Skipper's Smokehouse turns 30 next week; here's what makes it great
Next week, a Tampa Bay icon turns 30: Skipper's Smokehouse, one of the best blues shacks in America, and a longtime hangout for hippies, Deadheads, reggae lovers, zydeco dancers and anyone who just loves oysters and Gator Black Bean Chili.
We spent a few nights at Skipper's recently to research an article about some of the things that makes Skipper's great: The trees, the the characters, the mullet and more. Click here to read it.
But there's more to the Skipper's story than we could fit into one story. So here are a few juicy tidbits we left out, and are sharing with you loyal readers now. Plus, after the jump, get a roundup of all the 30th-anniversary concerts taking place from Sept. 21-26. It's like a full week of Skipper's Greatest Hits.
Blues greats John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy were among the first national headliners to take the club’s stage in 1988 and 1989, boosting the club’s credibility in the blues world. Over the years the performance area expanded, piecemeal, until the a new stage was built at the front of the Skipperdome. You can’t see it, but to this day it sits atop a trailer — a clever code workaround that White pledges is 100 percent legit — and is hollow underneath, which, from a musical standpoint, is not insignificant. “It’s like a big ol’ subwoofer,” said Mark Warren, who has performed there dozens of times with various bands. “You get this really warm low end.” In 2001, the prestigious Blues Foundation named it the best blues club in America.
There was once a massive fire pit in the sandy expanse of the Skipperdome. Ash from the flames would char the oak limbs tar-black. The pit went away when the Skipperdome expanded, but the sand remained for a while. Employees would carry wheelchair-bound patrons through the sand to watch concerts. The only ones who complained were beer deliverymen and rabid Cajun dancers. But the government mandated improvements, and besides, the owners were tired of trucking in fresh sand to replenish the earth. “The Million-Dollar Catbox,” Warren called it. The sand is still there in places, but the newer wood-plank floor makes it easier to twirl to Grateful Dead jams on Thursdays. And you don’t have to worry so much where you step.
Four members of the Skipper’s family live beneath the stage: Felines Paisley, Pumpkin, C.J. and Scampi. During they day they patrol the Skipperdome and catnap onstage; at night they retire below to escape the feet of dancing patrons. Over the years, possums, raccoons, snakes and monstrous cane toads have infiltrated the grounds. Roosters would settle in the trees. Today the cats reign supreme in the Skipper’s ecosystem — but they, like every other Mullet on the payroll, still have a job to do. Every so often an employee will emerge from the administrative offices to find a nonpaying customer — the kind with four legs and a long, scaly tail — dropped on the doorstep.
There was alligator on the menu at Skipper’s since before Tom and Vince owned the joint. Today they serve gator tail, gator ribs and Gator Black Bean Chili. They sell preserved alligator heads and gator-paw back-scratchers. Donated gator and cayman skins and heads hang in the Oyster Bar. The man to thank for all this alligator is Mike Fagan of Dade City, who’s been trapping nuisance gators for Skipper’s for many, many years. So bonded are Fagan and Skipper’s that the trapper donated his father’s antique moonshine still to the restaurant. The still’s massive copper coil is hanging above the Oyster Bar.
Skipper’s 30th Anniversary Week
Starting Tuesday, Skipper’s Smokehouse will celebrate its 30th Anniversary under current ownership with a week of free concerts featuring some of the most popular local and national acts to ever grace the Skipperdome. Think of it as a “Skipper’s Greatest Hits” week. All shows are free at 910 Skipper Road, (813) 971-0666; get a full schedule and performance times at skipperssmokehouse.com. Here’s a guide.
Tuesday: Fierce folk and jammy singer-songwriters, featuring Halcyon, Sleepless Nites, Christie Lenee and Shaun Hopper. 8 p.m.
Wednesday: Reggae and Afrobeat, with Impulse, PM Uprising, Tribal Style and Johukames Posse. 8 p.m.
Thursday: Jam bands, with Uncle John’s Band, Cope and Estimated Band. 8 p.m. (Fun fact: Sept. 23 is the bar’s actual 30th anniversary.)
Sept. 24: Blues, with the Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, Damon Fowler, the Dukes of Juke and Sarasota Slim and the Blues All-Stars. 8 p.m.
Sept. 25: Rock, ska, Americana and zydeco, with the Legendary JCs, Vodkanauts, Magadog, Will Quinlan and the Diviners, Headlights, Rebekah Pulley and the Reluctant Prophets, Gumbo Boogie, Ronny Elliott and the Nationals, Hat Trick Heroes and Poetry 'n’ Lotion. 2 p.m.
Sept. 26: Rock and blues, with Blue Dice, Mod Squad, Patrick Foy and the Conch Critters, Quivering Rhythm Hounds and John Hancock Project. 4 p.m.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photo: Luis Santana, tbt*.