Bev’s Jook Joint Approaches its Final Days

Bev’s Jook Joint Approaches it’s Final Days

Paul Whyte

For the last 16 years Bev’s Jook Joint in Superior, Wisconsin has been a tavern and music venue featuring performances from all genres of musical acts, but especially featuring Bev’s favorite style of all, the blues. Bev Robinson has been a bartender and music lover almost her entire adult life and has seen a lot of ups and downs in keeping her establishment open. The days of the bar are coming to a close which will end in January 2014. We stopped in to talk to her about her years as a bartender and running a very unique venue in the area. When we walked into Bev’s many of the signs that adorned the walls had already been taken down. A lot of musical artifacts such as broken horns, vintage guitars and signed framed pictures of blues artists were still up but the place was obviously being cleared out. Bev is usually in good spirits but can have a no nonsense approach when dealing with difficult customers. The night we visited her, she had her usual personable attitude but at the same time there was a heaviness about her.

Reader: You have mentioned that bar tending is part of your life. Tell me how you started out bar tending here in Superior.

Robinson: The first bar tending job was at the Capri bar, I was 19. That’s where I started and I liked it; did a couple of other little ones. Then I ended up at Molly’s bar and fell in love. I bar tended there for ten years at Molly’s.

Reader: So eventually you started this place.

Robinson: I was bar tending and managing here for ten years.

Reader: Who was the original owner?

Robinson: Joanne Moody.

Reader: What was it called back then?

Robinson: The Triole’ Bar. She was begging me to buy it. I bought this and I loved music, always. I was, “yes! I can put live music in here.” That’s where my heart and soul is. Then meeting people. I love most people and have established friendships from the people I met.

Reader: I know that particularly have a huge love for the blues. Name a few, if you can, some of your favorite blues acts that you’ve had.

Robinson: E.C. Scott; Becky Barksdale; Walter Trout; Ronnie Baker Brooks, that was great. There’s just so many of them; Tinsley Ellis; Eric Sardinas. I had John Lee Hooker Jr. here.

Reader: Over the years I’ve noticed that you’ve really catered to all forms of music. I know that I’ve seen some terrific acts from the Cities, although you may have felt it’s maybe a little loud. What are your feelings on the general music community of the Twin Ports and how has that been over the years for you?

Robinson: My whole idea was that I wanted diversity,  I wanted all walks of life, rubbing elbows with everyone. I just wanted someone to play, no matter what kind of music it was and whether I liked it or not, it didn’t matter. However, no matter what kind of music anyone has played, they’ve always been really cool. I’ve never had problems with any musicians ever. So it was just really cool and It introduced me and opened my eyes to a lot of stuff just by having music here. I never in my life listened to metal music ever, until I had it here at the bar.

Reader: So you’re coming to an end. I’m guessing that the closing of Tower Avenue over the summer might had a little bit to do with this?

Robinson: Yeah, it certainly did. That and ASCAP, I’ll get into that in a minute. When they closed down the street, I put in a side door and had a lot of visions for that area. I talked with the city and there was a lot of planning and talking with many officials. I put the door in and then they closed Winter Street, the entire block (This is the street that runs from East to West on the South side of the property. Tower Avenue is in the front of the business on the West. All access points to the bar were closed except through the rear and via the alley way into the North side parking lot.) I was closed down for six months on Tower and Winter, all accesses. That was killer, I don’t want to close, but I’m bankrupt...I’m beyond that. It’s really disheartening because I had a lot of visions for that area. I wanted a fire pit and wanted to have acoustic players and food out there. But they closed it down, just like that, right after I got it done.

Reader: You mentioned other things like ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers).

Robinson: There were many threats from ASCAP and they demanded money and it kind of scares you about even having music because I didn’t have the money. If you have a slow night, this is just a small bar, you can’t fit hundreds in here. I got threatening letters from them all the time. I kind of held back on the booking of music and I didn’t have music for quite some time until Blues Fest. I didn’t even have my National acts or nothing, just a few local things. They hand delivered a flyer to my mail box to let me know they were here, it wasn’t mailed. That was the first time I had music in a really long time. It’s scary because they’re a billion dollar operation and if they take you court, they’ve never lost.

Reader: Your jukebox does not cover ASCAP rights and other music performed in here?

Robinson: No.

Reader: Can you tell me some of the yearly charges?

