Review: Darryl Worley gallops into the Round Up
I am on the record as saying I think the Dallas Bull is the best country bar in Tampa Bay. But let's look at the facts.
FACT NO. 2: It was the Round Up where Toby Keith and Kenny Chesney once played back before they became country A-listers.
FACT NO. 3: It was the Round Up that was offering free Miller Lite from 9 to 11 p.m. Friday night.
These being the facts, I decided it was time to give the Round Up a second chance. Friday's concert by working-class country crooner Darryl Worley was the perfect opportunity.
Best I can tell, Darryl Worley's a real salt-of-the-earth type, a self-described "damn redneck country boy from west Tennessee" who seems to have lived a rough life. As a result, he sings a lot of songs about drinkin', missin' and fightin'. I'm familiar with three of his singles: The 9/11 tribute Have You Forgotten, the uptempo Awful, Beautiful Life, and the thigh-slappin' N'awlins-style funk jam Tennessee River Run.
But here's the thing: Even though two of those songs were No. 1 hits, before Friday's show, I had no idea Darryl Worley was the guy who sang them. My theory is that many Nashville artists have a serious branding problem. Like Joe Nichols, Worley falls squarely into that morass of B- to C-list male country singers who have a few hits -- some gimmicky, some not -- but none of them became big enough blockbusters to elevate him to country's A-list.
How do I know Darryl Worley's not there yet? Here's the poster that was hanging up around the Round Up Friday to promote his appearance. Remember, the man's name is DARRYL WORLEY.
Say it with me now: GUUUUUUHHHHHH.
Not that the fans at the Round Up seemed to mind. If the Dallas Bull is Tampa Bay's country megalopolis, the Round Up is its far-flung hamlet in the mountains. It's a long, wood-paneled, nook-filled strip-mall bar with several bars, games and a decent-sized dance floor. The crowd felt a little older than the one at the Bull -- Worley's been a round a while longer than young Nashville stud Nichols -- and it's definitely more lived-in and working-class, which is saying something.
On this night, a couple was celebrating their marriage at the Round Up. According to the bride, Darryl Worley autographed her wedding dress -- and he later sang their first dance song, Tequila on Ice*.
I do have to say this, though: the stage setup at the Round Up isn't even in the same league as the Dallas Bull's. At the Bull, the stage is massive, elevated and visible from most of the club. At the Round Up, the stage is smashed into one far corner, and on this night, it was surrounded by a roped-off VIP area full of tables and stools.
I didn't have a VIP wristband, but I walked straight up to the stage -- no one stopped me -- and the vibe up there was a little lounge-y. Now, maybe you like that, maybe you don't. But the end effect was that the folks who just bought a regular ticket had to stand maybe 30 feet from the stage. If you're at a concert at a bar, don't you sort of expect to be able to walk right up to the stage if you're so inclined? That wasn't the case here.
But since I was close to the stage, I have to say, it was a pretty fun concert. Worley was exceedingly gracious to the crowd, saying, "God bless you, you pay our electric bills." A few fans sent shots onstage, and by god, the man drank them.
He did that thing singers do where he changed the lyrics to some of his songs to fit the city he's in. On Jumping Off the Wagon, "I got drunk in Raleigh" became "I got drunk in Tampa." In the aforementioned Tequila on Ice, "One night at a bar..." became "One night at the Round Up..." Tennessee River Run became Tampa Bay River Run**.
As you might expect, the biggest explosions of applause came for his big hits -- the 9/11 anthem Have You Forgotten***; the boozy No. 1 ballad I Miss My Friend; the raw and earnest military tribute I Just Came Back From A War; the current top-20 ode to tough times Sounds Like Life To Me. Throughout Worley's 16-song set****, fans waved their Miller Lites in the air, pumped their fists and hollered along.
In a barfight, I'd still have to take the Dallas Bull over the Round Up. But the Round Up is a more than quality option for country fans in Northwest Hillsborough, North Pinellas and Pasco counties. The regulars clearly love this crazy, tragic, sometimes almost magic, awful, beautiful bar.
Plus, I saw a guy there wearing this T-shirt. That's gotta count for something, right?
Next up in The 50-50 Club: DJ Christion's Birthday Bash, July 19, Club Skye, Ybor City.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*.
* I'll admit, that doesn't sound like your typical first-dance wedding song. But the lyrics are about a couple who meet at a bar and later get married. So it fit.
** Actually, there's no such thing as the "Tampa Bay River." If Worley had changed the lyrics to Hillsborough River or Little Manatee River or Alafia River, I'd have been more impressed.
*** Before Have You Forgotten -- a song that includes the lyrics "Some say this country's just out looking for a fight / Well, after 9/11, man, I'd have to say that's right" -- Worley said he wrote the song in support of the war in Afghanistan. The war in Iraq was a different story, he said, but he added: "I've seen footage of the things Saddam Hussein did to his own people. I got a baby, 15 months old, that I gotta raise in this world. I love my men and women in the military, and I'm not ashamed to say that what they've accomplished on my behalf -- here's what I'm here to tell you. I sleep better at night knowing that that son of a bitch is dead and gone." Now, Worley came across as a truly likeable guy. But it's interesting that he's allowed to say that, while Natalie Maines gets burned at the stake in Nashville for saying she's embarrassed George W. Bush is from Texas. I'm not trying to start a political flame war or anything. I just think it's interesting, is all.
**** Before the encore, Worley's band even played a little bit of Funky Cold Medina, and his guitarist launched into Baby Got Back. This actually happened.