Stag Nite Oral History - The Lost Interviews
In this week's print edition we ran a story on Stag Nite, a South City tradition celebrating its ninth year anniversary, which features the time-tested coupling of cheap booze and live music. Unfortunately we were unable to fit in all of the interviews and stories we received due to the size constraints of print media, but luckily the internet is infinite. Click through and read what you missed, and don't forget to head to El Lenador -- the big show is tonight!
Chis Baricevic (Big Muddy Records):
When people say that can't remember what happened at Stag Nite, they aren't lying. I've been to hundreds of them but now that I think about it I really have a hard time recalling anything in particular, other than that there was a lot of fun. All the nights at all the different venues kind of run together in memory - it's as if I walked into my Stag night at Magee's seven years ago and never walked out - the building keeps changing and a lot of the people come and go - but there's always Johnny Vegas, friends, music, and Stag beer.
While Stag Nite was at Off Broadway, myself, Ryan Koenig, and Joey Glynn, along with our dear friend Tanis on washboard, would play almost weekly with Irene Allen. We were the in house miscreants for a while - we would get stoned and drunk and then whenever Johnny told us to we would play a set. We eventually got moved into a position playing in between sets on the upstairs balcony, so there were basically two shows going on. Learning how to play drunk is a very important step to becoming a musician. Stag Nite at Off Broadway with Irene was kind of like college.
Stag Nite is the South Side's celebration of itself. It's where we learn how to cross the line - where reality becomes so blurry that you wake up in the morning and you don't even know if you were drunk last night because you're not sure last night ever happened. It's how we brought Pokey into town the first time - It's where we go any time we want to bring anybody into town - it's where you go to meet the heart of St. Louis.
Aaron "Dago" Kelly (fallcity):
"You guys should start selling Stag." With those six words, my part in Stag Nite could be accurately, if briefly, told. But it doesn't evoke the transformational impact that Stag Nite had on me and everyone that came within six degrees of me. Before those words, my best friend/bass player and I were once a week visitors to Magee's, where we would drink pitchers of Bud and listen to nice people play Grateful Dead songs or bluegrass. We said those six words to Johnny Vegas, and promised that if he put Stag on the menu, we would be there three or four times a week. He did, and we did. My beer became my life, and what I did was where I drank. I was one of the Stag Boys. Our neighborhood bar became a nexus point of St. Louis rock and roll. I was easily found on Wednesdays, either at Stag Nite or on my way. Rock and roll was now on the calendar, from the uptempo pirate anthems of The Whole Sick Crew to the wide spectrum garage pop of Team Tomato. Johnny Vegas opened a door for local music and only asked that you bring some attitude and a halfway decent fake id. He even let my band, fallcity, play our dynamic darkness too loud for some, including one poor bottle of tequila on the wall. Now Magee's is a parking lot and none of the aforementioned bands have been seen in years. I'm a returning community college student with a ponytail and the ghosts of old shows in his eyes. But Stag Nite holds court on Cherokee, with the Honorable Johnny Vegas presiding. I still drop in from time to time, to catch up with one of the premier curators of the St. Louis music scene, and of course, enjoy the golden quality of a delicious Stag.
Anne Tkach (Magic City, many more):
Magic City is a band that formed 3+ years ago when my boyfriend and I moved into the apartment above Larry Bulawsky, our lead singer. Larry was the singer in the Good Griefs, which played at the first ever Stag Nite. I was also in the Good Griefs until we broke up, and we played many a Stag Nite because the drummer in that band started the whole Stag Nite idea, but I wasn't in the band yet for the first one.
The way I heard the story of how Stag Nite got started was this: The Good Griefs were a three-piece, original lineup was Hairy Larry Bulawsky (guitar, vocals), Sherman S Sherman (bass, vocals), Maggie St. Germain (drums, b-vocals). Maggie and Larry moved to the Forest Park East neighborhood. Maggie and Larry were exploring their neighborhood and found Magee's, which was a hippie bar. Maggie proposed to Johnny (Vegas, the bartender there at the time. Now there is no bartender there as it has been leveled and turned into a patch of grass) that they turn one night a week into a rock night, to take it back from the hippies for just one night. Between her and Johnny they got some Stag sponsorship and held raffles for Stag schwag and such. Stag Nite was born.
That is probably very vague and perhaps unlike Johnny's recollection of how it went down. I would tell more stories, but they would also be vague, bawdy, inappropriate, inaccurate, etc. and they should be told properly at a Stag Nite and not in an email. Suffice it to say Johnny whole-heartedly helped us (crazy South Side musicians) to create a space to throw down that was welcoming and comfortable. My fondest memories are of the old Magee's space. It was a place--and a time and a clientele--that is no more and thus gets romanticized. Favorite show: Sean Rothry puppet show about dolphin midwives, Cowboy Mike w/ the band soon to be know as Gasoline Alley, Bad Folk.
