Fort Worth has a sound. It gets mislaid sometimes in the parade of progress.
Every so often, a Fort Worth act breaks that sound barrier and permeates through the ears of millions. With deep roots in the city, the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Van Cliburn, Ornette Coleman, T-Bone Burnett and, more recently, Leon Bridges managed to gather worldwide impressions and acclaim and bring the city’s sound to millions.
In Near Southside, the district with a knack for artistry, an ecosystem for creatives is currently thriving, with the possibility of breaking the next big act out of Fort Worth.
The ecosystem is a tight-knit community of businesses that are working toward that goal.
Near Southside Inc., the nonprofit that helps manage the area’s development, recently held a development tour of nine such businesses, or "hidden gems." These establishments operate out of decades-old buildings – some with obscure entrances with little hint of all the genius that takes places inside.
These businesses and the entrepreneurs that keep them viable are keeping the sights and sounds of Fort Worth resonating.
Main at South Side (MASS)
Main at South Side (MASS) replaced a nightclub at this corner of South Main Street. All eyes are now on the stage platform, raised three-feet-high and made from what was once a dance floor.
And that, really, is how almost everything inside MASS was built – from reused and recycled materials.
Now, the live music and performing art venue hosts a dozen events per month on average. The venue regularly welcomes performances from local talent. Many artists have released their records and albums from this site.
"I dare you to find a better sound and lighting in this town," MASS co-owner Ryan Higgs said. "And, we're real proud of that."
Ten musicians, veterans of the Fort Worth music scene, combined their experiences and investments to open the facility.
"Us as musicians, we wanted to cater to musicians," said co-owner TJ Weber. "We also wanted to cater to people who liked to see live music."
Established in 1984, Eagle Audio has been instrumental at shaping Fort Worth's music scene.
"Eagle Audio is the full-service audio production facility," said Jerry Hudson, a Fort Worth pioneer and co-owner of Eagle Audio. "Full service means you do the stuff that nobody else wants to do. And, we've stuck to that duty, for sure."
Partner Jeff Ward passed away in September. The 6,600-square-foot studio complex is now up for sale. But Hudson said the stories and memories will always remain.
Famous artists have visited and recorded at Eagle Audio over the years, such as Merle Haggard, Los Lobos and Donald Fagen.
All the organ music for Texas Rangers was also produced at the studio.
"I hoped to land somewhere right here in the neighborhood," Hudson said, "and keep doing what I've been doing."
Near South Studios
Before they could start producing any audios or videos, the owners of Near South Studios had to get rid of the smell.
The building that currently houses the video soundstage and photography studio was an abandoned cheese warehouse. Prior to that, it was a poultry and egg business.
Repurposed, Near South Studios became the district's first film studio. It has capabilities to film all kinds of corporate, commercial or entertainment contents.
"We got in here really because we wanted to invest in the neighborhood and we wanted to be a permanent part of it," said Mike Fisher, Near South Studios co-owner.
The facility has 1.400 square feet of studio space, a two-wall hard cyc, a makeup room, a green room, an indoor dock, audio booth with control room, among other amenities.
Creatives can shoot music videos or take photographs at the studio.
Fort Worth Sound
Bart Rose knew how to play the guitar. He wanted to be a rock star as a teenager.
His father bought him some recording equipment to keep him busy and he’s been hooked on it ever since.
Thirty years later, Rose is now the owner of Fort Worth Sound and spending more time with the recording instruments than guitars.
Rose works with about 100 musicians every year in his studio.
"Lot of country music. This is Fort Worth, Texas, definitely lot of county music here," Rose said. "That's mostly what keeps the doors open. But I do plenty of rock, metal, Americana, genres just like that."
Fort Worth Sound has two professional recording studios.
Larger of the two, Studio A, has two isolation booths, an API 1608 Console, Pro Tools 10 HD3 Accel system – optimal for recording full bands, production, drum tracking, mixing and mastering.
Studio B offers a more intimate setting. It features a custom CAPI "Mini Console", 220 square foot tracking room, newly completed isolation room and a Pro Tools 12 system.
"When I moved in here in 2008, there wasn't much going on here," Rose said. "Hardly anybody was here. But what a difference it is now. All these businesses and everybody's about to start opening up. So, we're preparing for people to start knocking on the door more here."
97.5 KFTW The Pirate Radio
From within the basement of an old textile warehouse, husband and wife duo John and Sallie Rody operates The Pirate Radio, Fort Worth's only low-power FM station.
The station only plays local music and community programming.
