North Texas Daily

An old basement for a new generation

An old basement for a new generation

January 16
17:52 2018

The sound of guitars and saxophones rise through the floorboards of J&J’s Pizza on the Square for one of the first times in 16 months. In the reopened Ol’ Dirty Basement, up-and-coming bands play for a packed audience and their number one fan — a portrait of the Virgin Mary watching over a Schlitz-filled world.

The Ol’ Dirty Basement, one of Denton’s best hidden gems, is a event venue which lies below J&J’s Pizza.

The basement served as one of the most notable music venues in Denton for many years before the owners of J&J’s lost ownership of the basement and were forced to close the venue in August of 2016. However, the basement reopened in December of 2017, once again providing a home for local performers.

“We’ve been open for two weeks and everyone seems ecstatic about it,” said Gerardo Reyes, who works booking and sound at J&J’s Pizza. “Even the grand opening show we had last Saturday was phenomenal. You could tell the energy was back — we had this place packed from side to side. It was amazing.”

After the closing of the Ol’ Dirty Basement and similar venues, such as Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, there was a sense of vacancy among the Denton music community. Many house show venues emerged in the wake of the closures, but house shows occasionally have issues with sound quality, police and neighbors. J&J’s provides a more controlled environment for the artists to perform in at no cost.

“It’s just a magical place because it is a DIY place,” Reyes said. “You can put on a dream show because you don’t have to worry about any costs. We provide the sound person, we provide the space, you just have to put on the show. It’s pretty much like a house show, but in a real space.”

An equal-opportunity venue

One feature that makes the Ol’ Dirty Basement unique is that the venue is open to all ages. Often, many underage artists have issues finding spaces to perform in traditional venues, such as bars or house shows. Inversely, it is difficult for teenagers to attend local concerts for the same reasons.

The ska band, Brotherhood, organized and performed a show in the basement Friday night. The band consists of siblings ranging in ages of early college and late high school, down to their 8th grade drummer.

“It was a lot of hustling and making a lot of phone calls,” said George Bernard, the lead singer of Brotherhood and coordinator of the show. “It’s funny because my brother was sick one day, so he missed school and I said, ‘Hey man let’s go to Denton.’ We were trying to put this show together, but we still hadn’t found a place. We literally walked all over Denton, like we talked to everyone, we even talked to places that didn’t have a music venue or scene at all, but J&J’s was really cool and let us come in and play.”

While J&J’s does serve alcohol, the venue is first and foremost a pizza parlor, which allows the restaurant more leeway than many of the venues in Denton. J&J’s is unique in that it provides a niche for younger performers and patrons.

“It’s all ages you know,” Reyes said. “You have these kids that are like 15 being on these big shows that they have always dreamed about, but no venue will ever give them a chance to do, until they are like 23 or so.”

Friday was more than just another show for another young band on the bill, however. For Super Nothing, it was nostalgic. 

“I’ve been to so many shows here for other bands,” said Brandon Ling, member of Super Nothing and junior at W.E. Bosworth High School. “Ever since eighth grade, my friends have played here. But performing here, it’s crazy. It’s a rush, it really is.”

First impressions

Considering the basement was vacant through 2017, many new UNT students are just now discovering the venue as they return to Denton after the holidays.

“It’s really cool environment to be in for sure,” said Caisa Charleston, a media arts freshman at UNT. “I’ve been trying to get out more and find different music scenes and artistic areas, and this is really nice.”

Long-time employees of J&J’s are excited about the reopening of the basement, and the function that it will continue to perform for the Denton community: to provide a start-up space for new artists and a new generation.

“We give a DIY space for anybody to do whatever they want with, as long as it is respectful,” Reyes said. “Tonight, we have punk, but tomorrow we may have hip-hop, a magic show, or we may just have somebody doing an art show with no music.”

Though the Denton art community felt incomplete without it, Reyes believes the iconic venue still maintains the same spirit and mission in its new revival.

“It’s really just for people in Denton to have a space where they can put on whatever they want without having to spend out-of-pocket,” Reyes said.

Featured Image: Brotherhood performs at J&J’s Pizza. J&J’s Pizza’s “Dirty Old Basement” reopened on Saturday with a lineup of local bands. TJ Webb

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Slade Meadows

Slade Meadows

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