The Fry Street area just got a little less loud.
Convenience store and growler bar Midway Craft House ended its music shows this weekend after hosting two “farewell for now” shows on Thursday and Friday.
For more than three years, Midway provided a unique outlet for both traditional acts and outsider art. Store manager Rahim Dewji said he’s grateful to the Denton community for giving the venue a shot.
“Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this stuff,” he said. “I mean, it ain’t easy to get people to come play in a store, or to come watch. But we’ve been able to do it.”
While Friday’s show was advertised as Midway’s last, store owner Shakeel Merchant said the venue might book music shows in the future.
Dewji didn’t come up with the venue-within-a-convenience-store idea out of nowhere. A huge fan of director Kevin Smith, Dewji was largely inspired by his 1994 film Clerks. In it, a pair of misfits named Jay and Silent Bob loiter outside a convenience store every day, jamming out and heckling passersby.
Then one day when Dewji was at work, he had a eureka moment.
“I was like, ‘Man, if Silent Bob was real, this is what he would do if he had his own convenience store, right?’” he said.
Like Clerks, Midway Craft House’s venue eventually gained a cult following. With no other live music venues nearby, Dewji said he wanted his store to fill the Fry Street area’s sonic void.
But it didn’t stop with music. Midway Craft House would regularly host a veritable smorgasbord of entertainment, with art shows and comedy sets sprinkled in for good measure.
Always all-ages and always free, the Midway music stage was an inclusive, stimulating environment for Craft House patrons and performers, Dewji said.
Comedian Aleah Berroa said her career got a boost after Dewji asked her to host the venue’s weekly open mic nights. Berroa added that at Midway, she felt free to test out newer, more risque material.
“I can definitely say Midway is a good spot for newcomers,” she said. “It’s like, what’s the worst that’s going to happen? It’s already in a convenience store.”
Dewji opened Midway’s doors to acts that mainstream venues might have snubbed: opera singers, punk rock bands, classical guitar players, high school-aged bands and harpists have all graced the venue’s makeshift stage.
But it’s that sort of variety that helped put Midway Craft House on the map.
In 2017, an improvisational noise act’s Midway set went viral after a video got posted on websites like Reddit and eBaum’s World. Denton metal band Brutal Juice once filmed a music video in the middle of the store during regular business hours. And local heavyweights Baptist Generals and Pearl Earl have performed under the Midway’s fluorescent lights.
Cori Suma, the front woman of rock band Reliant K2, said the store’s eccentric setting added a certain je ne sais quoi to her band’s set. She remembers a rowdy Midway performance where she slipped on the beer-soaked tile floor and crashed into her guitar player’s pedals.
The very act of playing live music in a convenience store is akin to performance art, Suma added. The venue’s kaleidoscopic backdrop of junk food, gum packets, condoms and heartburn medicine are transformed into art during a show, she said.
“I think Midway is part of what made Denton, Denton,” Suma said. “They’re just opening their doors and allowing this very DIY ethic to happen in this space. And I’m really grateful for that.”
Some customers would shy away from making a purchase after stumbling in on live music. But Dewji said that for the most part, the performances didn’t impede Midway’s regular business traffic. Convenience store customers would often stick around for the rest of the show, he said, which performers would invariably take as a compliment.
Since Midway Craft House announced its venue’s closure on Facebook, Dewji said he’s received an outpouring of support from the arts community. But he’s reluctant to take much credit for the venue’s various successes.
It was Denton’s eclectic cast of characters, Dewji said, that made his dream possible.
“I appreciate the kind stuff [people] say, but you guys have the talent. I just gave you a place to show people,” he said. “I’m just the Silent Bob, that’s all I am.”