Next week, instead of christening the Ridglea Theater with its first performance in nearly 20 months, Down will kick off its national tour at Trees in Dallas' revitalized Deep Ellum district.
When owner Jerry Shults first revealed to me two weeks ago that the Sept. 18 Down show was being relocated, some of his comments touched a nerve with the local metal community, particularly that having a metal show right off the bat sent "a bad message" to the city and the theater's neighbors. Shults, who also cited low advance ticket sales as a determining factor, did stress during our conversation that metal would not be shut out of the restored music venue, but that it might be a while before bands like Down would be booked into the space.
Fort Worth musician Bruce Corbitt has a unique perspective on the situation as frontman for Warbeast, one of the bands on the bill for the Sept. 18 show (Warbeast also played the Ridglea's final concert on New Year's Eve 2010). He reached out to me after DFW.com published the latest Ridglea Theater update, troubled by the perception that Shults and, by extension, the renovated Ridglea Theater might not care about the genre (and its fans) which kept it on life support for nearly 10 years.
"Local metal fans were really looking forward to this night for so many reasons," Corbitt says. "It was ... going to be the re-opening of a Texas landmark and a legendary Fort Worth venue. Especially to all of us that are involved in the D/FW metal community, because it was [a] metal [show] and all of us associated with metal that did everything we could in those final years to keep [the] Ridglea Theaters doors open. So to say that it was obviously going to be a 'special' and 'historic' night for us is an understatement."
It was the comments on his Facebook page and other online metal forums, reacting to what Shults said, which prompted Corbitt to reach out, to explain why he felt the decision to move the show offended some local metal fans.
"As hard as it is to believe for some people that want to stereotype us, we really are like a big family," Corbitt says. "Some of us may have a rough exterior, but never underestimate our minds, our spirits and our hearts. We are loyal to each other just like we are to the bands and music we love."
The metal community, according to Corbitt, is "happy" Shults saved the theater from being torn down or converted into a bank, but resents the idea that the Ridglea can no longer be what it was prior to the Bank of America drama two years ago. "That's his own right to do whatever he wants," Corbitt says. "But don't book a metal show [national promoter AEG Live has actually handled the Ridglea bookings thus far], then change your mind and then insult us on top of that. He made it sound like we aren't good enough to be the first show, or that the place and its neighbors are above all of us."
Corbitt also reached out to Philip Anselmo, Down's lead vocalist, for his thoughts on the issue (Anselmo played with Warbeast during its CD release show at the Ridglea two years ago, and has ties to the North Texas area from his days in Pantera). Anselmo told him [emphasis is Anselmo's]: "As it pertains to Jerry Shults, does he know whom he alienates? Put two-and-two together and you get zero reasoning as to why they will open WITH OUT us. As it pertains to low ticket sales, ALL of our shows sell a low ticket amount for the most part, because our fans are wise enough to NOT go through the regular, despicable measures of the 'ticket master' slave rule(s). ... As per our fans, Down has a severe 'core/cult' following that will show up in droves, simply because they are great music fans with a taste for the bitter. So in other words: 'We don't need Ridglea at all'."
The contentious relationship between metal fans and those who would preserve the Ridglea from destruction remains a fascinating, fraught thing. Despite a thriving metal scene in Fort Worth and other North Texas cities, there remains a steadfast bias against the perceptions Corbitt addresses above. In the years when Richard Van Zandt and Wesley Hathaway were largely responsible for the booking and care of the theater, each would frequently tell me that no other type of music would bring the consistent audiences that metal would.
Even now, as the venue nears completion on its renovations and gears up for Historic Fort Worth's inaugural "Retro Ball" (the Ridglea's first, official public event) on Oct. 20, there remains friction between the surrounding neighborhood, the Ridglea and metal fans, who feel as though they're being cast out of a space they, in their own way, helped save from oblivion. I'm touring the nearly completed space on Thursday, and will report back with much more then.