Rick Vandeveerdonk has had a fractured jaw for six days and he doesn’t know it. Or at least it has not been diagnosed to him as such. He can certainly feel it. One side of his face is swollen and bulbous, his cheek a vivid palette of purples and greens and colors that would be downright beautiful in a less grotesque setting. It’s April 10th, 2012, and he has just returned from a trip to Portland, where he was attending a music festival instead of seeking medical attention. While trying to enjoy the festival, he suffered through regular bouts of the chills. Upon returning, the first medic that examined him exlaimed, “Oh, my god…” before turning him over to another specialist. The whole scenario would seem like a bouquet of puzzling decisions to many responsible adults. But the Fort Worth resident built a rather unconventional reputation over the course of a decade, and his world as the most visible proprietor at the 1919 Hemphill community space never seemed to orbit within the easy, the convenient, or sometimes even the safe. After all, he acquired his fractured jaw while he was standing in front of a gun.
Born in Dallas and raised in Burleson, Rick Vandeveerdonk moved to Fort Worth when he was 18-years old. He is the nephew of the flamboyant Russ Vandeveerdonk, who played JFK in JFK, and was heavily (and memorably) featured in the recent Starck Club documentary, Warriors of the Discotheque. His close friend Cri Rivera had discussed opening a community art and music space with a heavily activist bent for some time, and the first day it was actually open, Vandeveerdonk showed up and said, “I want to help out.” The two had been friends since the age of fifteen, when they met at an F.Y.P. show. Volunteers scattered as time went on and “…it was just me running it for two or three years,” Vandeveerdonk said. It was in this time that Rick Vandeveerdonk aka “Rick V” endeared himself to multiple generations of artists, punks, and activists. Whether it was through his tireless effort overseeing the space in all its mundane daily necessities, his involvement in bands such as Retro Spectro and People Men, or his humorous comic strips that barely contained a goofy yet sophisticated sense of humor, Rick V quickly became a dependable and sincere fixture of underground music in North Texas.
Of course, it was not all as fun as it sounds. The effort required to keep a space as noncommercial as 1919 Hemphill open for ten years has been an enormous effort not only on the part of Vandeveerdonk, but also Al Rios, Torry Finley, and a variety of others who have passed through the graffitied building before heading on to other things. But it was often Rick who had to make some key split-second moral and logical decisions that could have cost the space its remarkable longevity, or in at least one particularly notorious case, his life.
On the evening of April 4th, 2012, Rick Vandeveerdonk was alerted that some young men were selling drugs in the parking lot of 1919 Hemphill. The space does not even allow drinking or cigarette-smoking in still smokable Fort Worth. Ever the advocate for fairness, he at least planned on getting proof before making accusations. After all, the alleged dealers were kids from the neighborhood as opposed to show attendees, and 1919 Hemphill has always had a delicate balancing act with its surrounding community like few venues in the region. Though it’s just in the shadow of the increasingly swank Medical District, where one can purchase designer gin cocktails or gourmet tacos, this stretch of the block has remained relatively unchanged over a decade. The area has its share of foot traffic, aspiring teenager gangsters, and the homeless. The venue attracts a diverse crowd from all over North Texas and though the culture clash can be obvious, it’s generally a smooth symbiosis. This evening was different.
Again, Vandeveerdonk was proactive to seek out the perpetrators, since there had been wolf-cries of drug-dealing on other occasions that proved false. “Usually when someone says that, it’s something that’s not even true,” Vandeveerdonk said. “I had to go catch them in the act.” He found much more than he was looking for.
The next thing Rick Vandeveerdonk saw, was a young man playing with a pistol. “And then I saw the dude with the revolver, pointing it up and looking inside to see if there was anything in it,” Vandeveerdonk said. The young man was one of six. Earlier in the evening, Rick Vandeveerdonk had fed this young man a slice of pizza. Vandeveerdonk made it clear that they had to leave. Their average age appeared to be 17 or 18 years old. They were not ready to comply.
“You guys gotta go,” Vandeveerdonk said to the group.
“Why?” one of them asked, in an agitated tone.
“Because someone says you’re selling drugs, and you have a gun.”
“No, we don’t.”
“I just saw it. You have a gun,” Vandeveerdonk said.
