It's a familiar experiment — a casual atmosphere, loose guidelines for booking bands, and no cover charge. If what's stilting the local music scene is exclusivity and empty pockets, simply take away the restrictions.
That's the formula that allowed Midtown D.I.Y. venue The Dairy, a house close to the Turner Dairy on Madison, to grow out of a couple of young new bands, some hand-drawn fliers, and word of mouth. Playing host to a mix of local and national indie-rock acts, really anyone in need of a place to play, the Dairy has created and filled its own niche. It's a venue that was built around something other than a bar and a decent sound system, and it's become the center of young, indie Memphis music as we know it — that is, until last Sunday, when its patrons saw it off with a day-long "last stand."
While the Dairy was the breeding ground for several bands that later grew to play elsewhere, it certainly didn't catalyze the entire D.I.Y. scene, which has loomed large in Memphis for decades. The home's residents are all Memphis transplants, and their impulse to start a venue was due largely to unfamiliarity with local venues and their booking policies. Their bands needed a place to play, and they had a living room.
So when, in early 2010, the Dairy's residents decided to start booking shows at their Midtown home, the instant success was in some ways surprising. Their first show was also the first for Bake Sale, a low-fi dream-pop quartet that has since escalated to larger venues and a pre-South by Southwest tour, most recently throwing a CD-release party at the Hi-Tone Café. The "stage," constructed in the corner of the largest room in the house, was as crowded on Sunday as at many of the 40 or so shows the venue has hosted in what was a little more than a year of existence.
Free shows may always draw a crowd, but Memphis has long been known for its plethora of affordable and accessible music. What the Dairy did was pick up on a group that was already growing, becoming an outlet for people already interested in the music that young Memphis was churning out.
The beauty of it was in combining bands looking for a place to get started with those existing influences, placing brand-new outfits alongside successful local performers such as the Magic Kids and the Gunslingers, and often pulling more large-scale acts — one night the Dairy hosted the world-touring California band Wavves, and a roster that included Ty Segall and Evil Army played there pre- and post-Gonerfest.
On an average night, Dairy regulars like Bake Sale, All Howlers, and Kruxe were joined by a slew of bands from nearby cities for whom Memphis was part of a regular circuit. Between shows, Dairy frequenters organized art installations and outdoor film screenings.
So why the farewell party? As it turns out, keeping up a thriving music and arts venue in your living room is tough work (not to mention the utility bill). As the Dairy's bands build toward other, larger venues, it's become clear that what was housed there needn't come to an end; it's a more sustainable movement that found a resting place for a little while. What it was that the space contributed to these bands — a sense of mobility, a place to converge, rearrange, and grow — may prove to be unique, or it may be duplicated in one of Memphis' other house venues, or a low-cover bar.