Crystal Kirby Photography

Pop Music

Dallas’ Emo Nite Makes A Generation of Music Fans Feel Understood, Again

This nostalgic ritual convenes July 6 at the space where The Door used to be in Deep Ellum.

Chelsey Norris, communications manager for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, happens also to be a self-described “emo kid at heart.” 

Emo is, somehow, having a moment. It evolved from the late-nineties raw, underground style of bands like Mineral and The Promise Ring into commercial pop exported by the likes Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and Paramore in the early 2000s. In 2018, veteran groups like Taking Back Sunday, New Found Glory, Senses Fail and The Get Up Kids, who play Trees tonight, are stopping through North Texas on tours that commemorate 10+ years of their most popular records. And they’re making new music.

Emo Nite has certainly capitalized on this trend. Or maybe it helped feed the resurgence. If you haven’t heard about Emo Nite, which has been here in Dallas for just over a year, it’s essentially a big party for emo kids who’ve grown into adults.

“Basically everyone just comes together to listen to music and have a good time,” says Teresa Carpenter, one of the organizers of Emo Nite’s Texas group.

Founded in 2014 by Barbara (“Babs”) Szabo, T.J. Petracca and Morgan Freed, Emo Nite started as a small initiative in the dive bar scene of Los Angeles. Satellite groups like Emo Nite Texas now exist in 25 locations around the country, and there are monthlies in Dallas, Austin and Houston.

I grew up going to Warped Tour and seeing my favorite bands whenever they came through my hometown. It’s easy to relate to the themes expressed in emo music: pain, loneliness, feeling misunderstood, rejection, and getting through life despite. And rock shows are just plain fun. So, I was pretty excited by the idea of emo becoming more than a memory with Emo Nite.

Billed as a “takeover” of The Bomb Factory, this month’s Emo Nite was their most Texas-sized effort to date.  It included live performances by Bryce Avary (The Rocket Summer), Cartel’s frontman Will Pugh, legendary drummers Adrian Young (No Doubt) and Frank Zummo (Sum 41, Street Drum Corps), and emo-mariachi group Blink Juan-82 (who knew such a thing existed?). DJ sets by Caleb Turman (Forever The Sickest Kids), Derek Discanio (STATE CHAMPS), Awsten Knight (Waterparks), Blindwish and Oh, Weatherly were interspersed between live performances.

Backstage before the show, I confessed to Will Pugh that I’d not yet made it out to Emo Nite. “Oh, it’s going to blow your mind,” he said.

“Everyone remembers when they first started listening to their own music,” he continued. “They heard it and were like ‘finally, someone understands me!’”

“Anything goes here,” Frank Zummo told me from the green room. “People just want to fucking party.” Zummo and Adrian Young first collaborated 14 years ago, when Zummo started Street Drum Corps, and the duo has appeared at a handful of Emo Nites in the past few years.

(Zummo also talked about rehearsing for this in the wine cellar of Adrian Young’s house in LA, where No Doubt produced their album Rock Steady. If those walls could talk.)

“We put together a special performance,” he said. “Emo Nite is very intimate…and when you move it into these big venues, I would feel disconnected from the crowd. So we asked if they could put us in the middle of the crowd.”

Live performances given by Will Pugh, Frank Zummo and Adrian Young were the highlight of the Nite. The DJ sets felt far too contrived, especially with the addition of a hype crew strategically placed on stage. Emo is at its best when the raw sentiments expressed by the artists can be conveyed directly to listeners. Adding any extra fluff is doing it a disservice. The crowd seemed to enjoy it nevertheless.

Artists and fans alike feel a deep connection to the emo scene. “It’s this really cool relationship between fans and artists where the artist is being understood by the fans, and the fans are being understood by the artists,” said Pugh. This music has a profound, long-lasting impact, and movements like Emo Nite prove that it isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Tickets are on sale for the next Dallas Emo Nite on July 6 at 2513 Deep Ellum, where The Door used to be. 


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