Through venue changes and shifts in the Texas/Red Dirt scene, Joni Beard always provided a top notch venue through which songwriters were able to bare their souls to receptive audiences. By following 3 main rules: sit down, shut up and listen; the Clubhouse was able to attract a very talented and diverse roster of guests. The Clubhouse atmosphere fostered and helped grow the careers of Ryan Bingham, Randy Rogers, Jason Boland, Jamie Lin Wilson, Mike Eli, Jason Eady, Wade Bowen, and Stoney LaRue among many others.
The Clubhouse literally sprang from an apartment complex commons area. Joni Beard aka Miss Joni, found herself in love with the music and wanting to support it to the maximum extent possible. A flower child at heart, Beard knew a thing or two about supporting music and musicians she cared about. With the inspiration from the 60s and 70s folk scene at its core, Beard launched Clubhouse Concerts on a whim, wing and prayer.
Those first few shows were sparsely attended affairs that usually ended up with the songwriters crashing on Joni’s couch…or sometimes on a good night, the bath tub. The artists would get some non-fast food grub, gas money, a couple new fans and an unwavering solidification of the belief that they were on the right track.
Miss Joni and the Clubhouse believed in the artists and the songs. The bedrock ethos of the entire venture was to listen. If you didn’t listen, you weren’t invited back. Not in a rude way, you just didn’t get invited back. Be you artist or attendee. As the Clubhouse series gained steam it moved locales. The classic location was the White Elephant Saloon. Upstairs. In this environment, Joni created a vibe, a platform, a support system for young artists to share songs and try ideas out in front of an appreciative, attentive audience.
A trip through the still online Clubhouse archives is a trip through modern Texas Music history. Listening rooms are rare. Good ones even more so. Looking at the calendar is astounding. The listed names for 2002 and 2003 just tell part of the story. Ryan Bingham may not have been listed on many of the bills during this period, but there is no doubt he was at just about every Sunday performance. It was the only way he ate and got gas money. He was still green, and really just had “Southside of Heaven” and he may play it three times in a round, but…it’s “Southside of Heaven”. The ecosystem of the Clubhouse made this possible. By the time, Bingham had more than just a handful of songs he’d become a seasoned and confident entertainer.
The high water mark of the early Clubhouse years is without a doubt Randy Rogers 2003 birthday bash. It exists on bootlegs and grainy YouTube clips. The evening featured Rogers, Bleu Edmondson, Bingham, Bowen, Boland, Peter Dawson, Roger Ray and others. This was pre-Rollercoaster Rogers. But, many of those songs had been written. They were first tested out on the Clubhouse stage. The movement, scene and moment were becoming zeitgeist right there in front of Miss Joni.
Part of Miss Joni’s booking prowess was not booking anything she didn’t believe in. If she didn’t buy you or your songs, you weren’t asked to the stage. That wasn’t always the case in the early days when just about anyone with a guitar could at least get a free song swap gig. Joni made sure hers was a cut above. Being asked to play Clubhouse was (and remains) an honor. The way she managed and was unafraid to mix a young guitar slinger with a grizzled troubadour veteran provided memorable experiences for everyone involved. The Clubhouse provided a bridge from the Outlaw era to the Pat Green era, and sometimes on the same stage.
Joni’s vibe was parental. She mothered the songwriters, but not in an overbearing way. She wanted to make sure the audience paid attention, the acts got a little bit of cash, some food and felt respected. Those are qualities that most talent buyers don’t possess.
That is why some 20 years later, a stellar roster of artists are gathering to recreate the magic for one night only. Fort Worth’s own Bobby Duncan played dozens of Clubhouse gigs and attended dozens more. This far down the road, he’s still at it and is soon to release a much buzzed about new album. The lessons he and others learned at the Clubhouse provide the basis for what he’s still doing. One of the first times the Topo Chico Cowboys joined forces was on Miss Joni’s stage and Drew Kennedy and Josh Grider are returning to pay homage to all that entails.
Jamie Lin Wilson, Bonnie Bishop, Jason Eady and Courtney Patton participated in various ways over the years and will be part of the reunion in a triumphant fashion. Max Stalling, Walt Wilkins, Tommy Alverson, Dub Miller and Brandon Rhyder provide the veteran gravitas that was always a hallmark of each Clubhouse show.
There are others scheduled on the bill and some surprises in store. If you were able to grab tickets to this event, you will be treated to a musical experience like none other. They just don’t happen like this anymore. I know. I’ve been trying to recreate it at Lone Star Floathouse for 13 years. 🙂