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Midway Craft House enjoys status as local music spot

Profile image for By Jeremy Hallack
By Jeremy Hallack, GuideLive

Sunday night, a customer of Midway Craft House sauntered into the convenience store. Reaching over the shelf from the candy aisle, the customer tried to grab a box of Trojan condoms but accidentally knocked a box onto the keyboard player.

These things happen when a liquor store doubles as an impromptu concert venue.

"Of course it had to be condoms," said Alexa Blake of the Minneapolis psychedelic rock band Harakiri. The group shared a chuckle between songs after realizing they were performing right next to boxes of tampons, too.

Midway Craft House is a neighborhood shop with walk-in coolers of beer, wine and some grocery store items. When bands started performing there in April 2016, music fans found it's a surprisingly loud, clear place to listen to live tunes. And as of this week, bands no longer have to bring their own PA system because Rahim Dewji, the store manager who also books shows, just bought one.

He remembers Denton as a hub for live music. But between when he was a UNT college student and now, many concert venues nearby had closed.

"I always heard people saying they wished there was still music around here," Dewji says.

With similar memories from his days at UNT, store owner Shakeel Merchant liked the idea of having live music.

"Fry Street was the place to be," Merchant says. "But over the years it dwindled -- and there were bands that needed a launch pad."

Now hosting live music, comedy, poetry readings and podcast recordings a few nights a week, Midway Craft House has become a place for young artists to listen and perform. At a punk rock show, a crowd moshed, dented a shelf and knocked over a few things. But the transition has been surprisingly smooth otherwise. Merchant even admits that he was in the crowd, headbanging at a metal show.

"It's a Denton thing," Merchant says. "This is a quiet community with gritty music."

César Velasco performed in front of a few dozen people at Midway Craft House on Sept. 2 with his Denton punk rock band, Thin Skin. He says the unlikely venue is filling a void for small shows after Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios closed and J&J's Pizza on the Square stopped hosting shows in the basement.

Indeed, Condor & Jaybird, an upbeat psychedelic pop group on tour from Illinois, was having trouble finding a place to perform in Denton.

"We sent an e-mail to every venue," says Jeramie Anderson. "They either didn't book Sundays or they were already booked."

Though some customers pause at the front door, likely surprised by the venue, they tend to hang out. Grateful for the exposure, Anderson says customers at Midway Craft House seemed more attentive than crowds at other small venues or house shows.

"The space was opened up to anyone from any scene," Velasco says.

He even started shooting videos of performances called Midway Craft House Sessions.

But it is, of course, a strange gig.

"People are trying to shop," Velasco says. "Sometimes there's a band between them and what they want. They either get freaked out or they go for it."

Midway Craft House is located at 1115 W. Hickory St., Denton. Concerts are free and open to all ages.

FEATURED IMAGE: Midway Craft House — part convenience store, part growler bar and venue — has carved its niche alongside Fry Street to promote local music and comedy. Photographed Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, at 1115 W. Hickory St. in Denton, Texas. DRC file photo