Aside from growing up in urban California, there are a few reasons why I’ve never identified with country music. Most of them, I realize, are probably unfair stereotypes, and it’s a good policy to check one’s preconceived notions from time to time. In this case, that warrants a trip to the country bar.
It helps that there’s a new country bar in Holiday, the Stockyard, that’s been growing its following steadily over the past eight months. In that short span of time, the Stockyard has become one of the area’s 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 — no small feat for a new establishment anywhere, much less in a town that many Tampa Bay area residents couldn’t find on a map. For the record, it’s about 4 miles north of Tarpon Springs, just over the Pasco County border.
I perused the concert schedule and settled on a show by Florida’s 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 you’ve been to any of the area’s popular honky-tonks, like the Waterin’ Trough in Largo or the Dallas Bull in Tampa, you’ll have an accurate idea of what the Stockyard is all about before you even get there. It’s really big, and it’s pretty no-frills. Lots of space, lots of whiskey, lots of dancing.
There’s 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 they’re housed in an actual barn, the Stockyard’s shopping plaza location allows for no such facade. Instead, the interior nods to the honky-tonk’s 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 that’s my preconceived notions kicking in again. There are a handful of your typical domestic brews, plus a few ubiquitous imports. There’s house wine and a competent liquor selection. I ordered a Jack Daniel’s.
The concert started with Devin Dawson and his band delivering a stream of agreeable, radio-friendly modern country of the sort you’d 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 Stockyard’s modest stage look like it was situated in a much bigger venue. Between Ray’s crowd work and his band’s 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.
It’s 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 I’ve 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 you’ve 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, it’s a slam dunk. There’s great sound, a smart stage setup, tons of dance floor space and — refreshingly — no smoking. The staff is friendly, and the prices are very fair, with liberal pours to boot.
As a mostly non-country fan — the "mostly" is a recent addition — the Stockyard is easy to enjoy right out of the box. It’s no surprise that it has become a go-to spot for so many Holiday residents. If you’re 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, there’s 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.