Decks in the Park founder shares his vision for one the city’s biggest music events
“Music is a labor of love.”
Jeff Mitchell’s entrepreneurial journey truly lives and breathes this sentiment.
He’s the founder and CEO of Decks in the Park, a free, tech-driven, music festival series that regularly draws 7-10 thousand people to Klyde Warren Park during the Summer and Fall months. The brand also includes a variety of pop up events at select venues around town. Since its debut in 2013, the biannual event has grown into one of the most respected and loved music events in the city now drawing approximately 10,000 people per show.
Decks in the Park embodies Mitchell’s own love of music as well as his mission of giving back to the community. Ultimately, he believes that events like Decks and other vibrant music programs can improve the quality of life in a world-class city like Dallas. He believes that “music breaks down borders and cultural differences and lays fertile ground to unifying people in a positive and fun environment.”
We sat down with him to talk about one of the city’s most popular music events, his journey into entrepreneurship and what’s next for this local visionary.
For those that have never been, why is Decks in the Park an event that can’t be missed?
Decks is a music festival that occurs twice a year, bringing together a variety of people from all ages and cultural backgrounds, under one roof with great tunes spun by local DJs, dancing, food, art, vendors and more. I wanted to create a one-of-kind event that’s safe, free and accessible for all people and pets to enjoy. We called it Decks in reference to a DJ turntable and in the park because it’s over a popular highway here. We tried to be clever with our choice of words. Needless to say, coordinating a musical festival isn’t an easy endeavor and I didn’t do this alone. For starters, I had an amazing team of believers and supports that were there from day one.
Our team includes:
- Marty Martinez- Social Revolt – Social Media Marketing
- Julio Rivera – DJ Souljah – Talent, Fundraising
- Rene Rodriguez- Events Moderne – Sound, Lighting, Video Production
- Ryan Kimura, Jose G – Funding and Operations
- Selvin DeLeon (VJ S Eye)- Visual Arts Director
How did you get started in the music industry?
I moved to Dallas from Oklahoma City and at that time, I didn’t really have a lot of exposure to any electronic music. I came to Dallas because there was a girl I was dating and I started going into some of the local clubs which were a whole new world and sound for me. I started working in the clubs here as a door guy and that’s kind of where I really started falling in love with electronic music and house music. These experiences eventually led me into becoming an event promoter.
Back in like the 90s, a partner and I formed a production company called Big Dad productions. We had a warehouse down in Fair Park and we were throwing underground raves. I would do a lot of club events as well. That kind of evolution happens, throwing events in that space and underground parties and rave parties.
We purchased some turntables for events and I kept those in my house. I naturally started dabbling with them. I started getting familiar with other DJs and I started collecting records and falling in love with it. As I got better, my first big club gig was at a place called Rehab Lounge in Deep Ellum. That was my first big club event. Every Thursday night it was acid jazz, hip-hop and a little bit of house music. That really kicked off my DJ notoriety at that time.
As I got better at DJing, I started producing music. My first house music record label that I got signed to was a bigger electronic music label out of San Francisco called OM Records. I was working with another friend of mine who I was doing some DJ collaboration with. He played trumpet and keyboards, and we would do kind of a live collaboration.
Can you tell us more about how you started Grab Recordings?
There was a guy named Sean Holland, who was a well-known promoter and owned a party group called Hazy Dayz back in the mid to late 90s. I always wanted to start a label, but didn’t really know how to get started. Sean worked for a lot of record stores in New York and then started working for this distributor. So the timing kind of aligned with one distributor in particular, Syntax. They did what’s called “P and D” deals with certain individuals they felt could curate a good collection of music and help with advertising and marketing as well.
I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to launch my label with a distribution deal through them. I didn’t really have to worry about [distribution] and deal with the record stores and music stores all that. I got to focus on curating a good collection of music on the label, marketing it and doing all the promotions and managing some of the business aspects of it. We did that for about four years.
You also own a real estate company. How did you get into that?
I have been in residential real estate for 14 years. I’ve worked with luxury firms and I’ve also owned a couple of companies too. It was funny because the guy that got me into real estate was a DJ friend of mine. When we started our company, probably 70% of our agents were DJs. For whatever reason, DJs and the real estate industry have a lot of synergy. “Record crates to real estate” was our little tagline.
My wife Katie is in residential real estate as well. I left the firm Briggs Freeman and Katie and I started our own company called Modern Living Real Estate, a boutique firm that focuses on contemporary modern and mid-century modern homes, condos, townhomes, and single family homes. We mainly focus our attention inside the loop, so East Dallas, Highland Park, Uptown Oaklawn. I enjoy those kinds of homes and that kind of architecture. I find that people who are pursuing those type of homes or are living in those type of homes or that type of lifestyle are usually really creative people and really line up with kind of how we live.
“For whatever reason, DJs and the real estate industry have a lot of synergy. “Record crates to real estate” was our little tagline.”
What’s your vision for Decks in the Park?
My goal is to ensure the sustainability of Decks for years to come. The experience at Decks is a cultural touchstone offering a surreal blend of music, colorful lights, artistic video production and state of the art sound under the stars. Each city has its own beat. Dallas is big…with a big heart and a big community.
We’ve been lucky to increase the footprint of Decks in the Park. The staggering growth since 2013 has allowed the brand to grow in additional markets such as Austin. In 2016, we joined forces with Utopia Festival to present a two- day music showcase with pop-up events throughout Dallas to keep the experience alive. Although there have been challenges to demystify the definition of the event from not being a rave, the overall outcome has been positive.
“We start with music and end with music to unify in a safe, positive, and fun environment to expand the vibrancy in more communities.”
We are supporters of local artists and proud to keep all events local. Our passion is to grow the concept with the needs and demands of our community. We do hope to increase our outreach to other cities by strengthening our social media engagement, collaborations among partners, and activate more brands throughout the year. 2019 will be a pivotal year for us as we hope to activate 3-4 times a year with signature park events, medium size activations and more park programming to support population growth. I’d like to host one ticketed festival in the park perhaps Memorial day to increase awareness of our rich culture, our passion to love bigger, and our appetite to be on the map as the most innovative, entrepreneurial city in the USA.
Your Halloween bash is coming up. What makes it different from other Halloween events in the area?
We have done the Halloween bash almost every year. This year is our five year anniversary. We’ve got renewed support from Klyde Warren Park and that’s going to result in us being able to do a lot more events in the future.
Where else can you go in the city and have a party like this that is all inclusive? From kids to parents, to your millennial music lover, it’s just such a really cool, diverse mix of people. That’s all of our events. Decks always works very harmoniously and I think that’s something people really recognize. A lot of times events are very segmented.
There’s going to be a custom “trick or treat” playground for kids which is sponsored by the neighbors of the park. This is a great event if you live in the neighborhood. We’re expecting around 630-830 kids.Traditionally, this event has not been held on Halloween. Since there will be a fair amount of younger kids in attendance that would otherwise be trick or treating, we wanted to make sure we provided an outlet for families as well.
There will be thousands of people dressed up in costumes. It is going to be one of the largest outdoor Halloween parties in town. We’re doing an after party for the first time on site at the park. When we first started this event, we were permitted to put on a show until 11pm and then that kind of got dialed back. We had to end the main park event at 10 pm. Part of the new support we’re getting is largely from John Coleman and his group at Sabre. They’ve been very instrumental in giving us more opportunities. We’re doing an after party from like 10 to 12:30 am at Sabre.
2018 Decks in the Park Halloween Bash
10/31/18 5pm to 10pm
RSVP for free entry HERE