Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Music feature: Economic revival? Live-music clubs return to action in PBC

LinkJohn‭ ‬Yurt has reopened The Back Room in Delray Beach.

By Bill Meredith

As financial experts continue to look for indicators as to the status of the economic recession,‭ ‬a trend in Palm Beach County may hint that its grip is on the decline.

It‭’‬s the opening,‭ ‬or reopening,‭ ‬of live music nightclubs,‭ ‬which historically attract people only if those people have money to spend.‭ ‬That‭’‬s the mantra of club owners,‭ ‬who realize that they‭’‬re in a risky business even during prosperous times.

When their cash flow dwindles,‭ ‬audiences get offered less quality,‭ ‬original,‭ ‬creative live bands‭ ‬--‭ ‬and unfortunately,‭ ‬more karaoke,‭ ‬DJs,‭ ‬solo and duo acts with pre-recorded backing tracks,‭ ‬amateur open mike nights,‭ ‬and dance clubs‭ (‬see much of downtown West Palm Beach‭)‬.‭ ‬Or venues close down completely.

Yet the Bamboo Room,‭ ‬located at‭ ‬25‭ ‬S.‭ ‬J St.‭ ‬in Lake Worth‭ (‬561-585-2583,‭ ‬www.bamboorm.com‭)‬,‭ ‬reopened last month in its original‭ ‬1999-2008‭ ‬location after specifically taking nearly three years off because of economic factors.

The iconic upstairs venue,‭ ‬historically more of a blues concert venue than nightclub,‭ ‬has featured since-deceased blues man Bo Diddley,‭ ‬plus John Hammond,‭ ‬NRBQ,‭ ‬Elvin Bishop,‭ ‬Hubert Sumlin,‭ ‬Col.‭ ‬Bruce Hampton,‭ ‬and Adrian Belew.‭ ‬Now open three nights a week rather than its original five,‭ ‬the club also offers a touch less blues,‭ ‬and a bit more rock and jam bands,‭ ‬among its proven regional-to-national acts.

The Bamboo Room in Lake Worth is back open after a three-year hiatus.

‭“‬The economic numbers have been improving for some time,‭”‬ says Russell Hibbard,‭ ‬who owns the Bamboo Room‭ ‬with his wife,‭ ‬Karen McKinley.‭ “‬But I‭’‬ve been saying for‭ ‬years that it‭’‬s the area job market that really needs to get better for the‭ ‬club to do well.‭ ‬We‭’‬re hopeful.‭”

Interior changes include a revamped sound system and LED lights,‭ ‬and there are new benches and a second bar on the outdoor patio.‭ ‬Forthcoming cameras will illuminate the stage to high-definition flat-screens on the patio,‭ ‬and a‭ ‬1950s-style diner will serve food downstairs.

Perhaps the biggest immediate difference is that Hibbard,‭ ‬once a mainstay,‭ ‬is now often absent.‭ ‬A half-dozen returning employees run the club,‭ ‬including manager Donny Becker and graphic designer Craig Young,‭ ‬who handle bookings.‭

“I‭’‬m mostly working on cars now,‭”‬ Hibbard says.‭ “‬I was training for the‭ ‬12‭ ‬Hours of Sebring race until we opened in‭ ‬’99.‭ ‬So I‭’‬m getting back in shape to‭ ‬drive several endurance races per year.‭”

If the reopening mob scene from Feb.‭ ‬17-19‭ ‬was any indication,‭ ‬the Bamboo Room should again prove enduring as well.

Two blues and roots music venues are also breathing again in Delray Beach.‭ ‬Elwood‭’‬s Dixie Bar-B-Q,‭ ‬at‭ ‬301‭ ‬N.E.‭ ‬3rd Ave.,‭ ‬Delray Beach‭ (‬561-272-7427‭)‬,‭ ‬which‭ ‬also‭ ‬reopened in February,‭ ‬is still the no-frills juke joint it was from‭ ‬1993-2009.‭ ‬Owner Michael Elwood Gochenour shut down the original site,‭ ‬only three blocks away,‭ ‬by selling it to the owners of the current,‭ ‬neon-lit restaurant Johnnie Brown‭’‬s.

