Fenton — The Sean Caldwell Trio finished their Beatles cover of “A Day in the Life” to a smattering of applause at The Fenton Hotel Tavern & Grille on Friday, July 5.
Because it was the day after the Fourth of July holiday, it was a sparse night for restaurants and bars. Still, area establishments didn’t abandon a popular weekend tradition — free live music.
Several area restaurants have live music Friday and Saturday nights. Usually they’re acoustic acts, utilizing acoustic guitars with bass and vocals. Sometimes a full band with a drum kit is squeezed onto a stage, bringing a presence that only live drums can.
While it was a slow night for the Fenton Hotel Tavern & Grille, owner Nick Sorise said live music just makes good business sense. “A lot of people come in for the entertainment,” he said. “Plus you get the late night walk-ins just for cocktails. So it’s to generate business.”
He offers live music Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Sorise has owned the restaurant with his wife, Peggy, since 1997. He’s seen the tastes of his guests change over the years. Primarily he’ll book acoustic classic rock, but 10 years ago he’d book jazz or ‘60s music.
“The crowd has changed and you have to change with it,” he said.
Beale Street Smokehouse BBQ co-owner Phil Canup is passionate about the live acts he books. He said he books 20 bands on rotation.
“It’s a business decision, but I enjoy the music and I enjoy the interaction with the band members,” he said.
He’s been booking blues, jazz and music that he describes as “roots rock,” like Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis, for eight years. “There hasn’t been a Friday or Saturday night that we didn’t have music,” he said.
Canup believes that the musicians do generate more sales volume because they also bring in their own fans.
On Friday he booked Greg Nagy of Davison Township, a full-time musician. While he was performing acoustic covers, he also produces original music. Nagy performs at other gigs with a full band as well.
He said in his experience, the bar band scene is “dried up,” but restaurants still book people like him. “It keeps food on the table,” he said.
Nagy said his median fee for performing for three hours is about $300, with tips and food discounts included. He said his fee is a little higher due to his 26 years of experience and deep portfolio of albums and positive reviews. Travel time also factors into his rate.
Nagy said a show like his isn’t like a concert where everyone is watching, nor is he strictly background music. The food is the main attraction, but he can help people stick around for a couple more drinks.
Reactions to his performance range from asking to be moved away from him when he’s setting up, to a full tip jar and an entire room watching. “It’s trying to engage the people without overwhelming them,” he said.
The brand new Ponemah Lakeside Lodge featured a full ‘90s/2000s cover band, Shooter McGavin, on the same night. This band features members from Fenton and Linden.
In the muggy night air, they performed before a robust crowd, until singer Steve Jeffrey of Linden had to cut the four-set performance short to rest his voice.
Lead guitar Dave Klink said he enjoys performing so close to home and he appreciates the opportunities to play.
A manager at the lodge said he’s booked 10 different local musicians. While it creates a bit of a draw, the main attraction is the lake itself, along with the food and drinks.