Zoning guidelines threaten Historic West Side venue’s open mic night

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Miranda Alam/Special to Weekly

Reese Darko performs during an open mic night at the Truth Spot in Las Vegas on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019.

Thu, Mar 14, 2019 (2 a.m.)

In a small, sparse and colorfully decorated room, approximately 50 people sit on folding chairs and couches, their attention fixed on a small stage. Performers command the platform for a few minutes to share an original song, poem or multimedia performance, addressing themes including love, work, wealth and race.

It’s Sunday, February 24 at the Truth Spot, a community space at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Jimmy Avenue. Host Darelle Davis, a Las-Vegas based spoken word poet who goes by the name Rell Da Truth, introduces each performer with their name and a fun fact about them.

Judges stand on the sidelines, determining which performer will win that evening’s open-mic night competition and $200 cash prize. But Davis makes sure every act is followed by enthusiastic applause. “Give it up one more time for Black Fairy!” Davis says after a contestant finishes a soulful singing performance.

With no bar, no smoke and no dancing, the scene at the Historic West Side venue is a far cry from Las Vegas’ many nightclubs. But under the city’s zoning laws, the Truth Spot is classified as a nightclub and lacks the necessary permits and zoning requirements to conduct its activities.

“If you’re doing live entertainment as your primary focus, whether that’s a poetry slam or open-mic night, if that’s your primary activity, that is a nightclub by our code, whether there’s dancing or not,” explained the city’s planning director, Robert Summerfield.

The Truth Spot’s proximity to several churches makes it ineligible for nightclub designation, Summerfield said, especially if it were to serve alcoholic beverages. But the business, which has a temporary banquet facility license, might be eligible for a waiver to continue holding some public events at the location.

“Depending on the extent [of] what they’re trying to do, there may be some avenues that would allow them to request a waiver, versus other avenues that aren’t waiver-able,” Summerfield said.

Davis, who founded the Truth Spot and will meet with the city this month to discuss the issue, said he hopes officials will understand the intention of the Truth Spot. “I’m not trying to do anything illegal, just an opportunity for people to share their truth and a safe place to go,” he said.

IF YOU GO

• The Truth Spot: Spit Your Truth open-mic night

• March 20

• 1830 N. Martin Luther King Blvd. #108

• On Facebook: The Truth Spot LV

Davis started the Truth Spot four years ago as a pop-up for open-mic nights and slam poetry competitions in the Las Vegas area. In June 2017, he opened his current location on the Historic West Side, a longtime African-American neighborhood, hoping to counter perceptions of gang activity in the area. “I want [everyone] to know there’s more to that side of town,” Davis said.

Reese Darko, who performed at the venue February 24, said the Truth Spot attracts artists who aren’t afraid to be emotionally vulnerable and authentic in their performances. She also noted its community-oriented, accessible approach; anyone is welcome to perform or attend events, and the space charges a suggested donation of $5.

“I feel like they really stand up for the black community, but they accept and welcome with open arms all walks of life,” Darko, 29, said.

Bqqmbiggi3 (pronounced “Boom-biggie), a ’90s rap-inspired hip-hop artist, began his performance that evening by reciting the serenity prayer: “Give me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

He then broke into “ITS Thym3,” a song that describes the narrator’s efforts not to get caught up worrying about certain things in life and to stay focused: “My mother told me I can grow up to be brave/Talk to God, tell him show me the way/Took the time just to work on me/Now all the problems I’m having just rolling away,” he rapped.

Bqqmbiggi3, whose real name is Terry Robinson, said it was his first time at the Truth Spot, but that he will “definitely” be coming back.

“I honestly think that it’s a great opportunity to display your talents, and when you put a wager on it, it makes you want to come with your best,” said the 30-year-old Las Vegas resident.

In addition to events for adults, the Truth Spot provides opportunities for youths to share poetry. A related initiative called the Truth Collective is organizing the first official youth poetry slam team in Las Vegas, said Ashley Vargas, co-founder of the Truth Collective.

The team is made up of students from Equipo Academy. These youth poets, along with other students, shared their work, which touched on topics including the October 1 shooting, love and sex, family, abuse, mental health, suicide and racism at a competition February 8 at Equipo.

Marisol Diaz broke down in tears after delivering a heartfelt tribute to her mom: “Dad changed his ways, he tried to be better/He’s always been there for us, holding our weight like a feather/But my mom is much stronger, she holds us like air/And that’s why he loves her.”

Diaz, along with four other students and one alternate, will compete at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival in July. The newly formed youth team will begin practicing next week, with the guidance of Davis and Vargas.

Vargas emphasized that having a home base for the Truth Spot and the Truth Collective’s activities on the West Side is crucial for helping artists of all levels, backgrounds and ages achieve their potential. She described the Historic West Side as underserved when it comes to public transportation, underscoring the importance of keeping the Truth Spot in its current location.

“There is a tremendous lack of safe artistic venues that welcome everyone,” she said. “We’re talking about people regardless of their [color], gender, regardless of their preferences.”

Davis and Vargas hope they can find a solution with the city so the Truth Spot can continue to serve the neighborhood.

“So many people are just looking for some level of home, some level of comfort, some level to be like, ‘You know what, this is my place,’ ” Vargas said. “That’s really what the Truth Spot has become. We just want to make sure it stays that way.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.

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