When The Sail Inn closes on Sunday evening after the final night of its three-day Farewell Festival, it will mark the end of an era -- not just for the bar itself, but also for the Tempe music scene.
A big chapter in the city's lore will draw to a close on Sunday when the lights finally go out and the final notes finish echoing through the air. The Sail Inn, which first opened in 1990, is one of the last remnants of Tempe's golden age of music, which feels like a lifetime ago, when the scene was crackling with energy, verve, and promise.
The Sail Inn literally bridged generations of Tempe musicians in its 24-year history and has had more than its fair share of stories and memories associated with it that its regulars are eager to spin. Strange and colorful tales of drunken misadventures, crummy stages, sweaty gigs, hookups, breakups, and everything else in between.
And, sorrowfully, these are pretty much all that will remain of The Sail after this weekend.
As a compliment to our oral history of the bar, we've pulled together many tales and outtakes from our interviews with The Sail Inn's regulars for your perusal.
Gavin Rutledge, former Casey Moore's co-owner:
When I met Gina, I was 20 years old. I bartended at Casey Moore's, not the present-day Casey's, for three years we were located on Seventh Street. Gina ran 6 East and I ran Casey's, so we shared a lot of customers. And we'd warn each other when the McGuinn brothers were drunk or causing trouble or whatever. We became fast friends; I was 20, she was 21. And we looked out for each other.
I used to do handstand contests with one of the McGuinn brothers at the Sail Inn. These guys lived hard, most of 'em are dead now. He was a big buff guy and I won, every time. But I drank a lot less than those guys.
Mansaray Blue Pony, local artist/blues musician:
At one of the old blues jams, a friend that played harmonica had one of those remote [microphones] for it. He'd gotten off stage and forgot to turn it off. And we were all sitting there talking and all of a sudden we heard this big sound of a toilet flushing over the P.A.
Mario Moreno, guitarist, Hoodoo Kings:
The Sail Inn was a pretty scruffy bar and it had its share of characters, guys that I swear lived in that bar. There was a time there when the blues bands were really popular. There was a bunch of them: Big Pete [Pearson] and Small Paul, The Rocket 88s, Hot Ice, Chuck Hall...god there was a lot. For awhile, there was a half a dozen bands there, maybe more that all played on a circuit. We played the third anniversary. It was on a Sunday afternoon, I remember and I think it was really hot.
Kevin Daly, guitarist, Grave Danger:
Physically, [Sail Inn] was a bit of a hike from Mill. It was sort of an industrial neighborhood back then. It was junkyards and commercial construction companies all around it, so it definitely wasn't part of the entertainment neighborhood like Mill. You didn't have the immediate police presence to spoil our fun like you'd have on Mill Avenue.
It was the type of bar where people would go to get drunk, not to have a couple cocktails or something. People got hammered and had a good time and bands got a good response. People were never shy about dancing or yelling along. It definitely wasn't stuffy by any means. Maybe they over-served. And we got drunk, we got drunk as hell, and we played drunk as hell. Everybody in the place seemed to be drunk. But I'd never see a fight in there, not once.
John Reuter, guitarist, The Noodles:
I remember the sound used to be so bad [inside], because of the way they had those windows and those columns. The sound used to bounce right back in your face, so I foamed the whole front wall and four feet high along the back wall and people kept ripping it down, which pissed me off. Why would musicians tear down something that's improving the sound?
Meredith Moore, vocalist, Sugar Thieves:
On 4/20 in 2005, I showed up at The Sail Inn and there were a few bands playing and the band went on break and they left their mics live. So I took the opportunity to jump up on stage and I started improving this song, sort of like a blues song.
I just started singing to the audience and I could see Soundman Ken [Kareta] running up to the stage to pull the mic cord and unplug me. And then he realized, "Oh, it's sounds okay," so he let me stay up there. I'd had one or two Jägermeisters, I think. Anyways, I was just making words for this song and started singing about 4/20 and this and that, and then flashed the entire bar my tits. That's one of my first memories of The Sail Inn.
Mikel Lander, guitarist, Sugar Thieves:
I started playing there when I was 17 in 1998 or 1999. I came in with a band I thought I had joined, I helped them load in, and I was informed I wasn't playing that night. I later came in pretty much as a solo artist at first and then I put a band together, Now You're Cooking With Gas.
It was crazy because the bathrooms were the worst place you could think of. It was kind of a little shithole. Starting to play there, once I got in, and everyone knew me, I was fine. It was crazy, the stage on the side of the building with the put-together [sound] system that worked half the time. It was grubby, dark, and dank, but it was a great place to cut my teeth there, for sure.
Everyone went through there. aside from that, it was a great place to start playing blues and make friendships with other musicians, even just hanging out there. It always seemed like there were musicians there drinking.
Jared Kolesar, vocalist, Jared and the Mill:
It's a very Tempe place. It's been like a really great launch pad for local bands to get started and also to keep returning and playing. It's not just up and comers, it's not just established acts. Gina has been really awesome with the Tempe local music scene. She's always been helpful.
People are so friendly there. You can pick up a conversation with anybody. The bar staff is really cool and Gina's a sweetheart and she's there every night. It's a really friendly place and its very Tempe in that way. Everyone is approachable and you're able to talk to anybody you want there.
Michael Bell, drummer, Lymbyc Systym:
The Sail Inn was a haven for eclectic stuff. For a while, I was in this other group, Soaking Fused, this jazz something or another [with Shea Marshall]. A few years after the Lymbyc Systym gig, I got to do another adventure in another weekly Sail Inn gig every Tuesday. That band actually had some crazy legacy, like they continued their weekly gig for three years. It was heavy on the jazzy, musician-y stuff but also heavy on the experimental. It was cool because it was this group of people that we're gigging all the time but that was a get drunk and have fun version of still playing intellectual, high level music.
Henri Bernard, drummer, Dry River Yacht Club:
When I was 19 and was first getting into bands in the Tempe scene, my friend told me, "You could come to this bar on Farmer and drink their underage." And being 19 in Tempe and being able to go somewhere and know I could just get in with any kind of ID on this one night and get wasted was so appealing.
So we'd go there and watch Mike Bell's other band Soaking Fused with Shea Marshall and Vicki the bartender would feed us this drink the "Vicki Special" and it was so good. Two or three of those? Blackout. So I'd go with my bandmates and we'd party there and felt like badasses.
Chris Hansen Orf, guitarist, Zen Lunatics:
My best memories of it were doing rock karaoke there because its kind of a niche gig where we have four books full of songs and people come up to sing 'em. It's kinda cool because for a niche gig, its something that I don't know if a lot of bars would've taken a chance on, but Gina was always awesome about that. It was definitely a strange time with a lot of different singers coming up.
Once in awhile when you don't have $8 cover, or however much it is, and you try and jump over the back fence. So I remember sneaking in from time to time and getting busted by Dave Biederman when he was working the door. And the back fence used to have these little barb hooks at the top, but if you had denim on, you'd get caught on the fence. So one nights, a girlfriend and myself were trying to sneak in through the back. And I jumped over the fence and she went over after me. And her jean skirt got caught on the fence and she was literally hanging upside down. We, of course, got busted. And everybody saw her underwear.
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