“Someone’s walking out the door with the deer head. What are you going to take?”
The 2 a.m. open bar at The Bunkhouse’s “last call” show on June 29 hadn’t even cleared the five-minute mark, and already musicians and venue loyalists were all but ransacking the knick-knack decor. As far as I could tell, no one had given them permission, nor was anyone stopping them.
“I’m not taking anything,” I said to the musician I won’t name, and I answered as such not because I’m boring and unsentimental like that, or because I don’t reach for what’s not obviously for the taking, but because, well, what if the Downtown Project wants to preserve and/or reuse the deer head, the saws, the black-and-white photos of Hollywood actors from old western movies come renovation time? What if the new Bunkhouse — which closed on July 1 and is slated for a late summer reopening — will look something like the Bunkhouse we’ve known for the past 10 years? What if it evolves while also harkening back to its roots — like much of redeveloped downtown Las Vegas?
Yes, lots of what-ifs that the Downtown Project, the Zappos-spun-off development group that bought the 11th Street bar and surrounding property from proprietor Charlie Fox for $1.4 million, have yet to address, only maintaining the position that the Bunkhouse “will continue to be a live music venue, as we view it as a cornerstone of the downtown music scene and hope it will serve as an anchor for further growth of live music in the neighborhood,” as told by a rep to CityLife last month.
That hasn’t been enough for the downtown music scene, whose large turnout and memorabilia grab last Saturday might have been as much a middle finger to the new owners — one guy wore a homemade shirt that said “Downtown Hsieh-kedown” (a reference to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, whose surname is pronounced “Shay”), and a photo online revealed graffiti in the women’s restroom that read, “Fuck Zappos” — as it was a celebration of the Bunkhouse’s run and the bands that frequently played it.
And a big handful of them graced both the corner indoor stage and the larger outdoor platform on June 29, including Avalon Landing, Same Sex Mary and Fuzz So Low (which this writer missed), and Big Friendly Corporation, The Clydesdale, Crazy Chief, The All Togethers and Dusty Sunshine (which he caught), all running the gamut of non-punk, non-metal rock that typically filled up at least half of the venue’s weekend calendar.
I brought a notepad for those acts’ performances, but more to jot down noteworthy inclusions and banter than to critique. I swore I heard some new Big Friendly material. The Clydesdale returned to the outdoor stage for the first time since its bone-cold March CD release party, this time enduring sweltering temperatures. Crazy Chief packed the living room area with its thundering classic rock. And Dusty Sunshine — left to harmonize over an increasingly boisterous crowd — held court at the same stage, albeit at five-sixths strength, for its first hometown gig since returning from a June cross-country tour. Maybe those two latter acts should have been swapped on the indoor schedule.
As for The All Togethers, the Virgina-cum-Vegas “hillbilly jazz” trio offered the most noteworthy, special-occasion-like set, consisting mostly of covers and songs from its just-released Ridge Runner record. We might’ve have assumed “Ring of Fire” was in its repertoire. But we never would have predicted the stand-up-bass and banjo-armed musicians would play a Corlene Machine song (“I Heard You Paint Houses”), or Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” (it worked). And we struggled to ascertain if their “99 Problems” was more influenced by Jay Z’s hit or the Ice T song from which said hit was inspired, because, as Ken Osborne told us, it’s actually “a cover of a cover of a cover of a cover.” And you thought the acoustic bands were so straightforward.
DJ Ladyfingers continued the unconventional musical offerings by pumping through the PA indie dance anthems by acts like The Gossip, which you’re more likely to hear at Beauty Bar or Artifice than alt-rock-favoring The Bunkhouse. It seemed to augment the debauchery of the crowd, already sloshed from their paid drinks and doubling down with the open bar. As Hercules and Love Affair’s nu-disco pumper “Blind” played, I noticed one dude casually begin to dislodge a large saw from the wall. This, to say nothing of all the couples slobbering over each other at any given time. I saw a shit show on the horizon, one I didn’t care to witness, so I left before the proceedings ended.
However, lest the Fox-era Bunkhouse’s final hours be permanently filed under “hot mess,” I found a YouTube video by Tarah Grace that claims to have the true final performer of the venue we’d still recognize. “I grew up in this town,” she said before launching into the second Johnny Cash cover of the night, “I Walk the Line,” with the sun pouring into the doors’ windows and a morning gambling crew watching from the bar. “I’ve seen landmarks come and go.”
But this landmark isn’t going anywhere. It may change and become something its former regulars reject, but it will nonetheless evolve, just like the rest of downtown. Just like the rest of us.