It was at that point that the inevitable rightful ownership of neighborhood conversation unspooled, in a much less civil manner than you read on blogs about say, the gentrification of Oak Cliff.
“This is our hood,” one of the individuals maintained.
“I’ve been living here longer than you have,” Vandeveerdonk said.
“How long?,” inquired another.
“I’ve been living here my whole life,” declared one of the proud residents. “Yeah, me too!,” yelled another.
It was at that point that a small deal was seemingly struck. “I tell you what, man, we’ll leave, ’cause you’re a pussy.” The group splits up, with some leaving in a pickup truck and some on foot. After some initial false-starts on the promise to leave and Vandeveerdonk’s increasingly thin patience and threats to call the cops, the group disperses. Vandeveerdonk hoped the worst had passed.
Vandeveerdonk recognized two of the individuals, at least. One of them was known only as “Juan” or as he is mysteriously called, “Titty Milk.” He did not have the best reputation at the space. “He’s just some shitty kid. He’s stolen a lot of stuff here, but I don’t think he rolls with those guys. I’ve never seen him with those guys, I think he just ran into them that night, because as they fled, he walked the other way,” Vandeveerdonk said. He even felt Juan gave him a look of concern following the confrontation. “When they got in the truck, he walked away.”
Juan is a sad snapshot of the plight of some of the neighborhood youth who grew up around 1919 Hemphill. He did jail time for selling marijuana (“Or, that’s what he says,” counters a skeptical Vandeveerdonk). All in all, it was about thirty days, and when the time was served, Juan returned to 1919 with a slightly different approach. Vandeveerdonk said that he apologized following his stint and that he was now “just trying to be cool.” But he isn’t so young anymore. He’s twenty years old now and Vandeveerdonk claims he has been coming to the space “for years.” Rick Vandeveerdonk has had to watch the occasionally troubled youth at the shows he throws, as well as the occasionally troubled youth outside of his venue grow up for a decade now. As rewarding as that can be, it can also be difficult.
“I don’t think he lives anywhere,” Vandeveerdonk said regarding Juan. “I think he’s just some street kid. I see him come in from time to time. He actually says, ‘I’m not trying to be cool, I’m not going to lie. I hang out in the street. It’s what I do.’”
It’s midnight and the show has ended at 1919 Hemphill. Rick Vandeveerdonk and volunteer Katy Wilie are helping bands unload equipment in the parking lot. It comes to their attention that some of the show’s attendees are engaged in a physical and verbal altercation with a trio of young men from the neighborhood who had either returned or were still around. It was not the full group of six from earlier in the evening. One of the attendees, Chad Green, was on top on one of the young men from the neighborhood. He is beating him rather forcefully and Vandeveerdonk orders him to stop.
“Rick, call the police. They have guns. They have guns. You need to call the police,” Green exclaimed. Vandeveerdonk is immediately struggling with bringing the police into this picture. He refers to the action as “breaking a weird moral,” but also cedes that “I don’t like calling the police, but obviously, you should involve the police when there are people in danger.” He is torn.
In all of ten years of operation, Vandeveerdonk claims the police were a rather benign and seldom intrusive entity. They showed up for the occasional noise complaint, suspect search, or to occasionally claim that 1919 Hemphill’s Certificate of Occupancy had expired. “Those don’t expire,” Vandeveerdonk said. They sometimes do, when the owner changes, or the names on a bill change, however.
Vandeveerdonk was not always happy to see the police, of course, and most anyone who runs a venue specializing in any type of youth culture can probably relate. “A couple times the cops have just barged in, sometimes for noise complaints, I told them they couldn’t go in,” Vandeveerdonk said. “I was like, ‘Guys, if you want to talk to someone, I’m right here.’”
Earlier in the evening, Rick Vandeveerdonk offered a slice of pizza to a kid from the neighborhood. He told him to stop hanging out with the aforementioned Juan. When others in the group had gotten aggressive with Vandeveerdonk, “Pizza Kid,” as he insists on calling him, even defended Vandeveerdonk.
Pizza Kid was moved to take such threatening action by seeing his friend beaten up by Chad Green. He was attempting to aim his pistol at Green, who had beaten up his friend. Without thinking, Rick Vandeveerdonk steps in front of the gun.
