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A Fond Farewell to The Sail Inn

The Sugar Thieves finish up the last-ever set on the Sail Inn's outdoor stage during the final night of the venue's Farewell Festival on Sunday.
The Sugar Thieves finish up the last-ever set on the Sail Inn's outdoor stage during the final night of the venue's Farewell Festival on Sunday.
Photos by Benjamin Leatherman

It was a bittersweet send-off, at best, this weekend at The Sail Inn.

On the one hand, it was one of the most amazing local music lineups that could have possibly been arranged, but on the other, there was the idea that this was never going to happen again at this location looming in the back of your mind. For nearly a quarter of a century, The Sail Inn has been a watering hole, dive bar, and a pretty fantastic music venue. The idea that it would ever go away seemed improbable, until the announcement this spring came.

For the past few months, many local music lovers have scrambled to get their aural love in by religiously attending the last few months of shows at the unique venue. The Sail Inn has always had the advantage of having the outdoor stage where it gave a concert-like experience -- something unique for the local venues, plus it could throw enormous shows switching from the outside and inside stages and save on the time between the sets. It was fitting that this weekend played out exactly that way. This weekend's "Farewell Fest" could not have been a better send-off for a venue that, if nothing else, celebrated the diversity of the local scene that it helped grow.

A Fond Farewell to The Sail Inn

DAY ONE (Friday, June 27) It started with Mr. Eastwood, well, half of Mr. Eastwood -- the guitar half, and it was a good, intimate start for the weekend with their swamp-blues sound and the introduction to the entire event with their take on "Let the Good Times Roll." They had a big sound for just two guys on stage, and I look forward to catching them with their entire band at another venue soon. The Mojo Farmers were the first injection of true rock 'n' roll for the weekend and by that time the inside crowd had grown considerably. The day drinkers had been there from the start, but by this time folks hungry to hear live music were showing up and the Farmers were there to meet them. One thing must be said, while their originals are great, when they set out to do a cover, they nail it. In this case, Led Zeppelin's "Ramble On" blew the collective mind of the audience in attendance.

A pair of Sail Inn regulars at the Farewell Festival.
A pair of Sail Inn regulars at the Farewell Festival.

One thing The Sail Inn has been known for over the years is its affection for neo-hippie jam bands, and it was no surprise that they were scattered about the lineup liberally throughout the weekend. The first of these was Endoplasmic, and they jammed like there was no tomorrow, which in fact there was, but only two more. I was amazed at their stamina alone. A far as I could tell, their first song was an hour long and in the total span of an hour-and-a-half set they played three songs. This may be inaccurate, but I could only discern the beginnings and ends of three songs. The combination of Kevin Gordon, Daniel Bieber, Johnny Mac, Mikey Mac, Jayson Johnson, Nick Constable and Dave Abare was absolutely hypnotic. It was time to move inside for some of the best garage rock in town and if you check with France, they consider it the best in the world.

The Love Me Nots brought their best to The Sail Inn on Friday, with no apologies. This was the first venue where I saw the Love Me Nots, and it was great to see them play at the Farewell Festival. One time at the Sail, I ended up as their merch guy simply because I was standing next to the pool table where they had their shirts and records displayed and fans were hungry to buy stuff before their set was over. I made up the prices on the fly. Their set on the other hand played like an amazing greatest hits package to the now nearly packed room. Ripping out nearly 20 songs is quite a mean feat, and it got the crowd dancing in no uncertain terms. My favorites were "End of the Line," "Make Up Your Mind," and "Move In Tight," but the entire set was amazing and one of my favorites of theirs that I've ever witnessed.

Prescott's Spafford closed out the outside stage for the evening with their unusual blend of electronica and jam band aesthetic. They played for nearly two hours, delighting the now very intoxicated crowd with their unique "Electro-Funk Therapy." They have pretty amazing mix that joyfully combines typical jam band pop with a techno sensibility and it gets pretty weird -- at one point it feels like they could be an opening act for a Dead show, and then later in the set they sound like they should be playing in a rave tent at Cochella.

The first evening closed with an epic 90-minute set from Sara Robinson & The Midnight Special. I have seen this band a lot and I don't think I've ever seen them play that long before. They played nearly their entire debut album in the set, but I'm pretty sure they played their entire second album, too, which is coming out later this year. It is one of the most highly anticipated local releases of the year, and the preview of the material Friday night, truly heightened the expectation of its release. Throw into that mix covers of The Beatles "Why Don't We Do It in the Road" and Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" and you have what was one of the finest sets of the entire weekend.   DAY TWO (Saturday, June 28) I was looking forward to Day Two the most, based on the lineup alone. The bar was pretty well-attended by the time day two opened up. By now people were deep in memories of the place they called home for the last 24 years. Booya opened up the day with a set largely composed of covers. I've never seen Booya before, but I can say that I hope to see them again. They started the day off right with Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" and it was the perfect sentiment for the moment. Strolling through covers such as "Last Dance With Mary Jane," "Ring of Fire", "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Copperhead Road," Booya opened the day up perfectly. It was the beginning of a fantastic night.