Brian Wiegert (currently of Picture Day, formerly Team Tomato):
A few words about Johnny's Stag Nite - I started going to Stag Nite at Magee's, because I happened to live sort of close to there, and my roommate worked right by it (we both ended up working there, almost by osmosis), and he discovered that they had 75 cent cans of Stag on Wednesdays, so naturally we were going to start going every week. That's how I met Johnny and a lot of other people who I now consider good friends, and in some cases, bandmates and/or general musical cohorts. I saw a lot of great local bands there - the Monads on the floor with no microphones, Fattback, Whole Sick Crew (on St. Patricks Day, I think? I remember it being fucking crazy that night). I also saw my first and possibly only honest to god barfight there on a Stag Nite, when the Round-ups were playing. Zombie and I were out front sitting at the high patio tables, smoking and chatting, when what seemed like the entire population of the bar started pouring out of the front door, in a general melee and commotion. It all spilled out into the street, but then order was gradually restored and Johnny was able to sweet talk the Wash U. security personnel into not calling the actual cops.
Whenever I've had a new project to launch or had some crazy or stupid show idea that I want to do, I call Johnny first and try and get in on a Stag Nite. That's where the Bearded Babies played their first show. After Stag Nite had moved to Off Broadway, we did the Live at Leeds by the Who nite, which was pretty solid. The Last Waltz tradition got started at Stag Nite. It's moved around, from Magee's to Off Broadway, to the smoky, smoky upstairs at the Wedge, and has now achieved what I feel is it's Lynchian apotheosis at El Lenador. It's a deeply weird atmosphere, which is absolutely perfect. Going to shows can be a boring prospect sometimes, when the bands are well known, the songs are well known, the banter feels scripted, and the crowd is there expecting it all to go down that way. What I love about Stag Nite is that I go there and I have no idea what is going to happen. The bands could be incredible, or they could be outrageously bad. It could be wall to wall, or there could be 3 people there - and those things aren't always connected. Johnny just fosters a great, informal atmosphere that bands and patrons love, and owners probably hate (I think he was fired and rehired at Magee's a total of 5 times). The music used to run a little late from time to time. When I head down there, I know that I'll probably see someone I know, and that there's going to be music and cheap-ass beer. But holy shit do I hate Stag; I always went for the PBR option that was less publicized.
Anyway, I always loved seeing the Roundups there, and Racketbox. The Highway Matrons. The Unmutuals. Irene, in the Off Broadway days. The different tribute nights - the Who, Neil Young, Stones, George Harrison - the annual Irish Stag Nite, which I've played with the redheaded strangers for what, the last 4 or 5 years now? I don't get down there as much as I used to (unless I'm playing a show), because now that I'm over 30 I feel less comfortable going to work reeking of booze. Stupid day jobs. But I hope to keep playing Stag Nites as often as I can, because it's a great, weird thing we have in this city. My current band Picture Day kept the track record up by playing our first ever show at a Stag Nite a little over a year ago.
I just happened to be the bartender there [at Magee's] on Wednesdays - I wanna say it was around this time 2003 when my friend Maggie St. Germaine started booking music. She was a neighbor and she wanted to see some music at her local bar. The place pretty much just had Jake's Leg playing on Thursdays and not much else going on. The first show that I remember vividly was the Good Griefs and the Rowdy Come Laudies; I was a bartender and the Good Griefs was a band that Maggie was in. The Rowdy Come Laudies played first and the Good Griefs played second, and I became good friends with all them guys like instantly. Towards the end of Good Griefs' set I got a wild hair and I just walked up to Larry and said "Hey, if you let me sing a Johnny Cash song with you I'll wipe out your beer tab for the night." Instantly Larry just starts ripping into "Ring of Fire" on the guitar. It started a tradition that would last several years - like every week I'd get up with whatever band and butcher a Johnny Cash song - reggae versions, heavy metal versions -- everything you can imagine. It was pretty fun.
Maggie was in charge of booking it for the first couple years or so and then I got fired - one of the third or fourth times I got fired there - I got fired from that place 4 times and hired 5 for various infractions - so I got fired one time and Maggie said "Screw it; lets quit doing it." Then when by popular demand they got me back and we started up again and then she kinda handed the reins over to me. I started booking the things and then Magee's closed on New Year's Eve 2005 - Wash U bought out the building and they made it into a walking path - so I called up my buddy Steve Pohlman from Off Broadway and we didn't skip a week.
The next Wednesday we had Stag Nite going at Off Broadway and I had a new job and that went pretty good; we did that for a couple years. Off Broadway was kind of a little too big for a show like that, so we kind of put Stag Nite to sleep for a while. We did like a last, final Stag Nite show and I kept working at Off Broadway for a while. And then the opportunity with the Wedge came along - my buddy was working there, and he got me in there to try doing Stag Nite again on Wednesdays and that worked out. That lasted until they closed about 2 years ago, July or something like that. So I walked across the street to this bar I had never been into, even though I lived there for six years, cause it never looked like it was open. I walked in there and I said "Hey let me do some music here," and we've been rocking El Lenador ever since. And now its like we kind of turned El Lenador into a rock club too, so it feels pretty good.
I'm just kinda guessing on the anniversary date of it all, cause I really dont have the records. I just wanna make a celebration of this and have a night to thank everybody that was part of it all of these years - I've made a lot of great friends and I think we've put on some pretty great shows.
Brian Heffernan The delicious aftermath at Magee's Stag Nite, many a year ago