“Go home. Go away. Go home. What are you doing? Go home,” Vandeveerdonk recalls saying to the gun-brandishing young man. He then makes an absurd yet truthful observation: “I gave you pizza earlier.”
Not to understate it, but was this why Rick Vandeveerdonk was able to step in front of Pizza Kid’s weapon? This recollection of a shared moment of tenderness between neighborhood figure and neighborhood youth? Their relationship would sour so quickly, only a few hours later, in the tragic way that only the colliding forces of culture, economics, and rash decisions can so painfully hasten.
The would-be gunman seems nervous. Rick is walking toward him and he is backing up. “He has a gun pointed at me and he was trying to shoot,” Vandeveerdonk said.
He then began to reason with the young man. “I’m not going to move, man. You’re not going to hurt anybody. Just go home. Go home. Go home.”
“This is loaded,” the young man claimed.
“Okay,” Vandeveerdonk recalls saying.
It’s at that moment that Vandeveerdonk is struck in the face, by whom, he’ll never know, he says. It’s a strong sucker punch and it fractures his jaw, though he won’t know that for a week.
At this point, the gun is turned and held in a pistol-whip position by Pizza Kid. This actually snaps Rick Vandeveerdonk back to reality. “That’s when I got scared,” Vandeveerdonk said. “I thought, ‘Yeah, I heard that hurts.’”
The group decides to flee and as they pile into a truck in the parking lot of Eddie’s Fried Chicken, one of the individuals yells for his gun-wielding comrade to “Jump in the back.” As the truck is driving off, Pizza Kid is still pointing the gun threateningly. Somewhere a woman is screaming. Everyone from the venue is in shock. The group runs inside 1919 Hemphill and locks the bar-covered glass doors behind them.
“To me was like they were f*cking role playing,” Vandeveerdonk said.
RESPECT YOUR NEIGHBORS
As soon as Rick Vandeveerdonk and his cohorts felt the chaos had subsided, the space still had one more trying circumstance. Though they were now safely locked inside, Vandeveerdonk insisted on going outside to face any would-be stragglers, much to the dismay of those around him. He had to be held back and recalls saying, “No, no, no, no, no, I’ll go outside. Just lock the door behind me.” It was then that an individual body slams the door from outside.
Vandeveerdonk became more adamant that he should go back outside. “”No, let me go outside. I don’t want them hurting the space,” Vandeveerdonk said, when recalling his main concern. This is in spite of the fact that he has been seriously injured and faced a deadly weapon.
“Then they throw a potted plant at the door,” Vandeveerdonk said. “It doesn’t do anything. Then one throws a f*cking cement block at the other door and breaks it. It’s even bent in there, look at that.” He points to the still-damaged door.
Once the door is damaged, the door to the space that Vandeveerdonk has labored over and loved for a decade, an eternity in the underground, he can no longer stay still.
“After that happened, I just f*cking went outside,” Vandeveerdonk said. “I was like, ‘F*ck it.’ I went outside by myself, and as soon as I got outside, one kid with braces, was like, ‘Come on, man…’ And I said, ‘Why would you do that? Why would you do that?’ That’s all I kept saying,” Vandeveerdonk said. ”He threw a punch and he hit me right there,” Vandeveerdonk explains as he gestures to his face.
Finally, after one more threat of the police, the last of the vandals leaves the premises of 1919 Hemphill. Vandeveerdonk is back inside and the police eventually do show up. Vandeveerdonk and the rest of the group have a hard time assessing the evening’s events. Less than a week after the incident, Vandeveerdonk seems somewhat shaken but fairly matter-of-fact about his decisions that night.
“I thought about all the people who got mad at me for jumping in front of a gun,” Vandeveerdonk explained when recalling the immediate flack he encountered for his actions. “And I say, ‘Think about all those people who Chad knows, Chad’s family. They would be mad if he got shot…I didn’t want Chad to die. Who knows if they would have pulled the trigger or not, but I don’t want Chad to die. No one wants Chad to die.”
