COVER STORY: Let the music play

Local musician SuZanne Kimbrell carves her own path while proving to Dallas that gay people can rock just as hard as anyone else

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

One Wednesday night in November, an idea came to fruition — one based on the hope that Dallas’ gay music scene can change.

SuZanne Kimbrell believes that the LGBT community in Dallas hasn’t embraced its own out musical artists enough.

The thing is — she may be right.

Kimbrell’s bi-monthly music event, Twist Dallas, has been getting praises by some in the gay community for offering an alternative to the Cedar Springs Strip for a night out. But for Kimbrell, it’s also a different way to approach gay Pride.

“I think that’s what Pride is a lot about — not only just being gay, but the diversity of what that means,” she said.

By day, Kimbrell works at a coffee shop part-time and teaches music. By night, she’s on the hustle as most struggling musicians are.

But she hustles for two things: her own musical career, which is making some strides, and Twist Dallas, which features a roster of LGBT and gay friendly local musicians.

The inaugural Twist happened that crisp November night in East Dallas when Kimbrell filled the Lakewood Bar and Grill with an ambitious lineup of seven musicians and bands, along with a visual artist for good measure.

And the place was packed.

“We have a great pool of gay and lesbian musicians in Dallas [who are] not being heard,” Kimbrell said. “It’s not the gayborhood’s fault, but I think it’s the lack of communication.”

KEEPING UP | SuZanne Kimbrell keeps track of what’s hot, musically, at the listening station inside Good Records on Lower Greenville. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Getting started

That first night, in the middle of the week, the show began at an early 7:30 p.m. but lasted well past 1 a.m. At the midpoint, the bar was packed, mostly with women, but Kimbrell’s vision had been realized.

She built it, and the gays came out.

Seven months later, Kimbrell is staging her fourth show and all is going according to plan.

“Getting anybody to any show can be hard, but the word is getting out,” she said. “We’ve had more people come each show, and I think that each show has been subsequently more successful than the last.”

But there has been frustration along the way.

With Twist Dallas, Kimbrell’s intention was to create a platform for local LGBT musicians to perform and be showcased. She didn’t see that much anywhere else.
Kimbrell had a regular stint at Jack’s Backyard and performed at an open mic at Sue Ellen’s, but found it difficult to break into her own gay district where established locals consistently performed. So she did something about it.

“It’s been hard to play on Cedar Springs. Dallas has shown a platform for queer musicians, but it’s only one window to look through on this big ship of music,” Kimbrell said with building intensity. “On this ship, we have a 100 different windows to look through. All we want is for people to come look here and see the amazing talent.”

In the three shows under her belt, Kimbrell has featured local gay musicians that play folk, rock, R&B and hip-hop. She added local poet Audacious to her second bill, adding the element of spoken word.

Kimbrell isn’t hung up on the type of performance. She just wants to put it out there.

Infidelix, aka Bryan Rodecker, a hip-hop artist from Denton, finished off the first Twist event with some major upswing, even as the crowd dwindled into the late weeknight.

“Playing that night was amazing,” he said. “The coolest part was that it wasn’t at a gay bar. Usually we get segregated just to playing our clubs, but this brings us out to [non-gay] venues and that’s wonderful.

“The different styles brought many of us together,” Rodecker continued. “In that one night, I made lifelong artist friends. I can’t wait to play another one.”

Finding her voice

In the fall of 2007, Kimbrell returned from a stay in South America while part of the Peace Corps. She was there for two years, mostly in Paraguay — and while there, she discovered her voice as a musician.

Kimbrell had always tinkered around with music, but nights in Paraguay over a two-year period passed slowly. Fortunately, she had packed her guitar.

Kimbrell essentially taught herself to play guitar and after an accidental duet with a guy and his guitar from the Corps, she discovered she didn’t have such a bad voice.

“He was singing ‘Fast Car’ by Tracy Chapman and he sang for shit,” she laughed. “So I jumped in and after, he told me I should start looking into doing that more. Later on, as I got better, I got to play in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, of course.”

Kimbrell had somehow made the unique career move of becoming an international musician before becoming a local one.

With a newfound confidence, she jumped into the music scene when she returned to Dallas. She booked solid shows, bringing her brand of rock and blues to the scene, and she went at her shows unabashedly.

“I had the guts to get onstage and I just didn’t care,” she said. “I had developed a lot since coming back and my voice, literally and as lesbian, is stronger. I don’t have anything to hide.”

Keeping up momentum

With her fourth show looming, Kimbrell also has to keep up on her own career and it’s not an enviable position to be in. She was just approved by Kickstarter.com to get help with funding her goals for a full-length album (the site is a fundraising tool where people and companies can sponsor and donate funds to artistic projects).

Her goal is to raise enough funds to pay for studio costs, marketing and publishing in time to start recording in August this year. Although she’s excited about this part of her “business” plan, she knows she’s got a hard job ahead of her.

“The music industry is a bitch,” Kimbrell said. “You have to be tenacious and always on the bit, the phone, networking everyday; you need to be hustling. If you miss it, you’re done.”

This doesn’t sway her. While she may not have time to be overly excited about this latest development, it’s not lost on her.

“It’s so nice Kickstarter has given me a chance and I can see the $6,500 goal and the deadline and the people supporting me,” she said.

But there are other things are on her mind, too, like getting this edition of Twist Dallas finalized.

Since the first show, tweaks had to be made in order for it to push forward. For instance, the event has moved to a Thursday, which may bring more people in to the show.

