Shortly after the Grajea sisters launched Whole Lota Denim, a boutique clothing shop in El Paso in 2021, they found their calling to pivot to live music promotion.
Sisters Mia, Savannah, and Sierra Grajeda initially planned to sell hand-painted denim, vintage clothes and jewelry. To promote the opening of their store in a former warehouse on El Paso’s East Side, Whole Lota Denim threw a launch party with entertainment from their friends’ bands. More than 300 people attended.
The buzz after the opening led to more bands asking to play at the shop. “We were like, that’s not what we do, we sell denim, we are a totally different market,” Mia Grajeda said.
However, inquiries persisted on their Instagram, causing the sisters to reconsider their plan.
“So, we looked at each other and knew we were in the wrong business, and that’s how it became the music venue,” Mia Grajeda said.
They kept the name and added a stage to the building at 11504 Rebel Court. Mia Grajeda said their first challenge was to get the word out that there was a new all-ages venue in town. That appealed to a younger audience that could not get into 21-and-older clubs. The next step was to find more bands to come play.
“It was hard getting our name out because we were still underground, but I think from a boutique to a music venue, we try to keep it by reaching out to people on the West Side of town so we get more local talent,” Mia Grajeda said.
It has become a true family business where the sisters get help from their parents with tickets, lights and sound. The sisters divide their tasks. Sierra Grajeda handles most of the marketing and promotion on shows and sets up stage equipment. Mia Grajeda takes the lead on booking bands to perform and handles tickets. Savannah Gradeja helps out with lighting and other duties.
Their business isn’t enough yet to fully support them. The revenue they receive from bookings is divided up amongst the sisters and bands who perform. The sisters also work at their father’s auto repair shop, and Sierra considers the time they work together a bonding experience.
“We are kind of the same. We all have the same ideas. It is honestly fun working with family. We have had no problems working together,” Sierra Grajeda said. “We are always together on the weekends and thinking of ideas to put together shows to make them good for people, so it has been a good bonding experience.”
Ticket prices vary from $5 to $10, depending on the show. Attendees buy their tickets through cash or Apple Pay. The venue sells popcorn, chips and soft drinks. Adults over 21 can bring their own alcohol but have to show ID verification and security is onsite.
The venue has a capacity for 400 people inside and 150 outdoors, with minimal seating. Performances range from out-of-town indie bands like Strawberry Milk Cult from Austin to local artists like El Paso rock band Linger.
“We do all genres, not just certain genres; we do rap, rock, indie, alternative anything, that you can think of every weekend is different,” Sierra Grajeda said. “We wanted to bring different music for different people’s music preferences.”
Whole Lota Denim has several shows a month. Of the 75 shows since they opened, the sisters favorite performers are Sitting on Stacy, an alternative rock band from California that toured with the Jonas Brothers in 2021 and performed again Nov. 10 at the venue.
Whole Lota Denim has more than 2,300 followers on its Instagram, where bands often contact them to rent out the space to perform. Bands get their own private green room, bathroom and up to six hours of performance time.
In the year since shifting from being a boutique to a music venue, the Grajeda sisters said that they have learned a lot as they continue to grow their business.
“We did start small, and it was good it was a smaller booking, but now it is getting a little bigger,” Savannah Grajeda said. “We are getting more out-of-town bands and getting into the place we want to be at, which is a bigger venue overall, so I feel like we are growing.”
The sisters had a show Oct. 7 to commemorate the second anniversary of the business name. The show featured heavy metal local bands Extortion and Gorilla Mintz and a crowd largely dressed in goth-grunge attire. A mosh pit thrived to the rush of the heavy metal guitar. Local vendors sold jewelry and clothing outside on the patio.
“I’m a big fan of heavy rock music, so it’s great to see these types of bands perform live and hear different music, so I would come again just to get the same experience,” said Jonathan Roman, who attended the event.
V Indigo Star sells jewelry and considers the venue a way for vendors to showcase their work.
“I appreciate this venue because it gives us vendors the chance to put our art out there and give everyone the chance to be seen,” Star said. “I started vending here this year, but I heard a lot of great things about it, and so far, it has been good working with them they have become friends of mine, so I appreciate them.”
Whole Lota Denim will have more shows in December; those interested in attending or playing future events can check their website for more information.