Vandeveerdonk seems concerned about where the incident will leave the space. “I think there’s going to be a little bit of weirdness in me for a little while, while I’m here, but I think those feelings will go away,” Vandeveerdonk said. “If I see those kids here again, I’m just going to be like, ‘You should leave.’” He then starts to worry about an uptick in incidents. “What if they start f*cking with the building more? What if there is more than one brick thrown through the window? I don’t want that to happen.”
Then in almost the same breath, he recalls the generally positive way the space has been received in the neighborhood. He even seems to make excuses for some of the behavior of the individuals who very well could have killed him or his friends or had his space shut down. Vandeveerdonk is understanding to a fault, a rarity in a music scene largely eaten up by hubris, ego, and greed. “I’ve had stuff like that before. People like that just come and go. You’ll have your weird sketched-out person, and then they’ll leave,” Vandeveerdonk said. “Like these kids, maybe they’ll leave. Maybe they were just really drunk that night. Maybe they’re like, “Wow, we fucked up. Maybe we shouldn’t do that.”
He then reveals a telling exchange with another group of young people from the neighborhood, almost a year prior. The kids were exchanging threats with the crowd from a show at the venue, and Vandeveerdonk tried to reason with them about the realities of discrimination and picking their battles accordingly.
“We usually like our neighbors, but then some random kids show up — that was maybe a year ago — some kids here were trying to start shit with them and they were young kids, so I said, hey, just chill out,” Vandeveerdonk said, recalling the incident. “”Man, what are you talking about: chill out?,” was the response he got.
“If the cops show up, who’s going to get arrested?,” Vandeveerdonk said. “And they’re like, ‘We’re going to get arrested!’ So it’s like, “Just, f*ck ‘em,” Vandeveerdonk said. I kept trying to see it from their point of view, just being like, ‘That’s like some f*cking white kid from the suburbs, and you’re you. This is your street. Why does it matter? You’re never going to see them ever again.’”
Vandeveerdonk claims they actually had a breakthrough. “They agreed,” he said. “We exchanged names, and they went on their way. I’ve done that plenty of times,” Vandeveerdonk said. He then describes a tasteless phenomenon for which he has no patience: ”I once yelled at some guys for videotaping two homeless guys yelling at each other. I slapped that shit out of his hand. I was pissed. That thing upstairs says, Respect Our Neighbors. So, respect everyone here, including our neighbors.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY BUT GOODBYE, FORT WORTH
It’s October 23, 2012, a little over six months after the violence at 1919 Hemphill, and Rick Vandeveerdonk is sitting comfortably on one of the upstairs couches at one of his favorite local places, the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff. 1919 Hemphill has just celebrated its 10th Anniversary with a weekend of successful shows. Vandeveerdonk says his jaw still hurts, but other than that he seems happy. He is attending one of two going-away parties thrown in his honor, since he has decided to move to Bloomington, Indiana, to be with his new girlfriend, Lyndsey. The two met at a music festival called Plan-It-X Fest.
Apparently any of his fears about lingering threats to 1919 Hemphill are unfounded. “No one has ever seen those people ever again,” Vandeveerdonk said. He excitedly explains that he already has plans to start a space in Bloomington. “It has been discussed a show/art space/late night eating diner,” Vandeveerdonk said.
When asked about his time in Fort Worth, Vandeveerdonk claims to have no regrets. “No. Seeing new people get excited, I mean, I’ve seen three rounds of punk kids,” he says proudly. But, ever the realist, he continues, “There are a lot of people who say, ‘Yeah, I used to go there when I was a kid.” That’s the weird part. That’s the part I don’t like. But that’s how punk is. People grow out of it sometimes.”
1919 Hemphill without Rick Vandeveerdonk at the helm seems almost unthinkable. But he’s optimistic about the space’s prospects in his absence: “I’m very unorganized. I’m also a huge procrastinator. We have this whole new crew of kids; I wouldn’t be able to leave without those kids being there. Them being there is awesome and hopefully it will be a lot more organized. Better organization, that’s what I hope for. That’s it. It can only get better.”
Image at top: John Shea, Summer Bernas, Lacey Espree, Rick Vandeveerdonk, Al Rios, Torry Finley, and “Phil Gaspump,” celebrating 1919 Hemphill’s Ten Year Anniversary. Photo by Andi Harman.