Grandsons Of The Pioneers – Cowboy Cafe South (Arlington, VA)
Cowboy Cafe South is smack in the center of a strip mall just outside of Washington, D.C. At first glance, all the typical assumptions regarding strip malls would seem to apply.
But a place can only be as unattractive and without character as the people who call it home. For many years, the Grandsons have made this place their own. Over that time they have made what could have been just another “down home” suburban eatery into the warm pulsing heart of a community of listeners. And on this night, it ended.
The Grandsons have been a staple of D.C.’s roots music scene since 1991, when they released Howdy From Grandsons Of The Pioneers. And always, there has been Thursday at Cowboy Cafe. So when they launch into their jangly “Party With The Rich”, everyone takes pause; for many of these folks, Thursdays with Chris Watling’s gut-churning baritone sax intonations and vocalist-guitarist-trumpeter Alan MacEwen’s earnest renditions of Grandsons originals and classic roots covers have been a given. But this isn’t a listening club, and the mood could not hold.
Bands like the Grandsons are a paradox; jealously guarded secrets and highly suggested listening. Incredibly intelligent but highly accessible. It didn’t matter that the ten or so children in attendance didn’t find the inclusion of steel drums in “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” ironic; they were dancing and hopping and laughing all the same.
An earnest attempt to play originals gives way to a pickin’ party mentality as Watling switches to accordion for a lively polka. A conga line forms for the calypso number “Jump In The Line”. The crowd reaches fever pitch when the band takes to the floor for a rousing “Saints” while they pass the hat.
“What I need is for you all to show your love of these guys,” says Cowboy Cafe owner Charlie Campbell as he takes the stage. “What we need is these guys to come back on a Friday or Saturday night. They’re more expensive then, so make them feel welcome so I’ll know to bring them back.”
The crowd had almost forgotten that they wouldn’t be coming back.