“There is more to the Keller music scene than meets the ear.
A quick survey of the availability of live music in and around the city suggests a number of favored bands and artists perform in a short list of venues like Judge Bean’s and the Keller Tavern. But that snap assessment is woefully incomplete.
While there may not seem to be a great number of restaurants and clubs presenting live music here, Keller probably has as many or more active stages than most communities its size. And their numbers look especially impressive when you take into account that Keller is situated between two large cities filled with live entertainment venues, as well as the neighboring Mid-Cities communities that have music scenes of their own.
The local venues that offer live music embrace the concept wholeheartedly, as evidenced by the clubs’ longtime commitment to entertainment in general, and some of their favorite artists in particular. But the most interesting thing that becomes apparent when looking at Keller’s music scene as a whole is the surprising range of audiences found here.
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Some restaurants and clubs swear by “cover bands” (bands performing known hits rather than originals), some especially like “tribute bands” (bands devoted to covering one particular band or artist), others favor acoustic, singer-songwriter types or songs sung in Spanish.
All of that is available to a live music lover, without ever leaving Keller. And at least one artist is making the case that the city’s audiences can also help musicians move up the ladder of success.
A Rockin’ Stage
Bronson Rock is the most visible, and consistently active, live music outlet in town. The restaurant-bar, which owner Jimmy Barraco opened four years ago on what he describes as the site of “an old, run-down service station,” offers live music Tuesdays through Sundays. On Fridays and Saturdays, bands perform simultaneously on the venue’s two stages (one indoor, one outdoor). Performers range from solo artists to multi-member bands, but whatever size the ensemble, the emphasis is on cover bands.
“What separates us from everybody else, first and foremost, is the food,” boasts Tanya Taylor, Bronson Rock’s general manager. “But the bands play a huge part in it. Because [customers] can come here, and they know that on Friday and Saturday nights we have two bands.”
Making sure the club has the right cover bands for its pair of stages is booking agent Bob Foster of Scorpio Entertainment.
“I make sure we have opposites,” he explains. “Like hard rock on one stage and a dance band on the other.”
Foster and the Bronson Rock management say there are some clear crowd favorites — Incognito, Professor D and Poo Live Crew are among those cited — but there is a lot of variety in the schedule. Foster, who books bands for about 25 other clubs in the area, says he has a pool of 38 groups that he rotates through Bronson Rock’s two stages, and he takes care not to have the same pair of bands in the club too often.
And while all of the bands playing Bronson are doing covers, there is plenty of range in what is heard. Top 40-oriented bands, classic rock acts and heavy metal tribute bands all draw good audiences, the management team said.
“This is my No. 1, busiest club,” Foster says. “They book only the upper-echelon bands [for Thursday through Saturday] and they spare no expense.”
Bronson Rock patrons seem eager to help the club with quality control, too, adds Barraco, who is part of the family that owns and operates Prego Pasta House in Dallas.
“Our crowd is unforgiving. If a band is not of that AAA quality, they are immediately in our face about it,” he says. “And we welcome that.”
The Cover Band
One of the best-known cover bands that has played at Bronson Rock and nearby Keller Tavern in years past (though not recently in the case of either venue) is a trio with the provocative name Velvet Love Box. For 16 years, the band appeared weekly at Bronco’s Sports Bar and Grill in Hurst, and the venue remains a regular on the group’s monthly performance schedule.
Love Box vocalist and bassist Neil Schnell says the group’s hard-to-ignore moniker was inspired by a bar video game that challenged competitors to find the naughty phrase in a word puzzle.
“There may or not have been alcohol involved in the choice,” he says. “We had never heard that and weren’t really even sure what it meant. But it sounded like the perfect name, so we went with it.”
Schnell adds that the band placed an old television wrapped in velvet on stage when performing for many years, but finally tired of lugging it around. That name-reflecting icon can now be found enshrined above the bar at Bronco’s. Meanwhile, the band, which covers tunes ranging from They Might Be Giants’ Istanbul (Not Constantinople) to Jay-Z’s 99 Problems, can often be heard at The Mule in Fort Worth, O’Shea’s in Hurst and Stumpy’s in Arlington.
While Bronson Rock sees cover bands as the answer, nearby Keller Tavern enjoys long-term relationships with singer-songwriters like Joshua Mather, who plays most Thursday nights at the club. But while Mather is essentially an acoustic, pop-rock, solo act, he is seldom alone at the Keller Tavern, which also offers live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
“I really enjoy this summertime music series we do. I will bring in another singer-songwriter, a different guy every Thursday, and we’ll do a song swap. I’ll play a song and then he’ll play a song, and we’ll go back and forth through the night,” says Mather, whose EP of originals, Unstoppable, is available on iTunes.
“It’s funny, because in most of the bars I play, most of the time I have to do 1-to-1 or 2-to-1 ratio of covers to originals,” Mather adds. “I don’t know if it is because I have been [playing Keller Tavern] so long or what, but they have been pretty receptive to this singer-songwriter stuff.
“And I think it works because it is a song swap. I like to find a country artist or an R&B artist, somebody very different from me, and invite him in. It’s almost like flipping through the stations on the radio.”
The Tribute Band
It seems that any band that ever sold more than a handful of records in the past has a small army of tribute bands today, and they have emerged in recent years as one of the most popular types of entertainment on the club scene. Among that glut of tributes competing for the nostalgia-loving ears of live-music fans, there are few that have been around longer — or been more well-loved in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — than the Beatles tribute band, Me & My Monkey.
