Blind Bob’s celebrates its third anniversary
By Benjamin Dale & W.C. Ruffnel
Many people these days leave Dayton in search of a better life, but others stay and create a better life here. For Nate Mendenhall, general manager of Blind Bob’s bar in the Oregon District, leaving was never an option.
Blind Bob’s, for the majority of Mendenhall’s life, was merely a pipe dream. Nate’s father, Bob Mendenhall, the bar’s namesake and co-owner with his wife Lisa, had a basement bar in their home when Nate was a child. Around the age of 13, Nate christened his father’s bar Blind Bob’s and the dream was born.
Bob suffers from a degenerative eye condition that causes him to gradually lose his sight. He is now, for all intents and legal purposes, blind as a bat. But he never lost sight of his son’s dream, and after he retired, instead of purchasing a timeshare in Florida or a giant RV, he decided to try something else, and father and son’s imaginings became reality on that day in May 2008 when the Mendenhall family got the keys to what was the Nite Owl in the Oregon District.
“I never could have done it myself,” said Nate. “When I opened the bar, with my parent’s retirement on the line, it was like ‘you can’t fuck this up, there’s no room for error.’ If they retire broke, you’re going to have to hear about it for the rest of your life.”
So with the motivation that only comes from a family business, Mendenhall succeeded in turning a small, cramped dive bar in the Oregon District with a mediocre music draw into the venue in the Oregon. The work began with tearing down walls, rearranging the bar to the back instead of against the west wall, and shifting the stage from one side to the other. The finishing touches were Lisa’s, who decided to paint the walls the color of warm gingerbread, to give it a feeling of hospitality akin to the proverbial “grandma’s house.”
Construction delayed Blind Bob’s opening four months longer than anticipated, as the Mendenhalls were required by the city to accompany their renovations with brand new plumbing and electric.
After completion of the physical work of opening the bar, the Mendenhalls were faced with the challenge of building a customer base.
“The core concept was pretty well-identified,” said Nate. “Serve some good food, good beer and throw some great parties.”
When Nate asked his longtime friend, Andy Rowe, to come on as assistant general manager, the foundations were laid for what would become one of the premier nightspots in downtown Dayton.
“I figured it would be all high five’s and ass-slappin’,” said Rowe, “but immediately we recognized the need to have loyal and honest people working for us, people who were also really into the music scene.”
Due to their dedication to that ideal, Blind Bob’s now boasts a staff comprised of musicians from all over the Dayton music scene, and perhaps due to that fact, an incredibly low turnover rate. Much of the staff has been there since day one and most have worked at Bob’s for a year or more.
“Good people don’t want to deal with corporate headaches and protocols,” said Rowe. “At a mom and pop place, if something needs to get done, someone will always step up and do it.”
Having a staff with musical connections allowed Blind Bob’s to pick up where Nite Owl left off. Alex Todd, of the band Auburndale, has been the bar’s head of booking since they’ve been open, along with the help of Brandon Hawk, from the band By Way of Sunstorm (winners of this year’s Battle of the Bands). The Dayton music scene has blossomed from know-how of Blind Bob’s staff and the wide array of musicians from all over the nation and the world that they are able to book, placing Bob’s firmly in the Big Three of Dayton music, alongside Canal Street Tavern and South Park Tavern.
“We try to look at it as three businesses – a restaurant, a bar and a music venue,” said Rowe. “Each has to carry it’s own weight and if one is weak, then the entire business suffers.”
So as Blinb Bob’s approaches it’s three-year anniversary weekend, it is proof that the odds can be beaten, that the American dream is still alive, even in a depressed economy in a rust belt town like Dayton. After all, over half of all small businesses fail within their first three years and 80 percent fail within the first. Blind Bob’s has proven it is here to stay, and with legions of music fans lining up outside their doors every day, Bob’s has succeeded in building a scene and establishing itself as one of the coolest bars in Dayton.