Shawn Johnson & The Foundation kicked things off on the outside stage next. It was great music that went down easy on a hot Saturday afternoon. Their music is where Americana meets jam band rock without excess, just good grooves and hooks. There is a definite mid-'90s vibe about this act that recalls the time when Dave Matthews and Hootie took to the charts. They finished with an amazing cover of "All Along The Watchtower" that kept things moving right along. It was back to the air conditioned inside for Los Guys, which is the roots rock outfit of Mark Zubia, originally started as a side project to Pistoleros. This time, it must be mentioned, Los Guys featured the amazing Kevin Redlich, and I say in no uncertain terms that he is an underrated guitar god -- during the entire performance I was stunned by his seemingly effortless brilliance on the frets. I'm not sure there is another band that could pull off a honkytonk version of Nirvana's "All Apologies" and do The Band's "The State I'm In" in the same set with perfection. I need to catch these cats more often.

The Sail Inn has been the home base to Banana Gun since their inception and its where they've played their best shows. Saturdays show on the outside stage was no exception, not only was it an amazing set that spanned all three of their albums, but it stepped up the notch on the rock 'n' roll meter for the day. "Mirror, Mirror," "Addict," "Howl," and, of course, "Light On" threw the crowd into a frenzy, it felt like the departure point for the night. They even included a cover of Tom Petty's "Honeybee" in for good measure. I kind of hope the set was recorded, honestly, maybe for another live EP. Back to back rock 'n' roll was what it was about as Japhy's Descent took the stage inside. Their set was a solid, searing delivery of all of their best songs including "Red Flags" and "Answer 42" from Moon Noon and "Owl" and "Roo" from their forthcoming concept album Christopher Robin. The surprise in their set was a cover I've never heard them play before, the appropriate "Don't You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds which was absolutely brilliant.

Dry River Yacht Club drummer Henri Benard with fellow Sail Inn fans at the Farewell Festival.
Dry River Yacht Club drummer Henri Benard with fellow Sail Inn fans at the Farewell Festival.

By the time Dry River Yacht Club took the stage The Sail Inn was getting crowded, I mean packed. I have never seen DRYC put on a bad show and Saturday they put on one of their greatest. Nearly an hour long they played songs across all of their albums and even unleashed some new material on the unsuspecting crowd. "C14N14", "Dead Mother Dearest," "Ragtime," and "The Legend of El Tigre" were some of the best moments as was the crushingly lovely "Isabella." I was glad their set was on the outside stage because it gave a full on concert experience and it was a fitting final performance for them at The Sail.

Jared & The Mill fresh off their tour with Barry Gibb took the stage inside to beyond packed house -- at this point The Sail was reaching capacity and everyone was all about catching Jared & The Mill, there was barely room to breathe at this point and I thought from the sheer humidity inside that it might start to rain. They played all of their beloved songs from Western Expansion from "Breathe Me In" to "In Our Youth" and then some. The finale was an amazing rendition of Ryan Adams' "Let It Ride" that left the crowd stunned.

Black Carl performs at Sail Inn's Farewell Festival on Saturday night.
Black Carl performs at Sail Inn's Farewell Festival on Saturday night.

By this time The Sail Inn had actually reached capacity, the entire place, inside and out, was standing room only. There was a line to get in around the block and it was "one in, one out" for quite a while. I've never seen anything like it in all the years of going to The Sail, but I had kind of expected it, because this was the best night out of the three and also because Black Carl was about to hit the stage. They sell out Crescent Ballroom on a regular basis, so it was no surprise that before their set they had to turn people away for capacity reasons. It was well worth it for those who got in and even for the crowd that stood outside the gates.

Matt Noakes of Black Carl.
Matt Noakes of Black Carl.

Black Carl honed their craft for years at the Sail and it was the first venue where I saw them. There set was a fine blend of classics like "Hussey" and "The Wolf" as well as their newer material from The Wheel, they have cultivated a unique sound I think of as "Dark Blues." There was some even newer material that delighted fans, fans who demanded an encore and for the encore they got "Silhouette of Evil," probably my favorite song in their catalog.

The vocalists of Hot Bird and the Chili Sauce.
The vocalists of Hot Bird and the Chili Sauce.