Yet Johnnie Brown‭’‬s now sits on prime downtown real estate just east of the railroad tracks on the heavily‭ ‬traveled East Atlantic Avenue,‭ ‬while the new Elwood‭’‬s is three blocks north on the west side of‭ ‬those tracks.‭ ‬It‭’‬s near the residential Pineapple Grove area at the intersection of Northeast Third Avenue and Northeast Third Street,‭ ‬so the new locale will have to rely more on word of mouth than on passers-by.‭ ‬But the lingering scent of barbecue should waft‭ ‬at least as far as those townhouse windows.

‭“‬This is the old location of The Annex and the Two-Thirds Tavern,‭ ‬which did well here,‭”‬ says general manager Shawn Metz,‭ ‬who was also GM at the original Elwood‭’‬s.‭ “‬I'm optimistic.‭ ‬We'll have some of the old staff back‭; ‬lots of the old signs and furnishings,‭ ‬and most of the bands that played before.‭ ‬So we should get some of the old patrons.‭”

The Back Room,‭ ‬at‭ ‬2222‭ ‬W.‭ ‬Atlantic Ave.‭ (‬561-988-8929,‭ ‬www.thebackroombluesbar.com‭) ‬is in its fourth different Delray Beach site and fifth overall‭ (‬the latest,‭ ‬in Boca Raton,‭ ‬went dark last year‭)‬.‭ ‬In its various locations,‭ ‬the club has hosted national touring blues acts like James Cotton,‭ ‬The Nighthawks,‭ ‬Bobby‭ “‬Blue‭”‬ Bland,‭ ‬John Mayall,‭ ‬Leon Russell,‭ ‬and Dave Mason.

John Yurt has owned the traveling blues revue since‭ ‬1992,‭ ‬and‭ ‬had his grand reopening Friday‭ (‬following his trial run,‭ ‬a maxed-out,‭ ‬sneak-peek reopening party on Feb.‭ ‬19‭)‬.‭ ‬It will be his fourth different location on Atlantic Avenue alone,‭ ‬this one tucked into the west end of the plaza on the southwest corner of Atlantic and Congress avenues.

Pineapple Groove has opened at the old City Limits in Delray Beach.

Also in Delray Beach,‭ ‬the evocatively‭ ‬named,‭ ‬500-capacity Pineapple Groove‭ (‬19‭ ‬N.E.‭ ‬3rd Ave.,‭ ‬561-450-7953,www.pineapplegroove.com‭) ‬started to feature everything from local to national acoustic singer/songwriters and rock bands to blues and R&B acts a few months ago.‭ ‬The‭ ‬8,000-square-foot venue is the old City Limits,‭ ‬which also closed in‭ ‬2009.‭ ‬But Pineapple Groove features technical upgrades that include high-definition cameras to record live music videos.

‭“‬There's a full high-definition‭ ‬production studio built-in now,‭”‬ says executive producer Randy Grinter.‭ “‬We pretty much went over the top between sound,‭ ‬lighting,‭ ‬projection and recording.‭ ‬We want everything here to be as good as it gets for both audience and performer.‭”

Pineapple Groove‭’‬s owners,‭ ‬brothers Mitch and Richard Clarvit,‭ ‬are both accomplished singer/songwriters.‭ ‬Operations manager Michael Stone,‭ ‬a musician,‭ ‬actor and the brother of actress Sharon Stone,‭ ‬has also helped the venue separate itself from the sports-bar pack.