In celebration of their thirrd anniversary – the anniversary of leather, crystal and glass – Blind Bob’s is hosting a four-day weekend showcase of the best the Dayton music scene has to offer, beginning on Thursday, August 25 at 8 p.m. with an acoustic showcase and continuing all weekend. Here is the full schedule so you don’t miss out:
— Benjamin Dale
Blind Bob’s Anniversary WEEKEND SCHEDULE
Thursday night will be a very special intimate evening featuring acoustic performances by many of the weekends’ singers bearing it all, without any backing support.
Paul B of the group Adventure (performing Sunday night) will bring his hurried yowling to the table, with tales of tortured love and musings of waking up in strange places. Brandon Hawk of the mega-fuzz sludge-fest band By Way of Sunstorm (Friday night’s headliners) will most likely pull his thrash-ready hair into a ponytail and don his troubadour hat, eerily gazing to the ceiling while performing his haunting tunes. Tim Pritchard, the large-haired (hair aesthetics are important) frontman for legendary Dayton indie-pioneers Flyaway Minion (let’s get a reunion, gentlemen) will bring his brand of dreamy acoustic-ness to the fold, in what is sure to be a highlight of the evening. Also showing the youngsters how to write a song will be quirk-pop captain Nathan Peters, of the recently reunited Captain of Industry. Slumped behind a Fender Rhodes piano, this well-haired gentleman will surely start an all-hands-on-deck-to-clap sing-a-long.
Andy Smith, of the new super group King Elk (featuring Kyle Melton, Michael Payne of the Pretty Punchers and Tyler Bellingar, the deranged frontman from psych-weirdos Sitanddance) and formerly of Andrew and the Pretty Punchers will also start a sing-a-long, as anyone who’s been in a Dayton bar has heard “Goodbye, Ohio” – the anthemic theme song for Daytonites and beyond.
Always a crowd pleaser, Andy’s bespectacled tunes are sure to tug at your heartstrings and bring the hair on your neck to stand up. John Gasset, performing solo acoustic (as opposed to being the ‘Ozz-,man’ for Back Stabbath, the Black Sabbath tribute band performing Sunday night) will bring his awesomely angelic voice to early Radiohead-esque tunes as heard on his fantastic debut album, Makeher. Also on the bill are veteran acoustic performers David Payne, Ricky Terrell and Gray Leaf’s hunky leather-clad Bret Hill.
Friday night will be the first night of full bands for the triumphant three-year festivities and show-goers will be happy. Coming off the success of their recent compact disc release show, New Vega will bring their laidback jazz fused with rock and roll styles (without ever becoming jazz fusion) to the show — a great melodic counterpoint to several of mish-mashing and different genre benders of the evening. Electric Banana will be sure to delight the audiences with their two-man rock show (which was recently described as “Ween on acid, which is strange because they already were” by Jeff Pinkus of the Butthole Surfers, another obvious band homage for the duo). Psychedelic rock, heavy-groove-riff metal and inane dance rock will happen during their set, and why not? The opposite of a duo, would be a foursome (maybe a onesome?) and several of the other bands have four members, including Roley Yuma.
This young band of fire-branded upstarts has proven to be a centrifugal force of rock ‘n’ roll in the past year or so locally – releasing a stellar album, putting on wild shows and basically being so wonderful it’s mostly obnoxious. Noisy-indie-rock-punk – think Modest Mouse without the obvious comedic overtones, Sonic Youth with a song, or something as equally annoying to read but wonderful to hear.
Oh Condor was formerly known as 8-bit Revival, but that’s the only thing that is formerly known about this band – the rest is easily available for listening and it’s a hell of a treat. Combining alt-rock of yore with a penchant for googled synth, this band will have any of three members singing, shouting and sometimes breaking guitars (sometimes not – how could they afford that all the time?) but always retaining a pop edge, with no actual 8-bitness. Straight from the Blind Bob’s Battle of the Bands, winners By Way of Sunstorm will be spreading their legs for this evening and performing music as well. A people’s favorite with a long-haired party monster shouting over a bunch of shorter-haired dudes sludging and chugging atmospherically, always winning. Post-metal without the pretentiousness, finger-tapping without the tears and drumming without only having several drums (he’s got a lot), this is a surefire jam.
