Deep Ellum music fans and supporters will gather on May 26 for an infamous event known as Deep Friday, which is making a long-awaited return. The live music series began in the 1990s as a monthly opportunity for music lovers to see as many bands as they could in one night for a ticket price equivalent to a fancy beer. It was during this time that viewers filled nearly every music venue Deep Ellum could spare, seeing bands like Blue October, Flyleaf and Flickerstick before the major labels picked them up.
The return of Deep Friday is a small piece of a bigger plunge the new Deep Ellum Community Arts Fair plans to make on Memorial Day weekend, launching a new chapter for the historic district.
It all started in September 2022, when Deep Ellum Arts Festival founder Stephen Millard retired after running the festival for almost 30 years. Within days of Millard’s announcement, community leaders and the Deep Ellum Association met to discuss the future of the event, or something along those lines. One person in attendance was Deep Ellum’s longtime cultural advocate Breonny Lee.
“There was a public announcement in September that the festival was closing and it was being talked about on all corners,” Lee says. It was a big deal.”
During the meeting, community members discussed ideas for bringing back some form of the just-defunct festival, while also making some improvements along the way. After careful consideration it was decided that Lee would be named executive director of whatever the new project would become.
“For me, I feel like the festival was part of Deep Ellum’s identity,” he says. Now.”
Lee had spent seven seasons as a staff member of the Deep Ellum Arts Festival and had been a volunteer before that.
“My primary involvement with the Deep Ellum Arts Festival was bringing ‘Deep Ellum’ back into the festival,” Lee says.
Dallas residents and suburbia have made the annual trip to the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, but over the years many have complained that the free prices of music and art clashed with the carnival’s expensive food, a generally private experience for a trip to the State Fair of Texas. Others complained that art selection suffered as more out-of-town artists worked in tents. Local artists began to shun the festival and make fun of the so-called “motel art” exhibited by traveling artists who rented a booth. The matter was brought to Lee’s attention early on and it was something the new Deep Ellum Community Arts Fair sought to correct immediately by shifting the focus to local artists and musicians.
“This is a Deep Ellum, community-focused art fair,” Lee says. We are also making stand rental accessible to artists and will accept late applications.”
For young artists like James Maker, who work and often reside in the neighborhood, the prospect of a new and improved arts fair is something to be excited about—so much so that he’s even volunteered to help out.
“The way they’re running it now with local businesses and artists in mind, it has more of a ‘it’s just us, for us, by us’ kind of feel now,” Maker says. “This time it’s a curated event, with a more authentic feel. As for walks and snacks at the new fair, patrons will have to save the corn dogs and nachos for a September outing at the Texas State Fair.
The Deep Ellum Community Arts Fair will book Deep Ellum-based food truck vendors and funnel festival-goers throughout the neighborhood. The new venue also won’t restrict the front doors of any local businesses, a long-standing complaint from previous arts festival entrepreneurs. For musician Roland Rangel, now marketing director of the Deep Ellum Community Arts Fair, getting involved and helping shape this new project is nothing less than cultural preservation.
“I feel that with all the changes going on in the area, we don’t want the loss of Deep Ellum’s identity to be part of that change,” Rangel says. “Deep Ellum has so much to offer now, this is a great opportunity to bring art back to the streets again.”
With all of its improvements, careful curation, and community participation now online, the Deep Ellum Community Arts Fair is expected to take place in a couple of months, though the project isn’t 100% funded yet. Lee and Rangel are diligently sowing seeds in the community that will hopefully flourish in another 30-year arts festival.
When the neighborhood organization decided to bring back Deep Friday as part of their weekend festivities, clubs like Club Dada, Reno’s, and others welcomed the news enthusiastically and offered their participation. With so many corporate entities now calling Deep Ellum home — like Support Ninja, Embark, and the Common Desk — one would think that the Deep Ellum Community Arts Fair would easily get the funding it needs to help preserve what made the neighborhood so special in first place: culture. Perhaps their accountants need to hear two truly magical words: “tax write-off.”
According to Lee, it was lack of funding that ultimately caused the Deep Ellum Arts Festival to scuttle the first time around.
“Simply put, it was the lack of corporate sponsorship to help fund an essentially free community event that killed it,” says Lee. “It’s expensive to organize a three-day festival, but it’s an important part of the cultural fabric of this neighborhood.”
The new Deep Ellum Community Arts Fair is scheduled for May 27-29. The Deep Friday kick-off event starts at 20:30 on May 26th. Each day of the festival will run from 11:00 to 22:00 and participation is free.