Q & A - Singing the Blues

John Lee Hooker Jr, photo courtesy of Oskar Blues.

John Lee Hooker Jr, photo courtesy of Oskar Blues.

Why is live music so important at Oskar Blues?

Q & A by Kyle Kirves

Yes, the company is at the vanguard – make that canguard – of the craft-beer-in-a-can revolution. But there’s also a reason America’s original roots music is part of the Oskar Blues name: for more than 20 years, Oskar Blues locations have been showcases for musicians of all types and talents. Beginning with the original location in Lyons, great live, local (and not-so-local) musical performances have been part of a successful OB recipe. 

Folk, rock, folk rock, bluegrass, and blues performers too numerous to name have at one time or another played to enthusiastic crowds hoisting Dale’s Pale Ale or Old Chub. In fact, it’s a rarity to go there any evening and find an empty stage. 

Chad Melis, longtime marketing director at Oskar Blues, spoke with Thirst Colorado about the company tradition of hosting homegrown music. Read on to find out how, even as the OB footprint grows to include restaurants across the country (hello, North Carolina!), music remains an integral part of the brewery’s culture. 

Slim Cessna, photo courtesy of Eddie Clark Media/ Oskar Blues Brewery.

Slim Cessna, photo courtesy of Eddie Clark Media/ Oskar Blues Brewery.

Oskar Blues has been around for more than 20 years. Music has always been part and parcel of your culture and identity. Talk a bit about what it means to have music so closely tied to OB.  

If you look at everything that Dale (Katechis, owner and founder of Oskar Blues) has gotten involved in over the years, you see him following his passions. He’s built a collective of people who share the same enthusiasms. The roots of Oskar Blues owes a lot to the drive of Dave McIntyre of the Colorado Blues Society. The partnership between Dale and Dave and their authentic appreciation of blues music was instrumental.  

All of the locations have some capacity for live performance. How did that get started?

Originally, Dale opened Oskar Blues Grill & Brew in Lyons. With a population of 1,500, and an economy heavily reliant on Rocky Mountain National Park traffic, it can be very slow in the winter. From the beginning, our thinking was (that) we need to make Oskar Blues and Lyons a destination in and of itself. Lyons needed that economic input from outside. From conception, we knew music was an authentic, exciting way to bring people to Lyons. Oskar Blues was the only business in downtown Lyons open year-round. Every day. More broadly, it speaks to Dale’s commitment to the social fabric of the community. Sharing beers, sharing music and meeting people. 

That enthusiasm for music has carried forward to all locations, including the new  one in Denver. 

The newest restaurant is called the Oskar Blues Grill & Brew, and then the downstairs is called the Black Buzzard. It’s the largest concert venue in LoDo. It is a big initiative for us. The downstairs was originally Brendan’s Blues Bar but we reclaimed it. It speaks to our culture and history of reviving things. 

Music, one could argue, is one of – if not the – original “Colorado Craft” product. Do you have a favorite story as it pertains to music and Oskar Blues? 

Yeah, man. One way to explain it is that it was great to hang out with Dave McIntyre and Dale when we celebrated the 20th anniversary party and see and hear people come up and say, “This is where I got my start. This is where I got my chance to play in front of people.” Just hearing those stories about being truly at the ground level and creating opportunities for these local performers was one of the coolest things I’ve been involved in in the music venue side of things.

Every venue has its favorites, or people that have called that venue home. Are there any acts who come to OB all the time? Regulars or favorites who call OB home base?

There’s a lot, and I don’t want to leave anybody out, but since I’ve been there, a few regulars are Halden Wofford and the Hi*Beams, Bonnie and the Clydes, Boa and the Constrictors, and Erica Brown. Just a ton of great performers. Too many to count. 

Halden Wofford and the Hi*Beams, photo courtesy of Eddie Clark Media/ Oskar Blues Brewery

Halden Wofford and the Hi*Beams, photo courtesy of Eddie Clark Media/ Oskar Blues Brewery

What do you wish people knew about OB and music that maybe they don’t? 

It’s tough to host music as often as Oskar’s does. Recognizing the work of people like Dale, and Dave McIntyre, Anita Gray, Jason Rogers. All of them. And it doesn’t always pay for itself. Sometimes we have to have a cover charge. It’s an important piece of guaranteeing that music is there every time you come. That commitment is something I’m proud of. 

What else does Oskar Blues do to support music beyond  being a great place to play and promote?

The Can’d Aid foundation has a focus area called Tunes. They do fundraising and engage with different musicians all over the country to provide musical instruments and mentorship. They partner with Anders Osborne on the “Send Me a Friend” network. They send sober artists to support other artists in recovery. Folks going through a rough time. That’s important. 

The music scene along the Front Range is vibrant. There is a host of music venues for acts of all genres and levels of expertise. How do you feel Oskar Blues has contributed to that reputation? 

We are thrilled to be one of the standard bearers for all the great venues along  the Front Range. To contribute to that culture statewide is very cool. It’s part of making sure that we’re contributing to the vitality of the state. We select places for Oskar Blues restaurants not just based on their capacity to brew beer but also as venues for live performance. That’s what Dale is passionate about. 

And that includes the North Carolina location as well. What went into that selection?

We opened the North Carolina location in the small town of Brevard because it is a very musically rich city. The Ashville area is great. The Mountain Song Festival (John Felty’s music festival) is there. Our commitment to music, though, plays a huge contributing factor in our culture. It’s what people think when you say Oskar Blues. That vibe is real. 

Kyle Kirves is a solid dude who believes drinking beer should be a five-senses experience.