"People, almost within days, hear their song on the radio station. Philosophically, that, I believe, completes the cycle of that artist's composition," Texas Radio Hall of Famer John Rody said. "Where they wrote it, they recorded it, they delivered it to a friendly portal."
The nonprofit's radio station is listener-supported. It airs 24 hours of the day without commercials.
Although operating at low electric power, the station reaches an area with more than 2 million people, not by any means a small market.
"Sally and I wanted to plant this radio station, so the big corporations don't get it," John Rody said. "That's the thing."
"We need local voices," Sally Rody added.
"Yeah, we have more than enough corporate tyranny in the broadcasting business," John Rody said.
Dreamy Life Records
Dreamy Life Records is a one-stop source for all musical needs.
It is a record store, a recording studio and a record label, encapsulated in a glowing corner inside the MASS.
Dreamy Life Records formed in 2014 as a collaborative effort of two local labels, Dreamy Soundz Records and Lo-Life Recordings.
"We help provide the infrastructure for those artists around here that would otherwise be kind of underground, maybe like fish out of a water, in a scene that's predominately based around Americana and country music," Dreamy Life Records partner Cameron Smith said.
The store sells mostly local releases, promoting and distributing them. It also sells records the Dreamy Life label creates in their own studios, which is about a mile away from the store.
There are also a lot of vintage albums for sale. While certain musical accessories like, guitar strings, drumsticks, one spot are also available.
Frontman Vaden Todd Lewis brought the Toadies together to play shows in Near Southside clubs in the ’80s when not a lot was going on in the district, music-wise.
The Toadies can be credited for starting the kind of cool and weird aesthetic Near Southside is currently known for.
From all his years of touring and performing, one of the things he learned was that almost all rehearsal places were "really bad."
"My whole adult life, I wanted to have a place that was nice," Lewis said. "Where you can come in and people wanted to take care of it because it started off nice."
So, he and his wife, Rachel, teamed up to open The Loop, the one-of-a-kind premium rehearsal complex.
Individual artists or bands can rent out rehearsal studios by the hour at The Loop. Or, there are 10 separate rooms that can be leased monthly or even for a year, at a $300 per month rate.
In between the rooms, there are off offset studs with sheetrock on either side that eliminates vibrations going through.
The walls are six inches apart. The ceilings are also all soundproof.
The concept has been a hit. The Loop has been booked for several months and currently has a waiting list.
Leon Bridges is one of the many artists who have used the rooms at The Loop.
"It's fun, it's always an adventure here," Rachel Lewis said.
Red Productions and The Backlot Studio
Red Productions and The Backlot is a combined 12,000-square-foot commercial and film production, photography, music, and events production facility.
Backlot also offers furnished private co-working space for creatives.
The facility is the first official project in Fort Worth’s recently designated Media Production Development Zone program. The city council-approved program allows a two-year sales tax exemption.
Red Sanders, the owner of Red Productions, initially brought the proposal to the city council.
"We have a city that's very supportive of growing the creative class here, and we have a zone now that built an incentive for at least two more projects to come in," Sanders said. "The groundworks been laid."
Red Productions has won an Emmy Award, as well as many others along the way.
The production company also takes on feature film projects.
"As far as this space goes, it's meant to be a kind of a new offering that hasn't existed in Fort Worth," Sanders said. "But, it's one that we hope to see more of."
Niles City Sound
There are pieces of musical instruments scattered in organized fashion all across the studio space inside Niles City Sound.
The founders of Niles City Sound are collectors and have accumulated many modern and antique instruments: a vintage MGM Church microphone, a rare Sony Cu2, an 8-track tape machine used by Grateful Dead while touring, a 3-track machine from San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre, just to name a few.
Somewhat similarly, Niles City Sound is a collector of great musical talents.
"I consider what we do here is more like – it's a cheesy word to used, but – an incubator," said Josh Block, one of the founders of Niles City Sound. "Musicians come in and we do big projects for really big artists, like for a lot of pay sometimes."
When initially starting out several years ago, the studio did not charge any money to the artists to record their works.
Since then, the studio has grown in stature and reach. Leon Bridges recorded his debut album, which propelled him to stardom, at Niles City Sound.
Other renowned artists, such as Nicole Atkins, Meg Mac, Robert Ellis and Frank Turner have all recorded at the studio.
The studio has plans to open its business model to establish more locations such as Niles City Sound.
"The money hasn't gone, there's still a lot of money being floated around, it's just more people are making it," Block said. "The way we've adapted our business to that, just inherently, is the same way we ended up being record producers, engineers, musicians, touring musicians or really whatever that served the purpose of the thing we're interested at the moment is what we do here now. That's we help people start businesses."