“We play Keller Bear Creek Park every year, and we have a huge crowd out there. We’re their favorite band,” says Rodney Bollinger, who performs as John, immodestly — but probably not inaccurately.
And, although the band Bollinger and his mates are covering is a relic of a bygone age, the guitarist-keyboardist says the band’s audiences span all ages.
“The festivals are wonderful that way. You see all types of people of all ages having fun,” he adds. “There are still young people getting into the Beatles. It grabs them like it did us when we were young.”
The Latino Singer
The Keller music scene not only boasts an audience of diverse tastes, it also offers entertainment in two languages.
“I always base it on the crowd,” says Marissa Chibli, who performs regularly at La Casita. “If there are a lot of Latinos, I will play more in Spanish.”
A 21-year-old student at Tarrant County College’s Northeast Campus, Chibli says she performs a mix of pop and Top 40 in English, pop in Spanish, country and classic oldies in her solo sets. But there are certain numbers that work no matter what language is involved.
“Selena gets the crowd going. And every single oldie that I play seems to be a hit with the crowd,” she adds.
The Up and Comer
One of the measures of any music scene is whether it can serve as an incubator for musicians — a place where they can polish their skills and take steps to build a career. In that realm, Keller can point to Derek Anthony as a shining example.
“I like to think I have a traditional style with a hint of modern licks and sounds,” says Anthony. “It’s kind of a hybrid. I have been classified by some radio people as a ’90s country sound, which I take as a compliment.”
Although he grew up in Missouri, the country singer has long called Keller home, and cut his musical teeth at clubs in the DFW area. He has performed more than 30 times at Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth, and he has warmed up for such well-known acts as Josh Turner, Jo Dee Messina and Kansas. As something of a throwback in his country style, Anthony also has formed his own record label, BLUANT, to release his music. Of late, one of his singles has been receiving a very grand showcase in a nearby sports arena.
“My song Cowboy Way was blessed as an approved song by the (Dallas) Cowboys. So they are playing it at all their home games,” Anthony explains.
While most musicians try to take their show on the road, Anthony will be taking his act out to sea this winter, having signed on as the opening act for a big name in country music.
“We had just done a show opening for Jo Dee Messina, and this gentleman approached me and said, ‘I’m funding and promoting a big [music] cruise. Tracy Lawrence is my headliner and we are looking for an opening act. Would you be interested?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’”
The “Christmas in the Caribbean Cruise with Tracy Lawrence” leaves from New Orleans on Dec. 13.
As he continues to raise his profile in the country-music scene, Anthony has added some good works along the way. In support of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC), the singer has donated a portion of his proceeds from his song, Don’t Mess With PMS, to the organization.
He also performs for patients in cancer centers “who have to sit there for six hours getting chemo treatments,” he says.
And that’s an initiative any Keller audience would be proud to say started in their back yard.
Punch Shawn is a Fort Worth freelance writer who has interviewed more singers, bands and orchestras in the last 40 years than he can count.
Scene and Heard
While some might lament the quantity of live music venues in Keller proper, it is hard to find any fault with the range of choices available on a small number of stages. Here’s a sampling of the local offerings:
Bronson Rock Burgers & Beer: Live music scheduled Tuesday-Sunday with two stages in full swing Friday-Sunday. Regulars include acoustic performers Missi St. Thomas and 57 Sauce, as well as classic rock band Incognito and rhythm and blues band Professor D. 250 S. Main St., Keller, 817-431-5543, http://bronsonrocktx.com.
Bronco’s Sports Bar and Grill: A Thursday-Saturday schedule of live music features acoustic singers Reagan Jones and Richard Gilbert and groups Danny Johnson Band and Jimmy Lee and Blackhorse. University Plaza, 900 Airport Freeway, Hurst, 817-498-0600, www.broncossportsbar.com.
Fresco’s Cocina: Acoustic performers play on the patio most Thursdays; sometimes Fridays or Saturdays. Call for details. 7432 Denton Highway, Watauga, 817-498-6370, http://frescosmexicanfood.com.
Judge Bean’s: Live music performances Friday and Saturday nights feature local performers including Acoustic Shade, Jonathan’s Band and Tim Wooley, as well as bands such as Knights of Rock, Continental Divide and Honky-Tonk Train. 314 N. Main St., Keller, 817-379-5872, http://judgebeanskeller.com.
La Casita Mexican Cuisine: Live music is scheduled Friday and Saturday nights, usually from retro rock band Helikon on Friday and Marissa Chibli on Saturday. 111 W. Vine St., Keller, 817-482-1514.
O’Shea’s Irish Pub: Besides Wednesday karaoke nights, live music on Friday and Saturday nights features performers like Velvet Love Box and Cherry. 310 Grapevine Highway, Hurst, 817-577-4006, http://osheasirishpubtx.com.
Pickles BBQ & Icehouse: In addition to open mic nights most Thursdays and Friday night karaoke, a varying schedule of acoustic music on the patio is offered Wednesday, Friday and/or Saturday evenings. Rock bands and others appear on the main stage most Saturday nights. Frequent performers include Keller-based Nothin Special Band, Cherry, Spanish Fly and The Jet Poets. 8247 Rufe Snow Drive, Watauga, 817-581-2009, www.picklesbbq.com.
The Keller Tavern. Live music on the patio Friday and Saturday nights features acoustic groups like the Phillip Johnson trio, Brad Kelley duo, Josh Lee acoustic duo and the Jesse Jennings Band. 128 S Main St., Keller, 817-337-6777.