Hi y’all, it’s Shannon Brown from Trailer Radio bloggin’ at you live from NYC!
On Sunday June 3 @ 9pm, Trailer Radio is performing at the iconic Rodeo Bar (375 Third Avenue at 27th Street) in NYC. Rodeo Bar is the #1 destination for country music in this town. They’ve crammed about as much Austin as they can into their corner of Manhattan, complete with a buffalo head on the wall, peanut shells thrown on the floor, and a 1940s horse trailer repurposed as a bar.
So I thought I’d contact owner, Mitch Pollak, to chat about Rodeo behind the scenes. The first time I called, my freakishly thick right thumb dialed the wrong number and I wound up chatting with a Jamaican drummer named Javel from the Bronx. Between his Jamaican accent, and my hillbilly accent, it took us a solid five minutes to determine it was the wrong number! Confused, I cut him off mid-life story and asked, “Why are you telling me all this?” He said, “You called and sounded like a nice person.” And they say New Yorkers aren’t friendly.
On my second try, I located the real Mitch and got the skinny on what it takes to run a cowboy bar in Manhattan:
Shannon Brown: So Mitch, where are you from?
Mitch Pollak: I’m from New York City.
SB: How’d you come to own Rodeo Bar?
MP: Rodeo Bar is about 25 years old. I bought it 16 years ago from someone else. I have a food background and I’ve always loved BBQ and there wasn’t any place to get real Texas BBQ around here. So I started fooling around with different things and trying to smoke BBQ like they do in Texas, but I couldn’t get it right. As it turns out the wood in NY is different than wood in TX and it gives the food a different flavor. We order our meat from Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart, TX and fly it up here, so it’s as close to Texas BBQ as you’ll find in New York.
SB: What did you do before Rodeo Bar?
MP: Before that, I was in the music business as a booking agent in the 80’s. At the time many of the bands I worked with were considered new wave, but they’re more Americana/country. Some of them still play Rodeo Bar for example Paul Westerberg of The Replacements. Tav Falco’s Panther Burns played Rodeo a while back for new album release. And Joan Osborne got started at Rodeo; she used to play here every Monday.
SB: What do you look for in a band when booking Rodeo?
MP: The bands we book must have talent/quality, and we look for bands that are going to bring people in. However, we won’t bring in sucky bands even if they bring in a crowd. Rodeo Bar is willing to take a chance on new bands if they’re good. The groups are mostly Americana, rockabilly (we have rockabilly on Saturdays), country, blues, bluegrass and alt. country, whatever that is. We try to be more like Austin than Nashville.
SB: And you also bring in touring acts, right?
MP: Yes, we bring in touring acts. Hank III played his first gig at Rodeo. The Gourds had one of their first gigs at Rodeo. In some ways it’s easier to bring in touring acts now because so many other venues have closed. NYC has lost about 10 live music venues in recent years. On the other hand a lot of bands are going to Brooklyn to play, so it can be a challenge to get bands to stay in Manhattan.
SB: What are some of the changes you’ve seen in the NY country scene since you took over Rodeo?
MP: Seems to me a lot of younger country bands have started up. Americana has had a renaissance in last 5 years and its fun to see younger people who appreciate the music.
SB: What are the challenges you see facing country music artists and venue owners in NYC these days?
MP: There is no country music station in NYC, never has been. So we rely on college radio for publicity. And our neighborhood has changed. Used to be it was mostly musicians and artists. But rent has gone up so much that a great deal of our clientele has moved away. Local musicians can’t afford to live in the area, so it’s become hard to sustain a local music scene. We need people to understand the community has to come out to hear live music so we can stay around.
SB: Where’d you get the buffalo head?
MP: He came with the place. I haven’t changed much about Rodeo Bar since I bought it; I’m more like the caretaker of the place. The buffalo is getting old and had to get a hair transplant a while back and the trailer bar is from 40’s and requires maintenance. It’s a 25 year old restaurant – it takes a lot of money to keep everything working.
SB: Anything else you’d like to say to folks who are reading this blog?
MP: Come in to Rodeo and hear great live music every night of the week with no admission fee and have real Texas BBQ! The calendar of live music at Rodeo is at http://rodeobar.com/html/calendar.php.
And we couldn’t agree more. Rodeo Bar is an NYC institution, and Trailer Radio is proud to be performing at such an awesome venue. We do hope you’ll shrink your jeans, jack up your hair and join us on June 3, from 9pm-Midnight as we bring the twang to Gotham’s ears!
(Photo: Top: Rodeo Bar sign at night. Copyright Rodeo Bar. Bottom: Shannon and the buffalo looking festive with a snoot full of holiday poinsettias. Photo: Copyright Shannon Brown.)
That’s the skinny from the city. And also coming up…
May 25, Plunk Brothers, Weal & Woe, Steamboat Disasters at Jalopy
May 27, Travis & The Longhorns perform at Fleet Week
June 3, Trailer Radio performs at Rodeo Bar
June 9, Southern Culture on the Skids plays Madison Square Park
~ Shannon Brown
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West Virginia native, Shannon Brown, was deported from WV to NYC on account of her snarky attitude and propensity toward impatience. She is now the front woman for country band Trailer Radio whose mission is to bring authentic twang to Yankee ears. She can’t resist shoe shopping, taking snapshots of crazy NYC happenings, scratching mini-dachshunds, taste-testing martinis around the city, and anything that has to do with bacon.
Outlaw Magazine. Country, Rock and Roll, Blues, Folk, Americana, Punk. As long as it is real, it is OUTLAW. Overproduced mediocrity need not apply.