Bar Shows: The Concert Experience You Didn’t Know You Needed

by Clayton Edwards

Here at Outsider, we’re all about finding common ground and a sense of community. And, yeah, you can find that at just about any concert worth going to. The feeling of walking into a massive venue packed to the rafters with like-minded folks is special. For many, that feeling is what makes the ticket price worth paying, no matter how much they spent. However, you’ll never feel as at home as you do at a hometown bar show.

For years, I spent a few Fridays a month at one of many local watering holes listening to local and touring bands. Over time, those bar shows came to be about more than the music. They were communal gatherings. Sometimes, those shows were the only way to get – or fit – the whole gang under one roof. Those were the days.

Then, COVID happened. Going to the bar wasn’t an option and live shows seemed like they would never return. Many of the regular show crowd are still wary about packing into a tiny room. Until last weekend, I hadn’t been to a small gig since before the pandemic hit. I didn’t realize how much I missed it.

A Bar Show Scratched an Itch I Didn’t Realize I Had

Last Friday, my wife and I had the night to ourselves so we headed down to a local venue called The Bird and the Book for a big shindig. It was the owner’s birthday as well as the 30th anniversary of her other establishment, Southland Books. So, there was a celebratory feeling in the air even before Sarah Pirkle, a Master Folk Artist and local songwriter opened for Blood on the Harp, a gothic alt-country/murder folk act out of Atlanta.

The music was great. Sarah Pirkle played a solo set in which she shared stories and played originals as well as old fiddle tunes. Then, Blood on the Harp took the stage and played like they were in front of thousands of people. They absolutely blew the roof off the place.

On top of that, the venue is spectacular. The food is good enough that it’s a local dinner spot for those in the know. The beer selection is pretty solid as well. Additionally, some of the sweetest folks you’ll ever meet own and operate the Bird and the Book.

That was all secondary, though.

For a few hours that Friday night, I felt more at home in a crowd than I have in years. We raised our glasses, cheered, laughed, and tapped our feet as one. Between sets, I caught up with old friends and made some new ones while taking a smoke break in the parking lot.

I didn’t realize how badly I needed a hometown bar show in my life. It’s a kind of magic that you won’t find anywhere else.  

The Big Difference

Now, I’ve been to a handful of shows since venues started opening again. Most notably, I saw Ray Wylie Hubbard at an outdoor venue and Lost Dog Street Band at Knoxville’s Bijou Theater. Both were great shows. I walked out of each of those feeling refreshed and grateful that I could see some of my favorite artists work their craft.

When I left Friday’s bar show, though, it was different. The sense of community and comradery I felt in that little venue was like a drug. For a short time, it was like the pandemic never happened and everything was like “the good old days” again. Now, I’ll be in local watering holes as often as possible chasing that old familiar feeling.

Why You Need to See a Bar Show

If you’re not already sold on the idea of catching a bar show, there are a few more reasons.

For one, you’re not going to have to break the bank to see live music. Usually, you’re not going to pay more than ten bucks at the door. Additionally, you’ll pay less for food, drinks, and booze at one of these spots than you would at a larger venue. While you’re at it, you can probably pick up a CD or some merch and still spend less than you would when going to an arena or stadium show. On top of that, you’ll be able to see the stage without binoculars or a big screen no matter where you sit in the venue.

That small amount of money you’re giving up is going to a good place. Unless you’re watching a regional touring act, that money is going right back into your community. More importantly, you’re supporting local musicians with your money and your attendance. Most massive touring artists start as local bands and wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without the support – both moral and monetary – they received from their hometown audience.

At the end of the night, though, it’s all about the communal experience. Go out, have a good time, and make some new friends. In this day and age, I think we all need a bar show in our lives.