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Get Up, Get Out, and JAM, Part 3: Ponderosa Bar and Grill
It wouldn’t be honest to just tell you success stories. Sometimes Jam nights don’t work. It doesn’t mean that it was a bad Jam or a bad bar or a bad night. Sometimes there just aren’t enough listeners to go around. Local bar and grill owners are hit hard in this economy, just like everyone else. They count on an ever-shrinking entertainment budget of working stiffs who can afford a few beers and maybe a dinner night every so often. If their food is great they will be able to pay expenses; if the sale of booze can pay the rent and provide profit, that is a successful bar. That is also hard work. Once such local eatery, Ponderosa Bar and Grille on Shadel Rd. in Menifee,CA. has been a measured success over 17 years of service in the shape of great down-home food, reasonable drink deals, plenty of pool tables and great entertainment. With live bands and dancing Friday and Saturday, and karaoke Sundays and Thursdays, Ezra at the Ponderosa has been providing a great stage and dance floor to top local bands and tours, helping to hone a generation of young bands’ talent and professionalism.
Click through for more and a video from the Jam!
As is often the case, weekends at the Ponderosa can be packed as paychecks arrive and folks are out enjoying a few days off. Date-night diners and family night out keeps them coming; Wednesdays, on the other hand, can be tough. When young Joe Lawing, founder of Jam Club, started the Wednesday Jam Night/Open Mic they thought a little marketing might bring in the crowd they needed. Joe and the gang spread the word and soon a regular Jam Night was happening. Hit or miss – some nights great, some not so much. Ezra hung in as long as he could. The other night, the night we just happened to show up, I sat down with him and he confided in me that at the end of the evening he was going to have to let Joe know that he just couldn’t do it anymore. It is simply Business 101: you need to make more than you spend.
As a longtime owner and staunch supporter of live music, Ezra had struck a really fair deal for Joe and his band, Live Remedy, to host the jam. For roughly half of what weekend bands earned, Joe would MC and the band would play a short set to open up. They also brought a great PA and plenty of backline instruments, amps and drums for everyone to play with. They were guaranteed to make a little more than gas money for each of the three members and a few bucks to the band fund for equipment maintenance. If they had to count on commission from the bar totals, some nights they would have gone home on empty. It seemed like a great deal and all they had to do was sell roughly twenty burgers and beers for the Ponderosa to break even and be able to keep it going. They had great plans. Unfortunately, the town around them never really got on board. Wednesday nights were not working in Menifee and the day of our visit was their last.
It was a great jam, and musicians loved to play there. The bar needed listeners to come and listen to those players and for whatever reason – competition from other local jams, the economy, genre of music, volume, it doesn’t really matter – the customers could not sustain the host band. A DJ will probably get the job. Another one bites the dust. I talked to Joe later that night. He said he had a great run; they had some awesome jams and great crowds on the good nights. He’ll be fine, by the way, his band is gigging and he co-hosts another jam at Sidelines in Murrieta most Saturdays. He is also involved, along with Charissa Henry, in JamFest Music Festivals; their Spring JamFest 2012 will take place on April 22 at Wooden Nickel Ranch in Menifee.
The night we visited the Ponderosa proved to be a good night for jammers but, to be honest, the crowd, though friendly and buying drinks and food, was very small. Not enough. A midweek night out, they had mostly come for line dancing lessons earlier in the evening and went home early too; they had work in the morning.
We played and they seemed to enjoy it. Some singing along when they knew the words and egging us on when we had a lull in the action. The jammers played and laughed and traded solos and phone numbers and by the end of the night everyone there got to play if they wanted to. We had fun, met some cool folks and saw folks we hadn’t seen in a while. Several guitar players, several bassists, several drummers and a harp guy – seasoned vets and shy newbies up there for the first time, all of us learning songs on the fly and giving it a go. It was fun.
The crowd was thoroughly entertained, well fed and the beers were cold. It’s a great bar, it jams on the weekends and the service and food and prices all make it a welcome place to hang out. The Wednesday night Jam may have eased on down the road but everyone is still friends and we look forward to new opportunities to collaborate in some way in the future. Even as little I know of Ezra, having met him and seen his place, I have no doubt there will always something cooking at the Ponderosa.