The remainder of the evening was spent inside for two reunion shows and the crowd only barely died down. The first reunion was Hot Birds & Chili Sauce, which at the time I was unaware that it was a reunion, because they didn't play all that often at their height--the first time I caught them was at Apache Lake, but the last time I saw them was at the Sail.  

Hot Bird and the Chili Sauce's horn section.
Hot Bird and the Chili Sauce's horn section.

They are an all out funky old time Motown soul review and it was a perfect follow up to Black Carl. I'm not sure how they crammed all 13 members on stage, but that feat was impressive as the groovy soul they delivered for nearly an hour. Everyone was digging it and dancing, keeping the bar packed from wall to wall. One of the key interest points of the evening for me was the second reunion and the closing act for Saturday night.

Strange Young Things performs on Sail Inn's indoor stage to cap off the second night of the Farewell Festival.
Strange Young Things performs on Sail Inn's indoor stage to cap off the second night of the Farewell Festival.

Strange Young Things are rock 'n' roll perfection. I got into them way too late in their existence and by the time I was really into them, they were about to disband. It's a pity, because for my money they are the best true rock band to play the Phoenix scene in the last decade. Loud, fast, drunk, eloquently sloppy -- they are the local equivalent of The Faces, with Corey Gloden leading this quartet of madness.

They slammed through ten songs that kept the crowd pumping until well past last call. Even though it was a reunion, gems like "Left Breast Pocket," "Dabble in the Mix," "Lonely Hearts Are Wild," and a cover of The Standells' "Dirty Water" seemed just as vital and exciting as they did when the band was active. They finished with the brilliant "Bitch Has Got Problems" with Gloden joining the audience -- guitar and all -- as they sat around him, singing along -- a perfect end to a perfect evening.

The crowd at the Sail Inn during the final day of the Farewell Festival.
The crowd at the Sail Inn during the final day of the Farewell Festival.

  DAY THREE (Sunday, June 29) It was the last day of the beloved Sail Inn and the house was already getting packed at 3 p.m. Apparently there had been people waiting in line when the staff showed up earlier that day. By the time I got there, the crowd was already soaked in beer and waxing nostalgic of an era coming to an end. As I was sitting on the couch in the lounge area the first wave of sadness hit me, realizing that was where I first met Mergence and how many bands I've interviewed there and that it would never happen again. I imagine there were a lot of thoughts like that throughout the crowd on Sunday.

The openers for the day were the Robby Roberson Quartet. With the exception of a fantastic cover of The Beatles "Across the Universe," Roberson presented a set of Dixie-drenched originals, and I have to say that it was a great way to start the day. Songs like "Hard To Find," "Sweet Milk and Cornbread," and "The Fairy Tale Song" that mixed Americana, folk and rock were an impressive start to the final day at The Sail. The combination of mandolin/guitar/banjo,with fiddle, bass and drums was a great mix as folks finished their coffees and started moving on to adult beverages. decker. is bar none my favorite band from Sedona and easily in my top ten for the entire state. I had heard that their recent sets were amazing and that their latest lineup was one of the best and I couldn't wait to witness it for myself.

The Noodles perform during the final day of the Farewell Festival on Sunday.
The Noodles perform during the final day of the Farewell Festival on Sunday.

The rumors were true and decker. was phenomenal, the best I've seen them play in a while. It could be nostalgia -- I saw them first at the Sail, but there was something magical about Brandon, Kelly Cole, Amber Johnson on keys and their new bass player Andrew Bates. They opened with their latest single "Cellars" from their forthcoming and highly anticipated release. They also included "Patsy" the title track from that album and I think it became my favorite track by them immediately. There were also highlights from Slider that went amazingly well such as "Blowhard" and "Shadow Days." Although their set was only seven songs long and seemed way to short, it was one of the best of the entire weekend.

The Noodles.
The Noodles.

The tie dye and patchouli was flowing in full force as The Noodles took the stage outside. This is probably the most beloved act at the Sail and for good reason, they've been playing every Sunday there for nearly as long as anyone can remember (or not). They played a set of Grateful Dead covers that far surpassed the two hour mark and they did it well. The highlights for me were "Hell in a Bucket," "Franklin's Tower," "Shakedown Street," and "Not Fade Away." Add to that a killer version of "Quinn the Eskimo" and the afternoon was made.

Kevin Daly of Grave Danger.
Kevin Daly of Grave Danger.

Grave Danger took the stage inside for a rock-injected rockabilly mix that was a pretty fantastic contrast to The Noodles. It was their original lineup, featuring Richard Merriman and Vince Ramirez, and they played their first, unreleased album, The Mud, The Blood, and The Beer. The crowd, as commanded by the band, "followed the band down a road of booze-fueled hedonism, excess, and good old-fashioned destructive fun." There were no regrets and a great time was had by all.

