The Cellar was a legendary Fort Worth club — with branches in Dallas, Houston and (briefly) San Antonio — that became the focal point for much of the counterculture in ’60s-era North Texas. It attracted everyone from up-and-coming comedians like George Carlin and Jack Burns (who were working in Dallas radio at the time) to visiting musical dignitaries (Led Zeppelin), and even reporters like Bob Schieffer (then a cops reporter at the Star-Telegram) looking for a wild night out.
Crowds of Texas musicians — ZZ Top’s Frank Beard and Dusty Hill, Steve and Jimmy Vaughan, Johnny Winter, Shawn Phillips — jammed on the Cellar stage. And the club was also where some of the Secret Service agents assigned to JFK’s detail reportedly were hanging out the night before the assassination, a fact that became a point of criticism in the tragedy’s aftermath.
All of the Cellar’s storied past is recalled lovingly in Giles McCrary’s You Must Be Weird or You Wouldn’t Be Here, a captivating documentary playing at the Ridglea Theater on Friday night. It not only chronicles the birth and death of the riotous Cellar but also manages to capture a sense of time and place in which the social order was in flux.
Yet Weird isn’t pure celebration. McCrary doesn’t shy away from owner Pat Kirkwood’s bad side, including his racism (blacks weren’t allowed to patronize The Cellar, even though it started in 1959 as a jazz club and beatnik hangout) and the sense of danger and violence he liked to project.
Consisting largely of still photos and talking heads of those who were there — including Schieffer, musician Joe Ely and writer/historian Joe Nick Patoski — Weird tells a story largely unknown to the current generation. Along with Kirby Warnock’s similarly low-budget When Dallas Rocked (playing Dec. 5 at the Ridglea), Joseph Alexandre’s Warriors of the Discotheque about Dallas’ pioneering Starck Club, and Melissa Kirkendall’s Teen-A-Go-Go (about Fort Worth’s ’60s rock scene), there’s now a wealth of films about this area’s pop-culture contributions, many of which had been forgotten. As North Texans, we are all richer for it.
Exclusive: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Ridglea Theatre, Fort Worth