Published Thu, Feb 9, 2012 10:14 am Dateline
Updated Mon, Mar 26, 2012 9:30 am
Jackie Welker is the proprietor of the Court Street Grill, a historic tavern, restaurant and roots music venue in downtown Pomeroy, Ohio.
He is also the founder and director of the Pomeroy Blues & Jazz Society (affectionately known as the PB&J's), a non-profit volunteer group dedicated to promoting cultural awareness and economic development by presenting live music, art and events in downtown Pomeroy.
Mark Hellenberg: When and why did you purchase the Court Street Grill and what was your initial vision for the place?
Jackie Welker: I bought the Grill 15 years ago and have been the sole proprietor for the last 13 years or so. Initially, I simply wanted a respectable little tavern; a safe, warm haven along the river where a traveler could find conversation, a cold beer and a hot sandwich. Music came a little later and once it got started, you could say it sort of snowballed.
MH: Now that you have done this for quite a long time and the idealistic dream has perhaps given way to some pragmatism, are there things that you would do differently? What are the things that you would still like to accomplish?
JW: Yes, for sure, definitely some things I'd do differently. The world looked a little different at 29 and single than it does at 45 and married with kids. The Grill continues to evolve, from the rough and tumble beer joint it was, to the modest little blues juke it is today. Still, we're many different things to many different people: A watering hole to some, lunch room to others, and full blown juke joint to the music lovers. Running a small business is hard, and I wouldn't wish it on anybody, but if you have the passion, you can find a payoff.
MH: You're obviously a blues aficionado with all the shows and events that you are involved with in Pomeroy. Did you realize when you began booking a blues club that you would become the blues impresario for our region? Any other reasons for promoting blues music besides your personal affinity for the genre?
JW: Honestly, I had no idea it would become what it has. The love of the blues started with some of the more notable guitar greats and blues rockers like Hendrix, Robin Trower and Clapton. I'd say seeing Stevie Ray Vaughan at Memorial Auditorium while attending Ohio University was a turning point. That led to some of the early bookings at the Grill being "guitar god" types, namely Chris Duarte and Jimmy Thackery. Those shows opened the door to some more traditional artists like Johnny Rawls, Bob Margolin, Sandra Hall and Anson Funderburgh. Not to compare us with the legendary Antone's in Austin, but once you realize your heroes are accessabile and affordable, it's a very cool thing. One thing I've noticed in the blues in particular, is that it's a very workmanlike genre; most of these artists aren't stars. They're very approachable, honest and hard working.
MH: It seems like a lot of the local, regional and national acts that play clubs much larger than your venue have a fondness for your place and look forward to their next gig at the Grill. What are some of your favorite bands and shows that you've had at the Grill since you opened?
JW: The Grill is a very "warm" room to play. Not sure why, but when it's rockin', it's really rockin'. I think the warmth and juke joint feel of the room comes from the fact that it's a house built on music, not for music. In other words, it wasn't a preconcieved idea of having a music club, it was more organic than that. The music and good times started happening and we just kept feeding that vibe and helped faciltate it the best we could. Some people today are still shocked at how small the room is. And it's not that big, but it's not out of touch with many of the joints in Memphis and Chicago or the jukes and lounges of the deep south. Yes, some great shows, and probably too many to list. Joe Bonamassa, Jimmy Thackery, Eilen Jewell, Teddy Morgan, Johnny Rawls, David Childers, Lil Dave Thompson, Pat Ramsey and Larry McCray. It goes on and on.
MH: The Rhythm on the River summer series has brought a lot of great free shows to the riverfront amphitheater in Pomeroy. It exposes a lot of people to music that they might not hear otherwise and is a great social event for the town. How did that series come about and do you receive support for it?
JW: The Rhythm on the River series and Blues Bash were my grassroots economical development programs and they're basically an extension of the what we do in the Grill. The Village of Pomeroy has a very nice little amphitheatre right on the Ohio River that, quite frankly, wasn't being used 15 years ago. After a couple slow summers of business, the idea came about to form a music appreciation society, move a few of the shows we'd normally host at the Grill outside and hopefully attract a crowd to the downtown. Well, I'm happy to say it worked and the PB&J's will host their thirteenth year of the Rhythm on the River music series this summer.
MH: The Blues Bash is one of the biggest annual events in Pomeroy. What is the Bash and who are some of the artists that have played it?
JW: It's a great little festival for the music lover and easily one of the largest events in Pomeroy. The Bash is actually a fundraiser that helps the PB&J's generate revenue for the Rhythm on the River series and other free events we do throughout the year. We aim for the last full weekend of July; this year it will be July 28 and 29. We've had some phenomenal artists over the years: Lil Ed & the Blues Imperials, Joe Bonamassa, Bill Perry, Clarence Spady, Jimmy Thackery, Will Kimbrough, Tommy Castro... this list goes on and on as well.
MH: I was surprised to read that you are now running a film series at The Grill. What films are you screening and what kind of interest is this generating?
JW: Mostly documentaries like You See Me Laughin' and live performance films. We're getting a nice a response. I suppose the promoter in me would always like to see more, but it's been good and you'd be suprised at how sophisticated the music crowd at the Grill is. After 15 years of national blues acts rolling through, they're seasoned.
MH: As far as future shows are concerned for The Grill, Rhythm on the River and The Blues Bash, who have you booked and who would you like see come to Pomeroy?
JW: We've got some great things in store for this year. A couple of young bands that I'm very high on will return the Grill: New York City's Gas House Gorillas and the Steepwater Band from Chicago. Also, Texas great Andrew "Jr. Boy" Jones will be back this spring. Outdoors, look for Johnny Rawls and Larry Garner, and we've already secured Louisiana native Kenny Neal to headline the Blues Bash. It's shaping up to be a nice summer and I'm very much looking forward to it.