There's certainly no dearth of hangouts in the Valley where cowboys, cowgirls, or anyone else sporting a western shirt can down something tall and strong, get in some two-stepping action, or just hear some ol' fashioned daggum country music, pardner. Off the top of our heads, we can name close to two-dozen down-home dives or other Southern-fried spots alone.
Early next month, said list will have one more entry -- and a stylish one at that -- when the buckaroos behind The Vig, The Little Woody, and Crescent Ballroom open The Western in Scottsdale. Dreamt up by nightlife impresario Tucker Woodbury, who's partnering once again with concert promoter Charlie Levy, it's going to be a vintage roadhouse and country music venue with the heart of an old-school honky-tonk and plenty of style to boot.
The Western will be located in the old Sugar Shack sports bar located along Fifth Avenue, near the street's intersection with Indian School Road on the edge of Old Town Scottsdale (hence the establishment's cute subtitle, "Cowboys and Indian School").
The 54-year-old entrepreneur (who isn't kin to New Times music editor Jason P. Woodbury, by the way) told Up on the Sun that it's sort of a revival of the old Rocking Horse country bar he owned in the late '80s/early '90s, across from the equally rustic Coach House.
Much like his old joint, which was destroyed by fire in 1996, Woodbury will offer a vintage honky-tonk vibe, a calendar filled with rootsy musicians and country bands, and plenty of room to dance.
"Ever since . . . The Rocking Horse burned down, there really hasn't been a real-deal kind of Austin-esque roadhouse in the greater Phoenix area, with the exception of maybe Handlebar-J's," he says. "And when I use the phrase 'Austin-esque,' that's probably the best way to characterize it. Like a comfortably rough-and-tumble little roadhouse if nothing else, but nicely appointed. I've told people that what The Little Woody is to neighborhood dive bars, this will be to honky-tonks."
The now-defunct Sugar Shack in Scottsdale, which is being transformed into The Western.Woodbury adds that The Western, while stylish, will feel "legit" and not like "some franchised-out, brand-spanking-new" cowboy club.
"Its not a pop-country bar or the kind of country bar that's defined in this day and age," he says.
Woodbury is aiming to open during the first week of April and offer the same sort of Americana-laden musical menu as the Rocking Horse.
"It was a really cool venue," he says. "We did country on weekend and then programmed it with nationals. Brought in everybody from Son Volt, Wilco, Joe Ely, Michelle Shocked . . . all these really great bands. And this is just derivative of that. We're not doing anything new; we're not reinventing the wheel here. It's like, 'Okay, here's a chance to do kinda what we had some success doing 20 years ago."
He's already recruited local Tony Martinez and his country act, a staple of the Yucca Tap's Valley Fever night, to serve as his house band on weekends. Woodbury says that having Martinez and his band is one of the keys to the place.
"That kind of help drives the whole concept. I don't think we would've done the deal if we didn't know that we could bring Tony on and that there was a Tony Martinez out there," he says. "He kinda epitomizes what we're going after. You come into the place, dance on a hardwood dance floor to authentic country and [Western] swing music and have a great time."
Valley Fever resident DJ and promoter Dana Armstrong also will be developing a spin-off of her signature event (which will remain at the Yucca) for Thursday evenings at The Western, Woodbury says.
"We're giving her a night and she will sort of take and shape in her own way," he says. "It won't take the place of Valley Fever, but she's going to do a different version of it that will be similar in some respects."
He's also tapped the Valley's Sara Robinson and the Midnight Special to take over Sundays each week. Woodbury adds that in addition to the blues/roots/soul band, as well as Armstrong and Martinez's endeavors, The Western will fill its stage with local twang-filled acts in the Americana, roots, and alt-country vein and will make use of Levy's involvement to occasionally bring in national touring acts from those genres.
"We're really going to strive for things that fit the theme of the bar, like a Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, or Junior Brown, something like that, that would be off to the left-center of country yoke," he says. "I don't we'll do crazy indie stuff or anything like that. We'll do an occasional national [act] when it makes sense and it fits the room."
Woodbury adds that teaming up with Levy was a no-brainer.
"Charlie and I are partners at Crescent, so when I decided to do this thing, I brought him on as a partner," Woodbury says. "He books the music, and that's his specialty. He loves that kind of music -- we both kind of do -- and think this will resonate with country music fans in the Valley."
He's been hankering to open a venue such as The Western for years but was waiting to find a suitable building. He found it when the Sugar Shack closed last year.
"I love the fact that we're located on the fringe [of Scottsdale]. It kind of works in support of what we're doing, this little roadhouse that's in Scottsdale but not. It's a kind of romantic notion," Woodbury says. "It's a neat old building. It's got a soul. There haven't been a lot of successful businesses in there, but there's still something about it when you walk in. There have been a lot of good times in that building, and I'm sure there's going to be a whole lot more. It's just one of those kind of joints."
Like Woodbury's other projects, the décor will be a pastiche of metro and retro, which in this case will also be infused with a well-worn Western bent. When describing The Western's look, the 54-year-old uses phrases like "rough-hewn" and "rustic and industrial," mentions that there's antique-looking mushroom wood and other shabby-chic elements involved (like old benches, vintage booths, and found objects), and sums it up as "kind of like if a country bar was opened in an automobile garage."
He also hauled some old metal bar stools that survived the fire at the Rocking Horse out of storage and had them cleaned, restored, and reupholstered with cowhide.
"As you walk into the lounge at Crescent, there's the feel where there's some nice elements in place, but it's not too slick. And that's kind of the same deal you'll find here," Woodbury says. "People should expect exactly what they've come to expect from things that we work on. Really good service, a cool comfortable vibe, great sound, and really good bands both national and local. That's what we try to do, create spaces that are real and authentic. And I think The Western will be like that as well."
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