Two-Stepping Out

New state barrier regulation spurs a relocation for Toolies Country

A few months ago, when rumors were floating around that Toolies Country might be on the verge of closing after 17 years, owner Bill Bachand offered an unusually intriguing denial.

Toolies wasn't going to close, Bachand said, but if any change did happen, it would be in the form of a format shift. You see, the truth is, for all its media hype (and Garth Brooks' sales records), the country market has been in recession for the past four or five years, and Bachand had experienced so much success with his occasional Latin nights, the idea of abandoning country altogether was a bit tempting.

Well, sure enough, Latin music will be taking over the Toolies location, but Bachand won't be part of it. Last week, Bachand sold the esablishment to local Latin-music concert promoter Fito Saenz, and the bar saw patrons two-step out the door for the last time on January 3. Bachand (who also owns the Celebrity Theatre) plans to reopen Toolies at a new location later this year.

"I felt that a change in location would be better for country," Bachand says. "Fito and I were talking, 'cause we've had some dealings at the Celebrity. We've done very well on the few nights that we've done Latino shows. In fact, extremely well. He took note of that, and basically decided to buy the place. This gives me the capital to go out and invest in something else at a different location."

The new site has yet to be determined, but Bachand has a pretty good idea of what shape the next incarnation of Toolies will take. For one thing, while he'll generally adhere to the country approach that made Toolies famous, he's more willing than ever before to mix things up a bit. He says the club will dabble in rock as well as other genres, with the hope that it will be "more of a show club" than simply a country bar.

Also, Bachand has made up his mind about the size of the new place. While it might seem safe to assume that after selling Toolies, Bachand would opt for the conservative route by opening a smaller, more modest venue, he says the opposite is the case. In fact, he considers it crucial to his future success that the new Toolies be bigger. One factor in Bachand's decision to sell Toolies was the controversial new state regulation that requires a venue with capacity of less than 1,000 to partition minors away from the rest of the crowd at all-ages shows.

"That's all well and good, but when you're selling reserved tickets like we do, through Dillard's, it's hard to get a Dillard's clerk to check IDs when they sell tickets," Bachand says. "Or if mom and dad buy tickets for their kids, it's hard to segregate this stuff, and it just made it impossible to do underage shows."

As Bachand indicates, this so-called "barrier law" is already causing monumental headaches for clubs that put on all-ages shows. The discriminatory intent of the 1,000-seat clause is hard to mistake. Apparently, it's all right for kids to get loaded at BOB for the Black Sabbath show (as they unquestionably did) or for Mstley CrYe at America West Arena (as anyone who was there in December of '97 knows they did), but even the possibility of such behavior is somehow more egregious in a smaller venue. What's the difference? Simple: Jerry Colangelo doesn't have a stake in Toolies Country or Boston's, so state authorities don't give a damn about how badly they may be affected.

Bachand considers the new law so onerous that he's decided his only recourse is to get around the restrictions by making sure the new Toolies has at least 1,000 seats, up from its old capacity of 800.

"I know the Cajun House is experiencing a number of problems, and a number of other places are, too," Bachand says. "You would think, looking at this on the surface, that it's kind of arbitrary.

"Even a place like Rockin Rodeo, they have over 1,000 capacity, so does that mean they can put on concerts and mix people, while Toolies has been doing it for years and years, doesn't have any liquor violations for the last 10 years, and we're upstanding business people when it comes to checking IDs and so forth? Does that mean we're inferior? So if I want to continue to do concerts, it's got to be over 1,000--unless I want to challenge the law. And who wants to fight city hall?"

Rubies on Tour: With so much guitar rock sounding hopelessly tired these days, it's easy for even the most committed adherents to wonder if the whole thing's really exhausted itself at long last. But then, how do you explain a band like the Sand Rubies? After 13 years together, with one moniker or another, their no-frills, Crazy Horse-derived rock still sounds vital and exciting.

Tucson's favorite sons offered a reminder of this fact on January 1, when they played to an overflow crowd of true believers at Long Wong's. They covered the spectrum of their career, offering a particularly stirring version of "Misery," from last year's excellent CD, Return of the Living Dead.

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