Silently we drove the 5 hours to the tiny town of Pomeroy, Iowa in one straight shot. Yes, it's a bit crazy to drive that far for one gig, but we had been told great things about this venue and are of the opinion (lately. . . after 5 years of doing this) that it's better to have one great gig than a whole tour of less-than-great gigs. So even though Iowa is perhaps the most boring state to drive across, we managed to get through it with lots of enlivening podcasts (carefully avoiding the slew of political- focused ones that had come out this week).
Pomeroy, Iowa may not even be a one stoplight town. It's a collection of houses amidst miles and miles of farmland. The tiny downtown has one strip of older (turn-of-the-century?) buildings that are mostly empty. . . except for Byron's. From the outside it looks like any other Midwest dive bar, but as soon as you walk inside the impression is that this is a very special place. Immediately we were greeted by Byron himself - a man who could be compared to Santa Claus in his appearance and disposition, but wearing tie dye and overalls. "I'm a hugger" Byron said as he gave both Josh and I a friendly squeeze. He proceeded to show us around the one-room establishment. Covering every wall (and even the ceiling) are posters of shows that he's hosted at the bar, photos and music memorabilia that he's collected and most prominently- Grateful Dead gear. If you can think of a type of merchandise that the GD has put out, he has it. Dancing bears hanging from the ceiling, concert posters and artwork, photos of Jerry and much more. A huge tie dye tapestry hangs behind the stage, featuring a GD bear and a guitar design.
The show was to start at 5:00 and we didn't arrive until after 4:00. So quickly after we got there, it started to fill up. Clearly all of the patrons knew each other and I understood that what Byron told us was true, "This is my extended family". I felt like we'd stepped in to a secret club house. Everyone wanted to meet Josh and thank him for coming out to this little town to share his music. But once the music started, the rowdy crowd settled down and listened intently. They took in every line of every song and were especially receptive to Josh's stories about the songs and about life on the road, his childhood in ND, etc. It was clear that these folks were having a rough week as well, and that this evening of camaraderie was helping them heal.
It always amazes me when we find a venue like that, tucked away in the most unexpected place. I know how incredibly hard it is to get people to care about live music- to tear themselves away from all the distractions (jobs, kids, television), pay a cover (even if it's only $5-$10!) and try something new. But the successful places are always spearheaded by someone like Byron- a true music lover through and through. He's not in it for money, like most musicians, and that's why it works. The people that come back there every Sunday are a part of a real community that has been forged through a love of music. It's a beautiful thing.
|pulling up to Byron's|
|the man himself|