Tuesday, May 19, 2015

And Now, A Damn Good Story About A Motorcycle Gang

In 2007 David Allen Coe played Boone, Iowa and I remember thinking it was a pretty big deal.

I had been living there for several years by that time and it seemed odd to have a country music legend playing in what amounted to being small town Iowa. The bars in Boone were pretty standard, with each having a steady stream of regulars who frequented the establishments at particular times during the day. 

Lynn's had the morning crowd which consisted mostly of railroaders who worked the overnight shift for Union Pacific. You had Wilson's across the street that maintained a steady rotation of bar dwellers from early in the morning until late into the night. Down around the corner you had Ooops! which was famous for it's greasy but delicious breakfasts. Out on the south side of town there was the night clubs and the restaurant bars. Boonies enjoyed drinking and like the creatures of habit that most of us are, they enjoyed drinking at the same places during the same times of each day. 

So when The Venue opened on the edge of town, it didn't cater to a huge populous of Boone's regular bar hoppers, as established drinkers weren't likely to stray far from the circuits they frequented. The Venue was huge by Boone's standards, built into an old abandoned warehouse. When it first opened it billed itself as a "Honkey Tonk" which is not a horrible thing, but it created a clientele that consisted of cowboys and farmers dubiously mixed in with the Affliction t-shirt wearing crowd. No woman in her right mind would go in there by herself without fear of something scary happening. The place was high on testosterone and low on common sense. 

The building was too big to build a crowd to capacity on weeknights, and even if there was 50-70 people there on the weekend, it seemed like a small crowd because of the excess space. Naturally, the owner needed a way to draw in larger crowds, so he built a stage in the wide open room and started booking national bands. 

It was a big deal to have David Allen Coe come to town, and the Boonies seemed pretty excited about it. I think Drowning Pool might have played The Venue along with a few other shitty radio bands of the time, but booking Coe seemed pretty big by Boone standards. 

Personally I was ecstatic  - My mother had played his records all throughout my childhood and I knew all his hits and most of his B-sides. In 2007 I had no idea that David Allen Coe was still touring, let alone willing to play a "small" bar in Boone, Iowa.

I bought a ticket and took the ride, as they say. 

It was a rainy night, I remember that. The lot hadn't been properly graveled and it was very muddy. There were several people who needed a tow by the end of the night. Interestingly, the heavy rain didn't deter a long line of motorcycles from being lined up near the entrance of the bar. 

I walked in and instantly caught a vibe I hadn't felt before. It was tense and dangerous, with a heavy anxiety settling over the pace. The bar looked tiny - it was absolutely packed to it's brim with bikers and cowboys, but mostly bikers. The Sons of Silence had always had a strong presence in Boone, and it seemed like the entire gang had made it out to this concert. People seemed unsure of one another, and I didn't feel particularly safe for reasons I wasn't quite familiar with. When people say that you can cut the tension with a knife, I know what they are talking about. It was THICK... like a cloud of danger and uncertainty. 

I bought a beer and found a spot where I could stand against the wall. I liked knowing that I had nobody behind me and that I could see peripherally across the room in case something were to happen. I just knew that something was about to happen, and I wanted to be see it coming, and escape the room if I felt the need to.

A friend walked by and I mentioned the tension to him. He told me that it was rumored that a rival motorcycle club was in town from out of state who had some unfinished business with the Sons of Silence (was it the Mongols?) and that there was likely to be a confrontation during the concert. More so, it was rumored that factions of that group were already in the building wearing plain clothes which would give them the element of surprise if there was going to be an attack. Having my back against the wall seemed like a very smart move at that point, but I was still dealing with a high level of uncertainty and the unsettling feeling of not being completely safe. I stood there waiting for the show to begin, cautiously eyeing the crowd, careful not to make eye contact with anybody for too long for fear of that person coming over and bruising my ego. I've never been in a tougher crowd in my life.

Suddenly the lights went down and the stage lights came on. The packed house moved as one, standing up and cheering for the show which was just about to begin. The band band came out oblivious to the tension, it seemed. 

Then Coe came walking out onto the stage to a thunderous roar. Very slowly he swaggered up to the front of the stage and stood staring out into the audience, as if he were looking for somebody he knew. Then, he plugged in his microphone and said, "Let's get one thing straight right now. I am the baddest mother fucker in this room, and if there's going to be any trouble here tonight, it starts up here on the stage with me!"

David Allen Coe clearly doesn't give many fucks.

Everybody in the crowd went nuts, and the tension in the room instantly thinned, as if somebody had let the air out of a balloon. There was no trouble to be had on that night, just good ol' bottle chucking honkey tonk country music. The biggest mishap occurred at the end of the night when people had to call a tow truck to yank their cars out of the muddy parking lot. 

Whether you like David Allen Coe or not, he is a hell of a showman, and this concert on a Wednesday night in Boone remains one of the more memorable performances that I've seen.

And I never did find out if the Mongols(?) were actually in Boone on September 19, 2007.