and musical knowledge to book good shows and run the venue in a way that should be beneficial to patrons and performers alike. Not every show will be something we're all into, but considering some of the highly respectable names he mentioned when discussing possible bands to book (I promised I wouldn't tell who), Sloppyworld's presence on the scene seems like one of the most promising developments in Dallas music in some time. "I plan to book bands that might not get shows here otherwise," Freeman says, "and I like strange and interesting bills where you have a mixture of bands on the same evening that may not seem to fit on paper, but when you put them together, some kind of rock n roll alchemy makes it the best show you've ever seen." How many Dallas venue owners have said something like that recently?
(Thanks to Dudes McRudes for taking the pictures above)