Bryan Dean released his first CD at the Boondocks Lounge in 2008 and owner Cathy Warner must have been pretty impressed, because not long afterward she hired the Bryan Dean Trio to play a standing Monday night gig.
They’ve been regulars since, playing the odd 6 p.m. slot and entertaining an eclectic crowd that included college kids, working stiffs and families out for the Monday night meatloaf special at Boondocks’ Range Rider Grill.
On Monday, Dean and his trio played their last Boondocks gig. After 20 years, Warner and her husband, Bill, have decided to call it a day. Boondocks will remain open through Thursday, Sept. 29, during the days.
“We love all of our customers, musicians and employees, but it’s just not feasible, especially financially, to stay. It doesn’t make any sense,” Cathy Warner said Monday afternoon. “It’s just time to move on.”
The Warners, both in their 60s, decided last Wednesday to close the Boondocks, which they bought from Gloria Gillespie and Jim Bailey in 1996. They notified their staff of about a dozen — several of them who worked only part-time.
Word quickly spread to the Tucson musicians who have played on the intimate stage since the Warners took over the business and started hosting nightly live music.
“It’s like someone died in my family,” Dean said Monday. “I’ve played there with so many bands over the years. For me personally, it’s this gig and my connection with Cathy who gave me this shot. That’s the hardest part.”
“It’s a venue that will be sorely, sorely missed,” added Char Rogers, who sat on the board of the Southern Arizona Blues Heritage Foundation for a decade and worked closely with the Warners to bring blues artists to the Boondocks. “It was a truly wonderful neighborhood bar.”
Rogers has seen dozens of shows at the Boondocks with major blues artists including Tinsley Ellis, Janiva Magness and Smokin’ Joe Kubek, who played a gig at the Boondocks seven months before he died in late 2015. Those shows were mostly co-productions with the Boondocks and KXCI and the blues foundation.
“Not the best acoustics, but such an intimate setting you could be close to musicians and that always makes up what’s lacking in sound,” Rogers said. “It was just a delightful place to see someone because of its size.”
For Warner, the best shows were the local artists, including Lisa Otey, Amo Chip, The Coolers’, The Wayback Machine, Anna Warr and Giant Blues, Grams and Krieger, the Carnivaleros, The Scarlet Lettermen and Nancy McCallion.
The 4,905-square-foot bar/restaurant also hosted the after party for the annual Tucson blues festival. This year’s party for the 32nd Arizona Blues Heritage Festival on Oct. 16 will likely be held at Chicago Bar, which is somewhat ironic: The Warners owned the Chicago Bar for several years beginning in 1984 and introduced live music there — a blues scene that continues to this day, said Jennifer Lorraine, who has owned the bar for six years.
The Boondocks was the Warners’ fourth Tucson business. In 1983, they owned Cathy’s Café on East 22nd Street before selling it to buy the Chicago Bar in 1984, the same year they bought the Coffee Pot Café.
Warner said running the Boondocks has been challenging since 2008, but never more so than the last couple of years. Last summer was the worst, she said.
“It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just time for us to go,” Warner said. “We can’t keep it up anymore. … It really is a business for younger people who have obviously more money than we do and more energy. It’s a wonderful, wonderful venue that has a great … harmonic convergence. It feels like when all the people are in there, the music’s going, the band is relating to the audience, everybody is having a good time … people are in there for that moment. It’s a Tucson moment.”
The Warners plan to spend more time with their granddaughter and son.