Do local country bars still book bands?
One of the best periods of my life was the few years I visited my local saloon on a Friday or Saturday night. When one spends her weekdays entrenched in corporate minutia ~ planning, calculating stats, approving time cards, trying to come up with ways to motivate people who also aren't that invested ~ it was so nice to don my best jeans and a chambray shirt, dab on a smudge of perfume and head down to the local saloon.
In my small town, there were only two, occasionally three bars that featured live music. The one out on the highway heading north was the staid one. Its band rotation consisted of approximately two hometown bands, who weren't necessarily bad, but didn't possess much polish. Another bar on the outskirts heading west was rowdy; beer bottles smashing and drunks hooting and stumbling into chairs and fellow drinkers. I went there maybe twice. It was a bit too crude for my taste.
The saloon I liked was the premiere local spot for music lovers. It did enough business to allow it to book regional acts, most of whom had at least one band member with nearby roots, and who had honed their act 'til it was tight. The bar wasn't anything fancy, but it knew enough to dim the lights so one didn't feel like they were stepping into the spotlight simply by pulling open the door. It possessed a not-too-big, not-too-small dance floor and the requisite neon beer signs. Plenty of four-person tables and a long bar that pseudo-cowboys liked to sidle up to. My then-husband and I had been looking for an activity and a one-night break from the kids, and we enjoyed country dancing, which we performed adequately, not expertly; but nobody inside the saloon gave a damn.
I liked sitting at our table nursing a beer and people-watching. There were always the regulars ~ the tall skinny guy with the cowboy hat whose too-shiny boots gave him away as a pretender. He'd scan the room for an attractive girl, preferably a blonde, and inevitably convince her to take a twirl on the dance floor, before they went their separate ways and he'd once again lean up against the bar, his eyes in search of a new dance partner. There was a gaggle of giggly women with jangly gold bracelets and too much hairspray who hogged all the rest room stalls. A chubby guy I named Plaid Shirt, who seemed too scared to ask a girl to dance. A middle-age couple, she with a short curly perm, who two-stepped rings around everyone else on the dance floor. Part of my night's entertainment was simply watching them.
The bar had a scrolling sign above the bar that listed the upcoming bands and I made mental note of which weekends would have stars and which ones featured duds. On the dud Friday nights we motored up the highway to the staid bar and made do with the mediocre local band and too much damn overhead light.
My saloon's hit bookings included The Back Behind The Barn Boys, a band called Firehouse (not to be confused with the heavy metal band), and the rare local band that was good enough to play the "big room", called Me And The Boys. But my favorite band was Live N Kickin, which featured a female lead singer whose hometown was only seventy-five miles away. The act was three guys plus Julie, and the interaction between the bandmates was natural and playful. Clearly they had sharpened their set across all the miles they traveled and all the bars they set up in, and their professionalism showed. So much so that after a few years they landed a recording contract with Warner Nashville and released this debut single:
Sadly, they gained no traction and were eventually dropped by their record company, although the lead guitar player went on to play with (and marry) Terri Clark. I think the bass player is a plumber or an electrician or something. I could be wrong. I don't know what happened to Julie, the lead singer, although I do know that she currently resides in my hometown, and as far as I know she's not involved in music. But you know, time marches on.
If I was to step inside a country bar today (do those exist outside of Nashville and Austin?) I'd probably be met with some pre-fab music spun by guys named Zach or Brach, and nobody would be dancing.
And nobody would experience the thrill of live local music.