Thursday, May 14, 2015

Nurse the Hate: The Beer Mug's Last Waltz

A lot of my friends spent their twenties and thirties on a well tested path.  In your mid twenties marry the girl you happened to be with at the end of college, like a matrimonial game of musical chairs.  When Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” stops playing at your friend’s reception, you pop the question.  Cue Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration”.  Then came the “trial baby” of a dog.  That dog was soon dismayed to find it received no more attention as soon as the actual baby arrived 18 months later.  Then came the time consuming path of weekend soccer, “travel” soccer, the stark realization their kid sorta sucked at soccer, and polite clapping at other people’s kids at JV soccer games.  Meanwhile I chose a different path.  I spent my twenties and thirties at the Grog Shop.  Brownies.  The Star Bar.  Empty Glass.  The Decade.  The Mohawk Place.  Sudsy Malone’s.  Lounge Ax.  The Pits.  Wild At Heart.  And The Beer Mug…

The Beer Mug does not look like much of a rock club.  It appears like a weather beaten modest house because frankly, that’s what it is/was.  If it looks like someone owned a house and said “we should open up a bar!”, that’s because that’s what happened.  They were the first people that let our ragtag little country punk band The Cowslingers play in Erie.  For the first few years we had to set up on the floor by the old fireplace.  Then a small stage was built.  Heck, they even put a small set of lights in.  In the tradition of all really good rock clubs, it isn’t what the club was made of physically, it was the attitude of the place that made it special.

Erie Pennsylvania is not a good rock city.  It is very conservative.  People are very cautious to try anything new, and even then they don’t like it.  Change makes them uncomfortable.  At any moment in Erie you can witness someone wearing a completely out of style article of clothing or haircut without a whiff of irony.  The last few Members Only jackets I have seen not worn by someone with a waxed mustache and skinny jeans have all been in Erie PA.  There is a comfortable isolation from the greater national trends in Erie that make places like Dayton and Rochester seem absolutely progressive.  To find good original new music in Erie, one needs to be vigilant.

I say this as a man that grew up in Erie PA.  My family moved to Erie in the mid 1970s from Philadelphia.  I looked like a kid from the East Coast in the mid 70s.  I thought I looked like Steven Tyler, but I actually looked like Buster Brown.  Meanwhile everyone in Erie looked like an extra from “Mayberry RFD”.  I had “long hair”, which made quite an impact.  It was really cool to answer the question “are you a boy or a girl” 17 times when school started from the hopelessly out of touch population of Chestnut Elementary.  Still, I grew to really like it there.  It was a great place to grow up where you could only get into so much trouble.  People are genuinely nice in a small town way.

When we got the Cowslingers going, we knew right away we wanted to hit the road.  One of the critical mistakes young bands make is to stay close to home.  When you are twenty two all of your friends will come to your gigs and tell you how great you are.  They are just excited to know someone in the band.  It seems cool.  Meanwhile the local band feels like they are really kick ass because they get unconditional love from their friends.  This is not reality.  Stepping onto a stage in front of strangers that reflexively hate you for being a hurdle to see what they came to really see?  That’s reality.  That is where you have to prove your mettle.  That’s when you become a band.

I figured a gig in Erie would be a home run.  I still knew enough people in the area that we could seed our early shows with friendly faces and then build from there.  That’s when I ran into the problems of booking yourself into a small town with no real original music.  Every venue at the time hosted two types of bands, and two types of bands only.  Hippie bands ruled the day as Erie doesn’t have a lot to do, so people like to get really fucked up, and jam band music is a good soundtrack to do that.  There was also (and maybe still is) a freakishly supportive metal scene grounded in 80s classic metal covers.  I’ll bet this weekend there’s a band that is playing at least three Judas Priest covers at some bar in Erie.  I’ll bet it’s tough to roll a motorcycle into the front door of most of those bars when they kick into “Hell Bent For Leather”. 

The Beer Mug was the only place that said we could come play.  When they booked us they weren’t exactly sure of what we did, but I think they liked our enthusiasm.  We really cut our teeth in that place, sometimes playing three sets.  That’s not easy when your songs are all about two and a half minutes.  I always appreciated how Paul (the owner) just let us do our thing.  They had a jukebox of strictly classic rock, and here’s four guys in dumb cowboy outfits blazing through stupid songs they wrote on their couch back in Ohio.  Slowly but surely, we got better and people started to notice.  The crowds grew.  We started to travel more and more, and our appearances at the Beer Mug became less frequent, but I knew all I had to do was place a call.  “Hey Greg… Howya doin’?  The 17 th?  No problem… We’ll see ya then…”.  He always played it like we had just talked yesterday when it might have been three months.  There was a rumor that when their beer coolers would break, the shout of “Call the Cowslingers for a gig!” would arise as a solution.  I don’t know firsthand if this is true, but I love the story.

Other Erie club owners noticed our growing popularity.  These were many of the same people that blew us off or told us our material “would never work in Erie”.  I never considered playing their places.  I always appreciated that Paul and the Beer Mug were loyal to us, and we always tried to be loyal to him.  We had some really wild gigs in there.  Bodies flying around, glass breaking, and diving off tables.  Knowing that this Saturday night will be the last time the Beer Mug would host a show, I knew we needed to get the Cowslingers together.  We owed it to Paul, and we owed it to that rabid group of Erie fans that went their own way in a town that tries really hard to keep them on a straight and narrow path.  The fact that the bar is going to be bulldozed and not turned into a lame sports bar is fitting.   Thanks to everyone that ever went to see us play at the Beer Mug with The Cowslingers and then later with the Whiskey Daredevils.  You made it all worthwhile. 



At May 14, 2015 at 7:36:00 PM EDT , Blogger AZ said...

Always sucks to lose a good friend.

At May 15, 2015 at 12:24:00 PM EDT , Blogger Bobdontgiveaf#ck said...

Cool little joint, great owner, and the most powerful men's room hand dryer in Western Pennsylvania. Bring the rock, fellas.

At May 15, 2015 at 3:29:00 PM EDT , Blogger Greg Miller said...

Come for the rock, stay for the hand dryer.

At May 15, 2015 at 7:03:00 PM EDT , Blogger Bobdontgiveaf#ck said...

The Excelerator 2000. Power, when you have to be dry NOW. Good unit.


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