It has been awhile since I have been to Buck’s Bar & Grill in Venice, Nebraska. Pre-Covid and who knows how long before that? I have seen some really cool shows out there, had some good meals, and soaked up the roadside bar atmosphere. I have a kind of good excuse, as I went car-free for a few years, focusing on biking, walking, and mass transit. Venice, Nebraska, is about 30 minutes away from the Old Market, which is where I left yesterday (in my car). It took me 15 minutes to get from Benson to the Slowdown this evening for a show. So, it’s not really a huge commitment to head out there. Maybe because it feels like such a remote space, when thinking about it, it feels like more of a trek. While it is located on a major road, it is kind of all alone in the middle of nowhere, which is part of its charm. When you walk in, the walls are filled with written on dollar bills and memorabilia from artists such as Cody Jinks, Sunny Sweeny, Alex Williams, and more that took trips to perform in Venice. It’s almost a right of passage to play there, and many of them go back after they have made it to bigger venues. There are plenty of tables and seats, a few booths, and a large U-shaped bar. The kitchen is cooking up burgers, steaks of various sizes, chicken, chicken fried steak, and more. If you follow their page, you know about Hot Beef Night.
When I started this blog, I started listening to a lot of the artists performing so I could talk about them, especially the touring acts. I started listening to the artists that Buck’s had coming up, and almost daily I was like ‘I need to head out there”. Honestly, part of that desire was food, but so many of the artists I did not know were artists I would like to know. When I saw that Colby Acuff was performing out there, I found a little more motivation, as that is an artist I had already been listening to. Colby is from Idaho and is a real-deal country artist with a real education in classic country music. He just released his fourth album, Western White Pines, last month on Sony Records. Sony is about as big of a record label as there is, so he is playing at Buck’s Bar & Grill in Venice because he wants to. It was announced the day before that he would be opening for Paul Cauthen on September 26th at The Admiral in Omaha.
I walked into the bar, took a few minutes to soak in the memorabilia on the walls, and sat at the bar to eat the cheeseburger I had been thinking about all day. All the tables started to fill up, and soon it looked as if this would be a sell-out show. Even with a major up-and-coming artist, selling out a hundred plus seat room on a Monday in the middle of nowhere isn’t a given. Opening the show was Cooper James from Gretna. I mention Gretna because he did multiple times, was genuinely proud to be from Gretna, and was invested in what Gretna was and will be. I was taken aback by this 23-year-old’s stage presence, songwriting, and delivery. Especially his songwriting. He is not putting words together to create a clever phrase in hopes that someone else will pick it up and sing it. He is singing his life, and for better or worse, it seems as if he has lived some life and come out well on the other side of it. His transparency with the audience and in his songs was refreshing and created a connection. He played a couple of “sad songs” and asked the audience if they would like a rockin’ song or more sad songs. Now, 99.9% of the time in a packed roadhouse bar, that crowd is going to say rockin’. The majority here wanted more sad songs because James had damn good ones. He played a song that he stated he had not played before called “60” and whew, it was impactful. Hopefully he keeps that in his set if he feels it. It looks like he performs quite a bit, and you can check out his schedule here. I highly recommend it.
Colby Acuff and his six-piece band took to the “stage” (which is the floor) and started playing with in-ear monitors and all, and the room sounded fantastic right from the start. Sometimes it amazes me when a setup like this works so well. One of the most noticeable things about Colby’s set was having a piano player always in the mix. It adds so much to the sound and a lot of fun nuances, too. Colby performed songs from his new album and some older songs. One of the older songs was off his debut and was called “Life Of A Rolling Stone”. He set up the song talking about how people always name-check Hank Williams and that he has done it also (he would sing a song later that name-checked Hank Williams), but he wanted to write a song for Hank Williams, and that was this song. He has another song called “Dear Country Music” where he laments not being able to live the music of the past as it was happening. He was charming and engaging, and he seemed to appreciate playing at a place like Buck’s. He has the songs, the voice, and a crack band, and he should be on his way up. He spoke about him and the band playing places like this for years, then talked about a bar called Tom’s they played at, and segued that into the song about Tom’s Bar.
At one point in the set, Buck’s owner, Buck Bennett, came up to the microphone to thank them for selling out the venue. He handed Acuff a small plastic trophy as his reward. Acuff stated that was the first trophy he has won in music thus far. I had to bail about the 90-minute mark, as I had an early morning, so I am not sure how long they played, but the crowd was really hitting its stride when I exited out into the parking lot.
This Colby Acuff show was not a one-off for talent on this level. Buck’s has a lot of touring artists and local and regional acts all the time, and they are worth checking out. His page has YouTube videos right there of all of them, making it easy to do. That said, there are some pretty big names on their way back to Buck’s in the coming months. On August 1st, Kaitlin Butts, who is a next big thing with millions of streams and a great sound, and Mickey & The Motorcars are out there on August 5th, and that is a long-time touring band with a lot of fans. Alex Williams is out there on August 24th, and judging by the amount of Alex Williams shirts and hats I saw on patrons last night, that will be another big night. Finally, a personal favorite artist of mine, Jason Eady, will be there on October 10th. Like I said, though, check out the other artists there, because you will be seeing some next big things and you can say you were there when. I saw Tennessee Jet out there years ago to a smallish crowd, and he has become a much bigger artist since then. This Friday is homegrown talent Lloyd McCarter, and he is a treat, so if you want to go get a taste of both the venue, some good country music, and that burger, head on out. It’s really not that far.