Robinson: It depends. It’s on how many nights a week you have music, what your capacity is and then you multiply that by that and they come up with a number. Right now they want $8000.

Reader: A year?

Robinson: No, they’ve been trying to get me so I don’t the exact yearly amount.

Reader: That’s still a lot of money.

Robinson: Yeah, and I refuse to pay it because I don’t understand it. It doesn’t make sense to me. I absolutely love musicians, for real. Musicians are my heroes, and no matter how much I love them, with ASCAP, if someone plays a cover then I’m supposed to pay for it. In my opinion, that’d be up to the musician. It should never be local people who are just playing. If someone made a CD and took someone else’s song and put it on the CD, then it should be between those two people, not me. It doesn’t make any sense why I should pay for what someone else does.

Reader: Over the years, I’d say say it seems like the majority of music here has actually been original music. From metal to blues.

Robinson: I told them that, and I do. I’m not saying that no one’s ever done a cover. I told them, “the music I do here is original.”  It might even be a garage band that I gave a chance to play and they said, “it don’t matter.” It makes no sense. So I said, “it sounds like you’ve created yourself a job.”

Reader: It seems like it’s been almost 10 years ago that there was a more of a “hay day” here in Superior. What do think are some of the contributing factors to Superior’s overall decline?

Robinson: Well, I don’t know about the rest of them, but when Minnesota went to 2 o’clock, that was a killer. Because, before you’d see people come from Minnesota at 11 or midnight and it’d start filling up. With me, I’d have music here and then musicians who were playing in Duluth, as soon as they were done with their gig, they’d high tail it over here. There were so many musicians here after 1 a.m. and it was a blast. We had to close and it was tough getting everyone out, but it was fun.

Robinson: It’s pretty much like the music scene has all moved over to Duluth now. There’s still music, Thirsty Pagan still has music.

Reader: This is kind of the hardest question I have to ask. What’s going to happen with you now?

Robinson: I really don’t know, it’s really overwhelming. I’m going to have to get this all out sometime in January. I’m selling all of my stuff, it feels like I’m selling my soul. So after that, I’ve always provided for myself and many others, I’m a survivor and I’ll figure something out. As far as a plan, I actually don’t. I’m just too consumed with this right now to get there.

Reader: So this Saturday, December 28th will be your last day?

Robinson: No, that’s the last time blues music will be in here. I’m going to have New Year’s Eve show which will be more rock and roll and hip hop. The January the 3rd and 4th, I’ll have music. Azure Du Jour and Bev’s Jook Joint go hand and hand.

Reader: How long has Jim Hall been playing here?

Robinson: Probably 16 years. The first time I saw them was at the Blues Saloon. It’s now The Temple. I had them play sometimes four nights a week in the beginning.

Reader: They say that they have broken up, but they are one of the Twin Ports last blues bands.

Robinson: Yeah, they did break up. But they did tell me if I had a special thing they would come back. In my heart, and I mean this, even the national acts, I don’t put anyone above Azure Du Jour. Nobody. *Laughs*

Reader: Do you think it’s strange that Duluth and Twin Ports having a lack in actual blues music has a Blues Fest?

Robinson: Yeah, there were many. I’ve had many national acts here and they were supported. Sometimes people didn’t know the name and there were only eight or maybe 12 people.

Reader: I remember I stopped in here for Ana Popovic’.

Robinson: Yeah, July 4th.

Reader: I was here for that show, I was the youngest person by at least 15 years.

Robinson: *Laughs* The majority of blues people are more responsible and don’t tend to drink as much. *Laughs*

Reader: I guess it’s too early to tell. This is going to be another empty spot on Tower Avenue?

Robinson: Yeah, I’m sure. Right now I’m having a continuous rummage sale. *sighs* It’s just emotional for me because I’m in love with it. In many ways I feel that I was blessed by being with all of these musicians and all the shows I’ve seen. I’ll never forget it, it was wonderful.

Bev’s Jook Joint was not only a monumental venue for Superior, it was a crucial part of Twin Ports music history. Numerous musicians of all genres from the area got their start at the venue as it was fairly easy to get a gig if you didn’t mind being paid little or nothing from the door and some beer. Bev always had $10 to $15 covers for her national acts and it was always well worth seeing one of those shows in an intimate venue setting. We talked to two members of the music community that got their start at Bev’s and asked them about the significance of this unique venue going out of business.