Richard Merriman of Grave Danger.
Richard Merriman of Grave Danger.

The Relief Crew followed and it was more good vibes for the tie dye crowd. This was a bit musically exquisite, I have to admit, and it featured Johnny Mac on keys, Mikey Mac on guitar, Michael Roberts on bass and Charlie Genneico on drums. I determined during this set that Mikey Mac might actually be one of the greatest unsung guitarists in the valley. I've heard a lot of covers of "Touch of Grey" in my time, but I can solidly say that this was the best without reservation.

Singer-songwriter and Tempe favorite Walt Richardson.
Singer-songwriter and Tempe favorite Walt Richardson.

Following inside was Walt Richardson, another unsung hero in the local scene and probably one of the most talented individuals in the valley. This is not hyperbole. Richardson has been a local legend for decades, but he's been mainly admired by musicians and artists all the while and his set on Saturday proved that they are correct in their admiration.

His set was absolutely astounding filled with rock, blues and reggae influences he kept the crowd going with his sound. I simply wish that Richardson would play more these days, because I love checking his sets out, The Noodles even made a mention of him on their facebook page, "As the last lyrics were sung by Walt Richardson tonight on the inside stage, "Now I'm still on the road headed for another joint. We always feel the same we just saw it from a different point of view...Tangled Up In Blue" It happens to be my favorite Bob Dylan song and it was brilliant every step of the way.

Meredith Moore of Sugar Thieves.
Meredith Moore of Sugar Thieves.

The Sugar Thieves have been a Sail Inn staple for as long as I can remember, I imagine after this weekend they will put on more shows at The Rhythm Room. At this point Sail was nearly at capacity and one of their darling bands were about to close out the outside stage for the last time ever.

Mikel Lander on The Sugar Thieves.
Mikel Lander on The Sugar Thieves.

There is something about the deep blues and roots music of The Sugar Thieves that I will always associate with the Sail. Yes, I have seen them there more than anyone else, and they've released albums there, and the combination of Mikel and Meredith are simply amazing. I watched every minute of it from the outside patio and stood in disbelief of their power and delivery. They were a peak performance in the weekend and they were about to be joined by another.

Shea Marshall (left) and Jeff Naylor of The Sugar Thieves.
Shea Marshall (left) and Jeff Naylor of The Sugar Thieves.

Future Loves Past has been splitting their time between here and L.A. for the last few months, and it was nice to have them back this weekend. I haven't seen them in months and it was so refreshing to hear them on the stage at Sail for one last time, whether it was "Grows Up Tall," "Lupa," "Mercury," or "Pretty Things," one of my top five favorite local bands simply rocked it completely. It was especially magnificent when Mike Hennessey and Danny Torgesen joined them on sax and trumpet, respectively. It occurred to me that Future Loves Past, after not having seen them in a month, is akin to our version of Steely Dan, just as good and just as weird. It was the best set I've seen them do in half a year and for me it was the final, musical, all out God experience for the weekend. It was a fine mix of their first album and their forthcoming one, a delicate blend that kept the audience rapt to the stage, kept their bodies dancing and their minds captured. Brilliant.

Dave Hebert of Xtra Ticket during the band's closeout performance at the Sail Inn on Sunday.
Dave Hebert of Xtra Ticket during the band's closeout performance at the Sail Inn on Sunday.

Finally, it was time for the finale. Xtra Ticket would be carrying The Sail Inn out for its last moments. Immersed in the sounds of the Grateful Dead, it seemed appropriate for the aged venue. It would shuffle off its mortal coil in a tie dyed way and the crowd couldn't be happier. Xtra Ticket even streamed it live. And so amid the strobe lights, the fog, the smoke, the booze and the drugs, we all slowly said goodbye to a venue we loved and now had to lead behind.

The final set at The Sail Inn, courtesy of Xtra Ticket.
The final set at The Sail Inn, courtesy of Xtra Ticket.

Sometimes life isn't fair. When you are embedded in local live music, it's hard to watch venue after venue go by the wayside and close. So many closures have been preventable, but this one was beyond our control and we never saw it coming. Unlike the last night at Long Wong's, where we all thought that if it was that crowded every night it never would have closed, here it was the ruling of a fascist property management company who I will never patronize in any way, ever. Still, everyone had a sense of resignation, celebration and it was a joyful wake for one of the most beloved venues in Tempe for the last two decades. Farewell to The Sail Inn, you will be sorely missed.

Walt Richardson joins Xtra Ticket onstage during their encore to play the last song ever at The Sail Inn.
Walt Richardson joins Xtra Ticket onstage during their encore to play the last song ever at The Sail Inn.

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