Easily the biggest deal in the local music scene since Lola’s Saloon came along in 2006 was the opening several months ago of Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge. Hailed as a sort of Kessler West, the intimate and finely appointed Near Southside venue, restaurant, and bar started out hot but cooled quickly. With some exceptions, most of the touring acts that came through were little known to anyone outside the deepest inner-reaches of the national folk/singer-songwriter/Christian scenes. A couple of weeks ago, as first reported in town on Blotch, the venue and its in-house booking agent –– the person chiefly responsible for Live Oak’s preponderance of under-performing shows, Clint Simpson –– parted ways. Owner Bill Smith said he would seek another in-house booking agent but not interfere with his current “open-door policy” toward booking agencies.
While his door is still open, his search is over.
Smith has just hired Jamie Kinser and Aaron Knight, co-founders of the upstart Fort Worth booking agency Blackbox, to lead Live Oak’s booking.
“We see [Live Oak] as the premier music venue in Fort Worth,” Knight said. “Its room [holding about 250] is great, there’s a quarter-million-dollar sound system, the lighting is stellar, the restaurant is popular and successful, and the staff and management all share a collective vision, with what [Live Oak] should be and coincides with [Smith’s] original vision: to put Fort Worth on the map, not just the regional and local map but the national map as well.
“Fort Worth,” Knight continued, “deserves this.”
Kinser and Knight intend to book the kinds of mid-tier national acts that normally receive airplay on KXT and whose albums and songs are regularly written about in Pitchfork: bands such as Fleet Foxes, Midlake, and Dawes.
Local artists will also play a role.
“From my and [Kinser’s] experience, there’s nothing better for a local band that hasn’t gotten national acclaim than playing with a national band that has more experience,” Knight said. “I don’t think there’s anything bigger for a band that’s local and that’s trying to stretch.”
Local bands, he said, will always open for national acts unless the national act is already touring with another band.
“The vision,” Knight said, “is to bring the music community together for a singular cause: to promote local music and project the city’s local music scene onto the national level by working with all local promoters, all local bands, and any and all touring acts.”
Live Oak will not be genre-specific, he said. “Diversity is an important part of the plan,” he said
Blackbox will continue providing booking services for its two current clients: The Wild Rooster in the Cultural District and The Basement Bar in the Stockyards. Knight said the diversity among his clients will prevent any stylistic overlap.
The ride has been fast but fun for Kinser and Knight, who founded Blackbox only seven months ago and gained an audience with Smith almost immediately. “In my life, it’s been childbirth, childbirth, meeting [Kinser], and this,” Knight said. “This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened in my professional career.”
Kinser and Knight are not worried about Live Oak’s immediate future. Knight recently quit his day-job to focus exclusively on Blackbox and Live Oak. “If I had any fears, they’ve been assuaged after talking to [Smith],” he said.
UPDATE As mentioned in the previous Live Oak story, jazz is already happening on Tuesday nights, and Smith envisions a blues jam on Sundays. Booking for the Tuesday-night jazz sessions and the new, local music-focused Thursdays will be handled by All Together Now Events, the brainchild of Nicole Ofeno and Raef Payne, who both will head up Live Oak’s marketing and public relations department.