Coyote Blues

No such thing as bad publicity? Tell that weak sauce to Jodi Upton, owner of the hip-hop club CBNC (short for Coyote Bay Night Club) at Scottsdale's Papago Plaza, which has been hurtin' ever since former Arizona State Sun Devils football player Brandon Falkner caught a fatal bullet in the plaza parking lot, allegedly from the gun of ASU tailback Loren Wade. Since the March 26 shooting, business has been off by about 50 percent, despite the fact that Upton's long been credited for turning the club around from a seedy dive to an upscale dance club that draws superstars like 50 Cent, Britney Spears, Eve, Busta Rhymes, and Missy Elliott.

"I spend about $5,000 every Friday night to have eight off-duty Maricopa County sheriff's deputies out front from 11 at night 'til 4 in the morning," Upton explained in an interview before Jett and I hit the club for a post-shooting look-see. "This recent incident with Mr. Falkner and Mr. Wade? If I had not had my deputies there, it could've been a hell of a lot worse. As soon as shots were fired, they were on him and had him down on the ground.

"What's amazing is that the media made it seem like it happened inside my establishment. It actually happened 150 yards outside my establishment, near Wells Fargo. Wade never went in the club. He showed up to pick up his girlfriend, who I assume had been at the club. Falkner had been inside. Wade caught her talking to Falkner, and that's when it happened."

(Sam Bailey, public information officer for the Scottsdale Police Department, confirmed that the killing took place toward the Wells Fargo in the plaza's huge parking lot, and that Wade had not gone into the club. He also stated that in its current incarnation, CBNC "generally speaking, [is] not a problem area," though prior to Upton & Co. taking over in 2002, it was.)

The irony is that CBNC's positive rep as a haven for celebs was due in no small part to the overwhelming security presence (as well as to the contacts Upton's made through her luxury car dealership, Scottsdale's Exotic Auto Sales, and her friendship with rap producer Swizz Beatz, the godfather of one of her sons). 50 Cent felt so at home "in da club," he whipped off his bulletproof vest and did a two-step on the bar. Britney Spears, Beyoncé, and Alicia Keys have all gotten their groove on there. LL Cool J sat in the exclusive "Owner's Booth" and signed autographs for fans. Sports figures, too -- everyone from Suns stud Amaré Stoudemire and players for the Cardinals to Mike Tyson and Allen Iverson -- have kicked it at CBNC. But other than a party for Iverson that happened a few days after the slaying, the VIPs have lately been shunning CBNC like Ja Rule avoiding a G-Unit concert.

Upton complains that she's heard that Suns players were ordered by coaches to steer clear of the spot, although before the shooting Stoudemire was "one of my best customers," she insists. "We had his 22nd birthday here, and in the year and a half he's been coming, there's not been one problem."

Jett and I have been to CBNC before and enjoyed the vibe, and it's always been on our list of places to write up for the column. (CBNC is only open Fridays and Saturdays.) Since it sounds like folks have been trippin' since the deal went down, unfairly hanging CBNC with a shady reputation, we figured we'd stop by the spot on a recent Friday and see what's crackin'.

CBNC is big: two roped-off VIP areas; a roomy Owner's Box, which gives you the best view of the hotties on the dance floor; three bars; and more giant-screen TVs than you can count, all running music videos. The dance floor is lighted from beneath, and blue and purple lights glow through the white fog some machine is pumping out a mile a minute. Chesty dancers are up on risers bustin' moves to joints by Lil Jon, Fat Joe, R. Kelly, Ludacris, Too Short, and Ciara. When the AC/DC Trina and I step through the door, it seems like it's about 60-40, ladies to men, in the house, probably because of the fact that there's no cover on Fridays for chicks, though sausage-swingers have to pony up $10 to gain entree.

Upton's there, watching over the crowd with the help of brothers Jesse and James, whom she calls "the twins." (They're fraternal twins who happen to look a lot alike.) No weak pituitary glands in that family. All three siblings, the blond-haired Upton included, look to be more than six feet tall.

"Damn, Jodi could easily put her foot in my ass if she wanted," I whisper to my switch-hittin' partner in crime as Upton gives us a little tour.