Another tweak was actually the result of her getting flak by both gay and straight fans.

“I used to want it to be totally gay, but a big change is adding straight people to the lineup,” Kimbrell said. “People told me to bring in all of the community and they were right.

“I wanted a platform solely for gays, but I realized that first, there are not as many out musicians and that we need to be inclusive. We’ll never evolve if we are exclusive.”

The struggle showed on her face as she went through the behind-the-scenes details, but her spirit still had the spark. For her, Twist Dallas is worth it.

Besides, it’s her baby.

“People say that it’s fun and are glad it’s here and that it’s needed,” Kimbrell said. “They say they love Oak Lawn but that it’s nice getting out of there to see other musicians, artists, or hear poetry by people they might not have heard of.”

Looking to the future

Kimbrell expressed an inner conflict though. When asked if she would ever bring Twist to Oak Lawn, she wasn’t sure.

She said she has wrestled with the idea. While a stage at Pride is her ideal situation for Twist, the conflict comes from a sort of apathy or complacency Dallas’ gay community seems to have regarding live, original music.

Why is that?

“I think there’s a comfort there and that makes it hard to get into some of the venues,” she said. “The community and the powers that be get comfortable. I don’t think they’re trusting but the community is educated. Why not educate them some more with different options?

“We need to keep looking to the future while remembering the past, but unless that changes, we’re gonna be stuck,” she said.

Ultimately, Kimbrell said she would like a Twist show in Oak Lawn, being that it is the heart of the gay population. She’d also like to see it bounce around venues, much like the way Chick Happy Hour and Guerrilla Gay Bar do, taking the gays out of the box.

“The reason its called Twist is to shake things up,” Kimbrell said. “We wanna be seen, but also mix more with other parts and people of Dallas. And yes, I’d love Twist in Oak Lawn if people want it. I think Sue’s or the Rose Room would be great spots for it.”

Kimbrell is all about versatility. She learned quickly that Twist doesn’t need to be rigid — it couldn’t survive that way.

She just wants to get music out there and get exposure for what Dallas — and even beyond — has to offer in work by queer musicians, wherever that happens.

“I think it’s important to not always go to the same part of town. Wouldn’t you like to go to Lakewood or Deep Ellum or anywhere else and know you can go into the club because we made a presence there and they’re used to gay people there?

“We’re here, we’re queer get used to us. Isn’t that the slogan? Now hear our music and look at our art.”

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Do the Twist

Chasing the Muse

As mentioned in the main article, SuZanne Kimbrell made major tweaks to this latest edition of Twist Dallas. First and foremost, the event moves to Thursday nights, and while this show continues at Lakewood Bar & Grill, she expects that the July show will be in a different venue.

Also, the lineup here is tighter with four performers on the bill (Kimbrell included), but she’s pulled together another eclectic group of performers.

Natalie Velasquez hails from Denton. She plays guitar with a three-piece band backing her that plays improvisational jazz with some rock thrown in.

She’s also a TWU student studying music.

According to Kimbrell, Denton is a hotbed for LGBT musicians. Past performers Infidelix and Immigrant Punk are from there as well.

Finding inspiration in Tori Amos, Bjork and Radiohead, David Siuba from Santa Fe brings his piano skills to town, offering up a queer perspective to his alternative pop.
Robinson Hall will likely finish the show on a high note. Led by queer vocalist Jackie Hall, the band is a blend of sultry soul and slick guitar rock.

In their videos on Facebook, they bring in the funk — expect the same on Thursday.

Visual artist Sylwester Zabielski will have his photography and film work on display.

Kimbrell does most of Twist out of her pocket, but is always on the lookout for help. For anyone wanting to be a part of the Twist team as a volunteer, she’s welcoming people with a variety of skills to help with upcoming shows.

Kimbrell admits the hardest part is the Web and marketing. She wants to develop a street team of people to hit the nightspots and spread the word.

Her girlfriend Sarah Cox has handled most of the Web work, but with a heavy school schedule, Kimbrell is searching for people who are dedicated and reliable that could help take on Twist’s website and social networking.

For more information or to express an interest, contact Kimbrell via Twist Dallas on Facebook.

The May show for Twist Dallas will be at Lakewood Bar and Grill, 6340 Gaston Ave., on May 19 at 8 p.m. Admission is $10. For more information go online to TwistDallas.com.

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Advice for the loud at heart

CROWD CONTROL | The audience at Twist gives proper attention to the music.

As Twist Dallas evolves, one common aspect SuZanne Kimbrell has noticed is courtesy — or sometimes the lack of it.

It’s often that the lineup will include some softer music or a simple setup.

Kimbrell herself plays just with a guitar. But when someone’s phone rings or the conversations get too loud, she goes nuts.

“I just hate seeing my friends putting their heart and soul into their performance and someone is yelling into their cell phone or at the person next to them.”

Kimbrell has simple advice for those people. Or anyone. It’s not about shushing people so much as it is about common courtesy.

“I know they are in a bar, but it’s just rude. If you are within 15 feet of a singer but want to have a loud conversation, go away!” she advised.

She wants it clear that she doesn’t mind people talking, but distracting others by “taking away from the experience for people who give a shit about music” bugs her to no end.

In the March show, the crowd was so bad, she said, that one of the artists vowed never to return.

“There are ways to have conversations and watch people play,” Kimbrell said. “People just need to know that the musicians and the audiences feel that frustration.”

So, in short, shut up?

“Well, not to be mean, but yeah,” she laughed.

—  John Wright