In 1986 "Rocky," then manager of the Blind Pig, was going to ditch its Friday afternoon happy hour. "Pontiac" Pete Ferguson told him, "Give us fifty bucks and let us pass the pitcher a couple of times, and we'll pack the place." "We" was Ferguson's honky-tonk band, Drivin' Sideways.
Rocky called him on his offer, and the band moved over to the Pig from Mr. Flood's Party with Chris Goerke on bass, Brophy Dale on guitar, Steve "Dixboro" Cummings on pedal steel, and Dave Stockwell on drums. That first happy hour was so successful that not only were people squeezed to the rafters but the Jim Beam ran out. By 1988 former Blackfoot and Southern Rock All-Star Jakson Spires was on drums, either Chris Casello or Bob Schetter on guitars, Mark "Shamus" O'Boyle on pedal steel, and Goerke still on bass and backup vocals. The happy hour, Pete says, became a "launching pad for the weekend's festivities. Everybody seemed to know each other, and the place was always packed with dancers."
In the driver's seat with his strong vocals and ripping commentary, Pontiac Pete covered the themes we love so well: alcoholism, lust, obsession, insanity, and the misery of heartache. Such crowds were packing happy hour that the pitcher got passed a couple of times and the band split a third of the bar receipts, which paid $50-$75 apiece. When Sleepy LaBeef came to town, he used Drivin'
Sideways to back him up. In 1998 the band opened for Merle Haggard and John Anderson. Pete says his best night was when "six different people came up to me and said, 'Great show — you made me cry.'" Drivin' Sideways sang for people who'd had their hearts tossed into the tree chipper of life. "I learned to love country music at gunpoint at a bonfire in Lodi," says Ferguson. The songs he sings are full of movement as well as emotion: belly rubbers, honky-tonk, rockers, and weepers, all performed with love, seriousness, style, and humor by friends.
In 1999, after thirteen years, the Blind Pig ditched happy hour, and Pete moved to New York. Upon his return in 2001 he found that Jakson Spires was on tour, so he got Mark Newbound to play drums. Chris Casello had moved to Nashville, so Pete asked longtime friend George "Fun Fingers" Bedard to play guitars. With O'Boyle, Goerke, and keyboardist Jim King, they started playing happy hour at the Cavern Club. Flashback almost a quarter century to a headier time on the Ann Arbor music scene, when live music could be heard five nights a week in at least four bars: this same lineup, except for Goerke, composed Ferguson's
first band, Pontiac Pete and the Bonnevilles. As sidemen, Bedard and O'Boyle trade leads and licks on songs like Elvis's "Little Sister" and Conway Twitty's "It's Only Make Believe," vaulting Pete's evocative vocals to frenzied levels. And they frolic through the histrionic pantomime of his own "Bachelor Padded Cell." Whatever Pete comes up with they play, and the combination of his vast repertoire and his desire to entertain makes for varied and unpredictable set lists and a writhing dance floor.
Drivin' Sideways takes over the Live At PJ's Friday happy hour on the second and last Fridays of the month. See you there!
[The Ann Aror News Review published December 2005]
By Roger LeLievre
AnnArbor.com Freelance Journalist
Happy hour makes Live at PJ's a Friday evening hot spot for the slightly older crowd
Posted: Fri, May 14, 2010 : 5:46 a.m.
Topics: Entertainment, Downtown Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor is back to having only one Bluegrass Night on Wednesdays, at Circus, since October 13 officially marked the last Bluegrass Night at Live at PJ’s (which had been up and running since June). ...
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Happy hour at Live at PJ's
Angela Cesere | AnnArbor.com
Happy hours in Ann Arbor have gotten a little happier. Live at PJ’s, at 102 South First Street, has added a 6:30-9 p.m. happy hour on Friday evenings, aimed at an older crowd and featuring hot local bands such as Drivin’ Sideways and FUBAR.
“We’re just starting to promote it pretty heavily,” said manager Matt Nalepka. “We’re trying to cater to an older crowd ... (There’s) no cover, drink specials, simple bar food, dancing. … (And) we’re going to have a lot more live bands.”
Live at PJ’s has had plenty of names over the years — restaurants such as This Zorba is Greek and D’Amatos, for example, as well as a dance club called the Rubaiyat, where Madonna danced more than 30 years ago.
It’s the latter incarnation Live at PJ’s most currently resembles. Right inside the front door is an airy foyer with windows and tables overlooking South First Street. Head in a little deeper and there’s another roomy seating area near the bar. Keep going and you’ll run into the dance floor with the band set up along the back wall and tables all around.
A late-night DJ lineup, a jazz big band gig Sunday afternoon inherited last year from the Firefly Club, and the Friday happy hour means the dance floor is once again filled with booty-shakers.
Live at PJ’s Happy Hour
On a recent Friday, the joint was jumping, with local country-rock band Drivin’ Sideways providing the musical excitement. “It’s perfect — a great venue,” said customer Paul Barden. “We can identify at least 30 people who are regulars. … We just come and spend as much money as we can to try and keep this place going.”
Barden was sitting with Marv and Millie Oates, a couple in their 80s and veterans of nearly 30 years of happy hours at places past and present, such as Mr. Flood’s Party and the Blind Pig.
“It’s the best thing around right now,” Marv Oates said of PJ’s.
Sue Moore, who scored 1 of the coveted window tables, said she likes the party at PJ’s because she can feel comfortable there.
Dock Riluy Jr., right, of Ypsilanti, feeds Canton resident Lisa Lesz a sweet potato fry during happy hour at Live at PJ's.
“I like it because it’s a place I can come — I’m in my late 50s — and see people my age and dance. They play music that I like. Everybody is around 40-50. … (And) the band plays at the perfect time — I can have a couple of drinks and still be able to go to dinner, or get home for bed.”
She said it’s about the only happy hour with live music in town since the Blind Pig and The Heidelberg stopped offering them.
“It’s very comfortable. I feel free to just dance all by myself,” Moore, there with her friend Monica Canham, added.
“You see the same people every week. … I like it better than The Heidelberg; it’s more open, there are more tables and the sound’s better,” Canham observed. “I like coming because I am 1 of the youngest ones here.”
Ann Arborite David Briegel put it more succinctly.
“It’s nice to have a place where there’s not 40 22-year-olds puking,” he said, adding that that he hopes the crowd supports the weekly event. “(They have) good bands … each band has a different following, we need to get those people coming each week. They’ve got to go somewhere for happy hour, who wouldn’t they come and support live music? … I hope they (PJ’s) don’t give up on it.”
Roger LeLievre covers music for AnnArbor.com.