‭“‬Mitch hosts a popular songwriter showcase,‭”‬ Stone says,‭ “‬where we book featured performers,‭ ‬as opposed to an‭ ‬all-out open mike night.‭ ‬And we‭’‬ve shot a live music video for David Shelley,‭ ‬who's a rising blues artist out of Fort Lauderdale.‭”

The new Delray Beach clubs join established live music providers like Boston‭’‬s On the Beach‭ (‬40‭ ‬S.‭ ‬Ocean Blvd.,‭ ‬561-278-3364,‭ ‬www.bostonsonthebeach.com‭)‬,‭ ‬The Hurricane‭ (‬640-7‭ ‬E.‭ ‬Atlantic Ave.,‭ ‬561-278-0282,‭ ‬www.hurricanelounge.com‭)‬,‭ ‬Johnnie Brown's‭ (‬301‭ ‬E.‭ ‬Atlantic Ave.,‭ ‬561-243-9911,‭ ‬www.johnniebrowns.com‭)‬,‭ ‬Paddy McGee's‭ (‬307‭ ‬E.‭ ‬Atlantic Ave.,‭ ‬561-865-7341,‭ ‬www.paddymcgeesdelray.com‭)‬,‭ ‬Dada‭ (‬52‭ ‬N.‭ ‬Swinton Ave.,‭ ‬561-330-3232,‭ ‬www.dadadelray.com‭)‬,‭ ‬and Kevro‭’‬s Art Bar‭ (‬166‭ ‬SE‭ ‬2nd Ave.,‭ ‬561-278-9675,‭ ‬www.kevroart.com‭)‬.‭ ‬The result is a live music renaissance on and around the city‭’‬s lengthy main drag,‭ ‬Atlantic Avenue.

Perhaps the strongest cause for economic optimism is fledgling area clubs featuring jazz.‭ ‬Opening such venues in the past had,‭ ‬sadly,‭ ‬only proven to be a sure-fire way to part with a thriving bank account.

Yet Apicus,‭ ‬an elegant Florentine restaurant at‭ ‬210‭ ‬E.‭ ‬Ocean Ave.‭ ‬in Lantana‭ (‬561-533-5998‭)‬,‭ ‬has offered jazz on weekends since late‭ ‬2010,‭ ‬providing a counterpoint to the popular music at the Old Key Lime House‭ (‬300‭ ‬E.‭ ‬Ocean Ave.,‭ ‬561-582-1889,‭ ‬www.oldkeylimehouse.com‭)‬.‭ ‬Florida‭’‬s oldest waterfront restaurant,‭ ‬this Key West-style wooden structure is located only a few doors down on the small town‭’‬s popular waterfront thoroughfare.

In Lake Park,‭ ‬the small,‭ ‬atmospheric Fusion Lounge‭ (‬758‭ ‬Northlake Blvd.,‭ ‬561-502-2307,‭ ‬www.fusionloungepalmbeach.com‭) ‬started serving up live jazz and blues on weekends last Linksummer.

Within the expansive north end of Palm Beach County,‭ ‬the Fusion Lounge joins long-standing live music venues like the black box-style variety club the Orange Door‭ (‬798‭ ‬10th St.‭ ‬in Lake Park,‭ ‬561-842-7949,‭ ‬www.theorangedoor.com‭)‬,‭ ‬the rock club Swampgrass Willy‭’‬s‭ (‬9910‭ ‬Alt.‭ ‬A1A in Palm Beach Gardens,‭ ‬561-625-1555,‭ ‬www.swampgrasswillys.net‭)‬,‭ ‬Irish pubs Paddy Mac‭’‬s‭ (‬10971‭ ‬N.‭ ‬Military Trail in Palm Beach Gardens,‭ ‬561-691-4366,‭ ‬www.paddymacspub.com‭) ‬and Rooney‭’‬s Public House‭ (‬1153‭ ‬Town Center Dr.‭ ‬in Jupiter,‭ ‬561-694-6610,‭ ‬www.rooneyspublichouse.com‭)‬,‭ ‬and Chef John‭’‬s‭ (‬287‭ ‬E.‭ ‬Indiantown Rd.‭ ‬in Jupiter,‭ ‬561-745-8040‭)‬,‭ ‬a gourmet restaurant that owner John Jones prepared into a blues club as well.

