story + photos / Esther Huynh
It was my first time to return to Trees in over 5 years. Coming back felt slightly daunting as the hordes of young people entered the Deep Ellum venue. I’m decked out in all white, realizing like an idiot that this is not the attire you wear to a place that has a ton of black lights. Trying to wipe this reminder off my head, I walk in with Marty Olivo of Dallas Rising Media ready to hear the music of local musician Leon Bridges. I’ve never heard a single track by him. But as the stage curtains opened to reveal the Fort Worth guitarist, an accompanying saxophone player, and three sultry women know as The Chandeliers, I realized this particular set was going to be very low-key. With songs coming out with heavy soul and gospel-like tunes, the music was obviously time based. Set in eras ranging from the decade where doo-wops reigned and v-neck sweaters and khakis were the fashion, the attire and the vocals were easy on the ears with their complex harmonies.
The crowd was surprisingly packed for a Saturday afternoon show. There was a considerable amount of space between the front row of the audience and the stage where a few other photographers were lingering. Clothed in the brightest attire, I was pretty self-conscious walking in that awkward gap to take close ups. Being an experienced concert venue goer, I had flashbacks reminding me of annoying photographers ruining the musical vibe just to get their shot. I didn’t want to become that photographer I used to loathe. Occasionally, I walked up there but the entire atmosphere was so laid-back that there was no rush to get photos. The crowd wasn’t jumping up and down. The performers weren’t running across the stage. No mosh pit. No drunkenly zealous girl fans. No fancy bright light shows. Just heads gently bobbing in perfect synchronization to the Chandeliers’ hips swaying back and forth with gentle tapping of the foot. Complete ease.
I was really enjoying the songs performed – so much so that I had to put down my camera and just listen. These southern styled tunes were such a fresh break on my ears (I’m a pretty avid indie folk, K-pop, & alternative music junkie) that I was reminded that Leon Bridges wasn’t bring something new to the table. He was bringing something back. On the mainstream end, we’re seeing a great deal of pop, R&B, and hip hop flood our radio waves. But what Leon is doing is re-introducing the charms of the south, keeping matters of the heart simple, and showing us that all he wants to do is be a “Better Man.”