“Folks just weren’t spending money on entertainment,” Liles says. “When Edwin and I first met, my first impression is that this idea will never, ever happen. Deep Ellum was really struggling at the time and many of our treasured live music venues here in town were either struggling or had been closed down altogether.”
Liles introduced the Kessler to Dallas’ creative community by having local musicians tour the still-under-renovation space and posted videos of them playing acoustic sets inside the building. “By the time we finally opened the doors in March of 2010, just about every musician in town was fully aware of what we were trying to do, and had some small connection to the project,” he says.
Now, the renovated Kessler regularly sells out its shows. (The theater sits 350 comfortably, while standing-room-only shows can accommodate up to 500 concertgoers.) Its smaller capacity makes for a true listening-room experience, and it hosts acts including comedy, spoken word, jazz, R&B, intimate acoustic sets, and rock ‘n’ roll shows from national acts.
The Kessler’s goal is to occupy a “specific aesthetic niche,” Liles says. “In addition, our relationship with local nonprofits like WordSpace Dallas, who have brought in iconoclastic artists like Laurie Anderson, Amy Sedaris, Dan Savage, and Sandra Bernhard, has helped us to engage a more thoughtful, intellectual audience over time.”