Music venues are greater than the trifecta of bar, stage, and sound system. They make events of exultation and discovery possible; they foster the sort of energy that can inspire a community to do great things. Main at South Side’s Managing Partner Ryan Higgs and the many partners who opened the new venue, MASS for short, back in April realized not only the need for more venues in the area but also saw the potential for a network of folks dedicated to supporting and nurturing the growing Fort Worth music scene.
Higgs is not only deeply connected to the Fort Worth music scene as a musician, but back in the mid-90s, he ran a rock club known as the Impala in Stage West’s current location on Vickery. Impala, though short-lived, was part of a lineage of important clubs dating back nearly 30 years to The Axis: places like Mad Hatters and Engine Room, which kept the local music scene’s spark aflicker and gave way to places like The Aardvark and The Wreck Room, Brian Forella’s predecessor to Lola’s Saloon on W.6th. During the music scene’s doldrums, these were the dedicated individuals who kept the spark alive. That energy has germinated over the past decade and has seen an explosion of diverse talent who are making a splash on the national stage.
Higgs planned the venture alongside Jon Carey, proprietor of Magnolia stalwarts The Chat Room and The Usual, and first time principal TJ Weber, who were all serious about doing things the right way. As he explains, “The two of them built everything, and I take care of keeping the bar stocked. They did so well, our landlords tried to hire them as contractors.” Ryan, who also runs Upper 90, Magnolia’s sports bar, shares booking duties with Spune’s Alan Brown, who also owns a share of the venue. Given his history and familiarity, he confides that most often he surfs his contacts with dates handy until he fills them, “Alan leaves me to locals, mainly. I’m fortunate to have those relationships, and then he comes in with great touring and regional bands. In the early months, we just wanted to fill the calendar ‘cause we didn’t know how long we’d be open. But now, we can think more about which bands pair well together.”
The South Main Village’s recent $8 million street renovations are a bellwether of the coming increase in development. Higgs gestures in general directions around the neighborhood as he visualizes the next vital destination in Fort Worth, anchored by a growing infrastructure of businesses that began with places like Shipping & Receiving and Republic Street Bar, whose owner Brian Edwards is another partner in MASS. “We figured the Southside needed another venue; so many of the musicians already live in the area. The renovations have been beautiful over here. We know there will be some patience involved in getting a place to really take off.” And, he points out other nearby beacons supporting active musicians: to the east, he indicates Vaden Todd Lewis’ new rehearsal complex, The Loop, and further on down the street are Eagle Audio Recording Studio and Bart Rose’s Fort Worth Sound.
“Jon and I’ve done this before, and this time around, we started out wanting to bring people on board.” Folks like singer-songwriter Kevin Aldridge, Sean Russell of Cutthroat Finches, and Steve Steward of Oil Boom are all part of the bar’s stake holding family. “Musicians want to have a home base to perform and invite out of town bands they’ve established relationships with to play.”
As a further boost to creative juices, MASS gives performers of all sorts of opportunities to utilize their environs every Monday night for Open Mic sets of 10 to 15 minutes. For ten dollars, folks can pick up a recorded version of their music the following week, which will undoubtedly help them develop new material. Alan Brown also books The Wayhomer Wednesday series, which stages mid-week shows around 6 pm in order to offer another avenue to hear great music. “We’re in our 40s now, and sometimes you just can’t do Saturday Night. But with Wayhomer Wednesday we ask, ‘Can you stop by for a Happy Hour cocktail and catch a band?’ We get folks coming in straight from work on their way home.”
To truly satisfy a community, the draw must never become too narrow, so the owners will always keep programming interesting, as with Laugh Your MASS Off comedy showcases. Beyond the literal space of the venue, MASS also sponsors the local music show hosted by powerhouse singer Ansley Doughtery known as Under the Influence on The Pirate, 97.5 FM. As Higgs explains, “We want to get the word out, there’s a lot of talent in Fort Worth.”
Creating a regional hub is important for the life of bands because it allows artists to trade shows with like-minded musicians from other places. So often your next favorite band is also your favorite band’s favorite band, which only serves to remind us of the beautifully shared nature of music in our lives. Since the opening night’s killer hometown lineup with Oil Boom, Kevin Aldridge, and Heater, MASS has continued putting on great shows. As Higgs recounts, “Quaker City Night Hawks blew everybody away; those boys have been on the road for a long time and have gotten really tight.” Other memorable nights have included rising stars The Unlikely Candidates, Austin’s Quiet Company, Ohio’s 2 Cow Garage and local heroes Calhoun. The South Main area is about to reach critical mass.
An Austin native, Lyle Brooks relocated to Fort Worth in order to immerse himself in the burgeoning music scene and the city’s rich cultural history, which has allowed him to cover everything from Free Jazz to folk singers. He’s collaborated as a ghostwriter on projects focusing on Health Optimization, Roman Lawyers, and an assortment of intriguing subjects requiring his research.