Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tales From East End Blvd: The Dive Bars We All Love

The new defunct Doozer's Pub in Jacksonville, FL

Most people who love a good dive bar have their own personal favorite, usually in their neighborhood or close-by. The stinky walls, the sticky floors, your kind of music on the jukebox and your kind of beer on tap. The live music - it’s so up-close and personal in these tiny places. Music is a huge factor here at these bars and sometimes it’s ALL about the music. Music is universal. Everyone likes some form of it. The ones that live for it, though, can usually be found in dive bars.

I’ve been playing music to pay the bills for quite a while now. I go in, I “work”, I get paid. It’s just like any other job (I refuse to call it a job though). Nonetheless, I don’t always get paid what I should if I’m playing a dive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played them and at the end of the night I got paid almost NOTHING after a 2-4 hour drive. Funny thing is, my band and I had the best time of our freaking lives on stage those nights and wouldn’t have had it any other way. Why is that? What is it that’s so appealing about a dive bar to patrons and musicians? Maybe it’s the fact that nobody is trying to impress anyone. Maybe it’s the companionship and the comfort. Maybe it’s the fact that, usually, everyone in a dive bar is a music lover so there’s always something to talk about (my personal favorite reason). Maybe it’s all of the above. All signs point back to music in one way or another but, whatever the reason, I love them and tons of people all over the world agree. 

JJ's Bohemia in Chattanooga, TN and its locals
Here in my hometown of Chattanooga, TN, thee rock and roll dive bar in town is JJ’s Bohemia. I can’t tell you how many shows I’ve seen in that narrow, shotgun-shaped, alcoholic-hallway of a bar. Beer only at the bar, “recreations” out back on the deck, a live band playing original tunes 7 nights a week and the stench of PBR on the stage, floor and everyone’s breath. I’ve been turned on to so many new bands/artists in that bar. I’ve seen bands there that I never thought I’d see up-close and personal. A few memorable ones being a BUZZOV*EN reunion / K-Lloyd show (both now Rusty Knuckles bands!), a crazy intense Valiant Thorr show, opening for Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers / Danny Barnes show and a ton of others. 

My favorite is the first time I saw the late, great T-Model Ford. When I won the Best Blues Band award for TN / GA in 2009, the JJ’s Bohemia owner, John Shoemaker, said he had something for me and asked me to open for the T-Model Ford / Black Diamond Heavies / Mark “Porkchop” Holder bill the following month. I replied with something similar to “You damn right I will!!”. I got to jam with T-Model in the middle of the bar before they opened the doors. T was playing my guitar, I was playing his, and my drummer at the time, Burma Shave, was behind the kit. I also got to sit in on lead guitar during T’s song “Chickenhead Man” with him later that night and every other night he played JJ’s before he passed! 

Husky and T-Model Ford hanging out pre-show at JJ's Bohemia
Needless to say, it’s something that changed my life a bit and that I’ll never forget. There’s been many a night that I couldn’t help but go crazy with energy while playing on their stage cause the patrons were literally making the floor in front of the stage shake and rumble. You feel it in your bones and can’t help but turn it up and go nuts even though the stage and floor feel like they could collapse at any minute!
Another great dive that comes to mind is Doozers in Jacksonville, FL. Don’t go looking for it, it’s gone. Doozers was simply amazing. A tiny little building on the edge of town. It was a punk rock dive, nothing more. Inside it’s walls were people that loved music...period. I made good friends and no money there. Did I care about the paycheck part? Hell no!! It was the best damn show of the FL run every year! Sweaty, shirtless kids jumping around like wild, banshee monkeys. Who would’ve thought that my music would even remotely entertain them? Boy, did it ever! They were flinging themselves in circles of rage, kicking mic stands over and going crazy for 3 - 4 minutes at a time. I really miss that place. The owner, TJ Doozer, had something special there but, eventually, she had to let it go like many other dive owners have to.

It’s memories and first-times like these that you just won’t get anywhere else. Even though some of the dives that I really loved to play are gone, there are new ones that come along that somewhat replace the emptiness and bring on a new life of it’s own. One of them is Shore Road Tavern in northeast Philadelphia, PA. Wow, what a bunch of awesome, friendly folks. Mike Fiedler and his wife Kathy have really got a good thing going. Why? It’s because of those same ol’ reasons I mentioned at the beginning: everyone is a music lover, your kind of music on the jukebox, your kind of beer on tap, your kind of folks. 

Pennsylvania State Rep Michael Tomlinson hanging out at Shore Road post-show

There are no show-offs here, no uppity attitudes, just good folks who are looking to wind down and have a damn good time. One night I was playing an official state representative was even in there hanging out. Real people, real things (I may sound like Russell Hammond, guitarist for Stillwater in the film Almost Famous but, it’s the truth. It’s all about the real). Mike has become a brother of mine these days. Him and his crew of misfits are some of the most real people I’ve ever hung out with and because of that, I call Philly and Shore Road my second home now. I try to pass through every chance I get, whether I’m on tour or not. Mike and Kathy are truly down for the cause and Shore Road is making history, like every other good dive bar that does it for the right reasons. They are a rare breed for sure and we love them for it.

Husky, Loki, Bill Dorsey and Mike Fiedler outside the Shore Road Tavern
These dive owners and employees will never be forgotten. They mean so much to us traveling musicians. I can’t find the words to express how I feel about them. It’s not just us musicians that appreciate them this much. The patrons love them just as much for bringing in the music they love. A true dive bar can make you feel warm and fuzzy like that, without the beer / liquor buzz. Inside those beaten-up walls people find themselves, they get educated, they learn about music, they make friends, they get hammered in good fun and they gain a second home. Do yourself a favor and support your locals: go spend your money at your local dive instead of some franchise bar or restaurant. It’ll do your soul some good and you just might learn a thing or two.

- Husky Burnette