Aside from growing up in urban California, there are a few reasons why Iíve never identified with country music. Most of them, I realize, are probably unfair stereotypes, and itís a good policy to check oneís preconceived notions from time to time. In this case, that warrants a trip to the country bar.
It helps that thereís a new country bar in Holiday, the Stockyard, thatís been growing its following steadily over the past eight months. In that short span of time, the Stockyard has become one of the areaís top live country music venues, partnering with local radio station 99.5 WQYK-FM and bringing a steady lineup of up-and-coming country stars to its stage ó no small feat for a new establishment anywhere, much less in a town that many Tampa Bay area residents couldnít find on a map. For the record, itís about 4 miles north of Tarpon Springs, just over the Pasco County border.
I perused the concert schedule and settled on a show by Floridaís own Michael Ray, a promising new talent with a Warner Nashville record deal and a couple of gold singles under his belt. Support came from a fellow California native, Devin Dawson, who is currently based with his band in Nashville.
If youíve been to any of the areaís popular honky-tonks, like the Wateriní Trough in Largo or the Dallas Bull in Tampa, youíll have an accurate idea of what the Stockyard is all about before you even get there. Itís really big, and itís pretty no-frills. Lots of space, lots of whiskey, lots of dancing.
Thereís a long bar in the back that faces an enormous dance floor crowned by what must be one of the largest disco balls currently available for purchase. A small stage is wedged into a corner adjacent to the entrance, a clever choice resulting in good viewing angles from anywhere in the club.
A smaller, satellite bar is positioned near the restrooms, while a roped-off, VIP whiskey bar provides private tables, a buffet, an exclusive bar and stage-side views for folks willing to shell out an extra $15 or so on their concert tickets.
While many big country bars are designed to look like theyíre housed in an actual barn, the Stockyardís shopping plaza location allows for no such facade. Instead, the interior nods to the honky-tonkís humble origins using corrugated aluminum awnings, stray whiskey barrels and unfinished cement floors to take guests out of the shopping plaza and put them into some sort of imagined backwoods watering hole.
The drink selection is about as basic as they come, which seems appropriate for the setting, but maybe thatís my preconceived notions kicking in again. There are a handful of your typical domestic brews, plus a few ubiquitous imports. Thereís house wine and a competent liquor selection. I ordered a Jack Danielís.
The concert started with Devin Dawson and his band delivering a stream of agreeable, radio-friendly modern country of the sort youíd expect from a Nashville-by-way-of-California artist. I was impressed by the gracious, feel-good banter between songs, kicking the night off in a decidedly upbeat tone. I could see the appeal.
Next up, Michael Ray, who hit the stage with no small degree of big show, rock star presence, making the Stockyardís modest stage look like it was situated in a much bigger venue. Between Rayís crowd work and his bandís rock-solid sound and catchy, twin-lead guitar hooks, I was fully on board. Against all odds, I was having a heck of a time at a country music concert.
Itís important to give the Stockyard major credit here. The smartly designed stage size and placement really works for the space, and the sound is better than Iíve experienced at long-running, extremely successful venues of a similar or larger size. Everything looks and sounds great from every angle, so all you need are some compelling artists like Dawson and Ray and youíve got a country bar that could handily convert even the slightly country-curious.
On non-show nights, the Stockyard has some pretty solid drink specials, along with line-dancing classes and music from resident DJ Moss. On "Kick the Dust up Saturday," guests can learn some new dances while enjoying $4 calls, $2.50 PBR "pounders" and $3.50 import bottles. There are a lot of weekly regulars at the Stockyard.
The Stockyard does a lot right. From a live entertainment perspective, especially, itís a slam dunk. Thereís great sound, a smart stage setup, tons of dance floor space and ó refreshingly ó no smoking. The staff is friendly, and the prices are very fair, with liberal pours to boot.
As a mostly non-country fan ó the "mostly" is a recent addition ó the Stockyard is easy to enjoy right out of the box. Itís no surprise that it has become a go-to spot for so many Holiday residents. If youíre a country fan, or even if you just feel the need to re-examine why you "listen to everything but country," take a trip out there and see what you think.
Contact Justin Grant at [email protected] Follow @WordsWithJG.
1916 U.S. 19 N, Holiday; (727) 939-9494; stockyardlive.com
The vibe: A new Holiday honky-tonk specializing in national touring acts.
Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $5 to $6; wine, $4 to $5; liquor, $5 to $7.50.
Specialty: As is the case with most country bars, thereís no specialty drink list, fine wine selection or multi-tap craft beer lineup, so order a whiskey and be done with it. For a live-music venue, the drinks are reasonably priced and poured strong.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday; closed Sunday through Wednesday.