Randy Ward at Dolce Vita.‭ (‬Photo by Bill Meredith‭)

In Lake Worth,‭ ‬Dolce Vita‭ (‬609‭ ‬Lake Ave.,‭ ‬561-493-3330‭) ‬is a wine bar that‭’‬s featured live jazz on Saturdays since it replaced the former Soma Center a few months ago.

‭“‬I play there in a trio with keyboardist Brad Keller and singer Alex Bach,‭”‬ says West‭ ‬Palm Beach bassist Randy Ward,‭ “‬and we usually rotate a fourth person as a special guest.‭ ‬We've been there for a couple of months,‭ ‬and more and more people seem to be showing up each week.‭”

If the music scene in the northern Lake Park-Palm Beach Gardens-Jupiter tri-city area is growing,‭ ‬and Delray Beach clubs are now burgeoning,‭ ‬then Lake Worth has exploded.‭ ‬Its main downtown stretch,‭ ‬Lake Avenue,‭ ‬covers only a handful of blocks,‭ ‬making it comparable in scope to Lantana's quaint Ocean Avenue.‭ ‬Yet Dolce Vita and the Bamboo Room are now part of a dozen live music clubs in the‭ ‬18-square-block downtown area surrounding it.

‬Others are Little Munich‭ (‬806‭ ‬Lake Ave.,‭ ‬561-932-0050,‭ ‬www.littlemunich.com‭)‬,‭ ‬Igot‭’‬s Martiki Bar‭ (‬702‭ ‬Lake Ave.,‭ ‬561-582-4468‭)‬,‭ ‬Bizaare Avenue Cafe‭ (‬921‭ ‬Lake Ave.,‭ ‬561-588-4488,‭ ‬www.bizaareavecafe.com‭)‬,‭ ‬Havana Hideout‭ (‬509‭ ‬Lake Ave.,‭ ‬561-585-8444,‭ ‬www.havanahideout.com‭)‬,‭ ‬Brogues Irish Pub‭ (‬621‭ ‬Lake Ave.,‭ ‬561-585-1885,‭ ‬www.broguespub.com‭)‬,‭ ‬the Lake Worth Rum Shack‭ (‬606‭ ‬Lake Ave.,‭ ‬561-588-2929,‭ ‬www.myspace.com/lwrumshack‭)‬,‭ ‬South Shores Tavern‭ (‬502‭ ‬Lucerne Ave.,‭ ‬561-547-7656,‭ ‬www.southshorestavern.com‭)‬,‭ ‬The Cottage‭ (‬522‭ ‬Lucerne Ave.,‭ ‬561-586-0080‭)‬,‭ ‬Propaganda‭ (‬6‭ ‬S.‭ ‬J St.,‭ ‬561-547-7273,‭ ‬www.propagandalw.com‭)‬,‭ ‬and Mother Earth Coffee‭ (‬410‭ ‬2nd Ave.‭ ‬N.,‭ ‬561-460-8647,‭ ‬www.myspace.com/motherearthcoffee‭)‬.

The Cultural Plaza Stage,‭ ‬located on M Street between Lake and Lucerne avenues,‭ ‬and the Bryant Park band shell,‭ ‬on Lake Avenue at the Intracoastal Waterway,‭ ‬are two other popular destinations for frequent special and multi-band events.

Smatterings of venues in Riviera Beach,‭ ‬West Palm Beach,‭ ‬Boynton Beach and Boca Raton,‭ ‬although quite spread out,‭ ‬also feature live music in-between these busy musical areas.‭ ‬But Lake Worth‭’‬s new openings over the past three years,‭ ‬and particularly the‭ ‬Bamboo Room reopening in February,‭ ‬have made its downtown area particularly energetic,‭ ‬vibrant and crowded.‭

Nashville may have the nickname of‭ ‬“Music City‭”‬ cornered,‭ ‬but this small‭ “‬Music Town‭”‬ now looms‭ ‬large within what‭’‬s once again the growing live music scene of eastern Palm Beach County.

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