Downtown icon Rhythm & Brews prepares to end its long run
Since Rhythm & Brews announced it was closing its doors, a generation of club-goers are reflecting and reminiscing about the good times they had there. Trying to sum up those stories, the history of the club, and the career of Mike Dougher can be a daunting task.
“There are hundreds of stories I can’t tell you,” says Dougher. “Especially from the Sandbar days.” He is referring to his previous 15-year stint at the bar and music venue located where The Boathouse restaurant is now. There Dougher was booking acts early in their musical careers, including Hootie and the Blowfish and the Dave Matthews Band. It prepared him to manage a venue that was successful from the start.
R&B’s humble beginnings began when the club replaced the dueling piano bar “Sing Sing” in 1999. Early on, the club hosted mainly country acts looking for their big break. Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan and the Zac Brown Band graced the stage in those early days and with those musicians Dougher solidified his connections.
Dougher remembers a time when he was surprised to learn friend and guitarist Kristian Bush had just joined an up-and-coming band...called Sugarland. “We were putting on a Johnny Cash birthday tribute around the time “Walk the Line” came out, and we booked Sugarland before I knew Kristian was in the band. This whole business ends up being a small circle of friends, and of course you want to see your friends succeed.”
R&B became the destination for college kids and young adults alike throughout the 2000s. Local music venues came and went during those times, but the first question asked by many concertgoers on the weekend was, “What’s going on at Rhythm & Brews?”
Dougher started to book more alternative, indie acts like The Hopsing Project, Up with the Jones and reggae band Milele Roots. “Some of the concertgoers at that time have recently told me they met their spouses at R&B and now they have kids who come to the club,” he says. “Definitely makes you feel old.”
Other notable artists who played the club over the years include Cracker, Blind Melon, Frank Black, Gillian Welch, Ani DiFranco, Nickel Creek, The Fixx and Todd Rundgren. One of Dougher’s new favorites has to be St. Paul & the Broken Bones. “They remind me of a modern day Here Come The Mummies,” he says. “Any band with those horns…man, I’m a sucker for that sound.”
But the group Dougher values more than any other at Rhythm & Brews is the staff, some of whom have been there since the beginning. “They really make me look good,” he says. “In a business like this, you can either stand up or wilt. This crew has pulled me through more times than I would like to remember.”
Dougher will take those memories along on his next adventure. “I’m proud of what we have done,” he says. “We just wanted anyone who walked through our doors to hear some great music and have a great time.”