Saturday night is sure to be a real crowd pleaser, as it contains a group of performers who run the gamut from hip-hop to dance-able punk to emoted rock. Grenades?!, a new group making waves featuring ex-members of Stone the Mayor Sheriffs and Sputnik Halo are ready to command your feet to move with synthesized bloops, Devo-esque vocals and some of the tastiest dance riffs yet to appear in the lexicon of Dayton rock. Expect high energy and hopefully some ballons. Auburndale, the venerable pop-punk stalwarts whose recent album Alive in a Dying City brought us back to our roots with some of the catchiest and well-orchestrated pop rock to come out of the city in recent years. Dual leads and hook-filled choruses are sure to delight the weekend crowds, the band rocks hard and melodic, occasionally slipping into metallic territory for rip-roaring leads and snake-like basslines.
The Sound For Language, another veteran pop-punk band who have been representing Dayton on several nation-wide tours, will delight with their high-energy rock ‘n’ roll sounds. Singer and guitarist Lokie Lewis’ angry yarns and entertaining in-between-song banter are also sure to entertain and bring folks through the door and demand the attention of those who were unaware of this band’s raw and unpolished view on contemporary everything. Fresh off the release of his album, You’re Welcome, tattooed trouble-maker and provocateur of all things inane, Nightbeast and recently acquired hype-men God Bless & Asher Jones (an excellent performance duo in their own right) are sure to whip things into a frenzy. Unafraid of making you laugh, think or dance your ass off, Nightbeast along with GB&AJ are a best-bet for one of the more wild performances of the night, setting the stage for the deranged rock and roll of Astro Fang, Saturday night’s headliners.
The self proclaimed “riff-pop-sludge-punk” foursome are known for their anything-goes performances, which have included face-painting the audience, crowd surfing and sing-a-long-while-you-throw-beer-cans-at-them rock grooves in what is sure to be a heck of a way to end the evening. Hopefully you’ll wake up in good condition for Sunday…
Sunday night is not going to be a day of rest if you’re interested in rock ‘n’ roll – this night has it in spades (much like the rest of the weekend). New overall-clad pop-punk queens (they’re actually men) Adventure bring their beer-soaked antics to the stage, and having seen this trio, it’s one hell of a wet time.
Perhaps a little more dry and probably more clothed, the two man-DJ-with-one-MC outfit of Oakland will perform, and their off-the-cuff wackiness mixed with beats on top of beats on top of a bunch of off-the-cuff witticisms is sure to be one of the weirder moments of the night. The weirdest is bound to be Abertooth Lincoln, a band who’s fierce reputation of odd time signatures and strange folks on stage will be renewed with the addition of two members – one of whom who plays a saxophone. Spazz-rock never sounded so good, or strange.
While strangeness was one of the facets of Black Sabbath’s career, it is odd for a tribute band to play a set usually reserved for those who write their own music? The answer is no – when seeing Back Stabbath play (featuring members of Captain of Industry, Astro Fang, the wondrous John Gassett and a bearded Evan) it’s a treat to watch them let go and just feel the music. These are not automatons playing covers like your weird friend’s uncle in the garage, this is a band who plays the songs much like a stoned Sabbath would – ferocity, mistakes and smiles. Additional smiling will happen for Dayton’s own punk troubadors Rad Company – having completed several tours, a handful of 7-inches and selling at least 10 different shirts, this is another group who is best served covered in beer.
Late ‘90s emotional punk without eyeliner would be a good comparison, but it’s also a terrible one, because this band keeps it fast, mostly looking like they just jumped out of the van after a 12-hour van ride (they probably did). Sunday night will be the last night of the festivities and there would be no reason to miss this drinking-your-hangover-off excellent night. If you get beer in your eyes, it should be the hair of the dog to make sure your Monday is one full of stories you’ll be trying to piece together.