This is part of a series of reviews on weekly events at local bars. Having lived in the Valley my whole life, I only recently realized that tons of bars offer weekly events featuring bands that are staples of the music community. The shows are nearly always free, and the bands are nearly always among the best and most seasoned in their styles. We're going to review them all...
The show: Arizona Blues Project at Cody's.
The look: Rustic, old-fashioned Western restaurant.
The smell: Really yummy American fare.
The taste: Really yummy American fare, I suspect.
Three words/phrases to describe the night: Boots, cigarettes, tablecloths.
Who to bring with you: A good friend who doesn't mind a long drive.
Drink of the night: Iced tea or white wine.
No offense to the town of Cave Creek, but I had low expectations for this night. Cave Creek is a small town, in nearly every sense of the word. It's about a 45 minute drive outside of my beloved Tempe, and the farther out you go, the more removed from the city you feel. There are fewer and fewer street lights. It begins to get really dark, really fast. The road narrows and the street names become foreign. It's only a hop, skip, and a jump from being "in the middle of the desert." The lack of asphalt even frees you from the Heat Island effect, dropping the temperature a few degrees lower than it is in CenPho.
The road to Cody's screams of tourism, featuring new buildings made to look like the Old West, kitschy shops, and eating/drinking establishments that appear to close well before 8 p.m. While me and my non-air-conditioned pickup were on the way up, I was convinced that I had somehow missed the place. I was certain that I had driven past it. I checked the map before I left -- there was no way it could have been farther than I had driven. So I pulled over at a convenient store to ask for directions. There were two people in line ahead of me at the register, and they were with one another. They were buying handfuls of packages of roasted peanuts and jumbo-size chocolate bars, and were engaged in a very lengthy bit of small talk with the cashier, which involved the man paying for the goods calling her honey at least five times. After several painfully long minutes trying not to be rude and waiting for the man to pay, I asked the kind, solitary woman (I hadn't even seen another car in a while) where the restaurant/bar was and found out that it was another half mile or so up the road.
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It was these kinds of events that set the tone for the whole evening. I arrived at Cody's just in time for the band's set break, after scoring a parking spot in the semi-crowded dirt lot. I meandered onto the outside patio feeling a little out of place myself. I absolutely love Arizona small towns, but they're also some of the easiest places to stick out because typically everyone knows each other there. And you would never want to be mistaken for a -- gasp -- tourist! Thankfully, the people out on the patio were super-friendly, quickly offering up an ash tray as I sat by myself on a bar stool with a bottle of Bud.
Once the music started back up I was even more pleasantly surprised. At the risk of sounding horribly conceited, I believe I know more about blues music than 90 percent of people under the age of 30, and this band was good. Really good.
I was thrilled to find out that it featured Arizona Blues Hall of Famer guitarist Chuck Hall, whose work I was familiar with. Everyone delivered, and the band worked well together as a cohesive unit, trading solos and each member offering up a unique personality. In typical blues fashion, the approach was informal (unlike the flatware), and guests were invited up throughout the evening on various instruments. It was a really nice complement to the atmosphere of the restaurant. In my mind, places that charge more than $10 a plate can often seem stuffy and a little uptight. Seeing the band interact so informally and with such ease along with the friendliness of the town and other patrons made it all alright.
Booked on a weekend night at the right venue and these guys would not only have people movin' and groovin', but middle-aged couples would be making out on wooden dance floors. Not shabby at all for a Tuesday night in little ol' Cave Creek.