We talked to a person who shares the 800 block of Tower Avenue with Bev’s with his parcel shipping store, Goin’ Postal. Andrew Perfetti, has been running the Superior business for a number of years and is also a local musician, perhaps noted most for being the guitar player of the local reggae group, Uprising.

Reader: During the Tower Avenue road construction, would you say that complicated your business at all?

Perfetti: I lost tens of thousands of dollars because of that construction. I can’t give you an exact number, but well over $20,000.

Reader: As a musician yourself, what does Bev’s mean to you?

Perfetti: Well, Bev’s gave me my start. If there wasn’t any Bev’s, there wouldn’t be any Uprising or any of me playing music around here. There’s a lot of other musicians she gave a start to.

Reader: When did you first perform at Bev’s?

Perfetti: About eight years ago with a band called Long Overdue.

Reader: What will Bev’s closing detract from the Twin Ports music community?

Perfetti: Bev’s is more than a music bar, it’s a hang out for musicians. Bev is a huge supporter of musicians, she helps connect people together, she is such a big fan and is a collector of musical talent in this area, Duluth or Superior. She gives people opportunities that other venues would definitely not give out. Bev was the first person to introduce me to Max Dakota and that’s how I got my start. Through meeting him I met other people, he met other people…it was a big networking place. If you got done with a gig, that’s where you went and Bev wanted to know how it was. It was kind of the after party for all the musicians around town.
She knew everybody and everybody came in there and checked in kind of helped support her because she always supported us. It was a good place. It was kind of an incubator for a lot of bands. Uprising kind of incubated there. Max Dakota and Flexible Strategies incubated there. A lot of bands that are big now played there when they weren’t so big. As far back as the guys from Trampled by Turtles played there before they made it big. Everyone made a spot for themselves there when they were up an coming.

We talked to another musical artist who got their start at Bev’s, Adam Stariha. He has been playing at Bev’s for a number of years and has played there regularly right up until recently. We talked to him about his experience with Bev’s.

Reader: I hear that you are organizing a show for the first weekend of January. Can you tell me a little bit about that show?

Stariha: It’s a two night deal. It’s going to consist of my band, Black River Revue, which had it’s first show at Bev’s Jook Joint back when it was me and my banjo player, Ryan LeBard, we were just a duo. And throughout the last couple of years with John LaMar, Andy Bergstrom and Andy Lipke. We played the first bulk of our shows at Bev’s, there’s a lot of good memories, she was the first person to give us our start. Jason Wussow (the owner of Beaner’s) and Steve Johnson (formerly from Sight Like December) are going to play (the January shows) Sonja and Lee are going to play as Next of Kin or Sonja and the Reckoning.

Reader: Explain to me, with Bev’s closing, what will it mean to the Twin Ports music community?
Stariha: Bev’s has been a pivotal place for a lot of musicians who got their start there. Jason Wussow was telling me he played one his first shows there when he first moved to Duluth. I believe Teague Alexy said the same thing. And numerous other artists and different bands that I’ve known have had a weekly spot there or played there. Years ago she had top blues acts. Really in Superior besides the Thirsty Pagan, it’s the only place where you can find real local original music.

With Bev’s closing down, Superior will be left with relatively few music venues. This creates questions as to what venues will cater to the Homegrown music festival on Thursday, which has been considered “Superior Night” for a number of years. The Thirsty Pagan is the only consistent music venue in Superior besides Roper’s which only holds country music from mostly out of town acts that do not contribute to the area’s original music scene. Almost three years ago, Roper’s was going to be a Homegrown venue, but they backed out and it’s unlikely they will be a venue as they rarely support local music. Norm’s has also pulled out of being a consistent music venue. Current Homegrown Director, Walter Raschick, has hopes that Norm’s will be a venue in 2014, but they reportedly have taken out their stage and lighting, leaving an empty unused space where local and national rock and hip-hop acts once performed. Red Mug will most likely be a venue, but they are not consistent in booking music. The Main has a stage, but it is almost used exclusively for just Homegrown and a handful of drag shows such as during Pride Fest. The Flame in Superior has prerecorded/non-manipulated DJ music most nights and may also be a venue. Stargate has held random shows, but it’s perhaps the most uncertain of the above mentioned venues to support local music.