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Callahan's is ready for last call after more than a decade
When Callahan’s Bar & Grille opened during Thanksgiving weekend of 2007, its owners figured the draw would be food, drink and sports on big-screen TVs.
Now, as he prepares to close the place this week, Mike Moss can’t even remember the last time those TVs were turned on.
For the vast majority of its 10 1/2 years, the Auburn Hills club has been better known as Callahan’s Music Hall, an intimate 200 (or so) capacity venue hosting a regular diet of international and local artists, mostly playing blues and roots music, but with rock and jazz artists woven into the mix.
In the course of some 1,500 shows — which Moss calls “a conservative count” — Callahan’s has become a must-stop for artists in those genres, a room with its own international reputation as an important place to play.
“We’ve played there probably more than anywhere else in the past eight or 10 years,” says singer, songwriter and guitarist Tinsley Ellis. “It’s just a real artist-friendly venue. Mike and his people are so friendly. They just really care about the music, and it showed.”
Danielle Nicole, who played Callahan’s with the band Trampled Under Foot and on her own, adds that the audiences were the main lure for her.
“They’re involved,” she says. “They’re passionate. That’s what you strive to have at a venue, people who are involved and there for the music and the experience of it all. They respect the music but also throw down and have a great time.”
Nicole also singles out Callahan’s sound system and engineer Peter Jay as “incredible.”
“You don’t find that in a lot of places, where not only the music system is of great quality but the engineer himself is killer.
“They’re gonna be missed, for sure.”
GETTIN' THE BLUES
Moss — who had previously worked at The Palace of Auburn Hills and Ticketmaster and promoted major events white attending Eastern Michigan University — initially viewed Callahan’s as an “investment type thing — wouldn’t it be fun to have a bar and grill?” He also grew up a fan of live music fan, with particularly warm memories of bygone metro-area blues clubs such as Sully’s, George & Harry’s, the Soup Kitchen and Moby Dick’s.
“When we got (the club) we said, ‘Why don’t we put a stage in? We can do local acts,’” recalls Moss, who started with the Reefermen. “Then I started making a few calls and thought, ‘Why can’t we do something a little bigger?’ I thought (the club) was too small, but it turned out to be a great size.
“Blues and roots was always something near and dear to me, and it didn’t seem like anyone was really doing it at the time.
“If you would have told me we’d book the level of talent into the club we had, I absolutely wouldn’t believe you.”
Callahan’s started its national lineup in March of 2008, when Louisiana guitar slinger Tab Benoit played the first of his multi-annual shows there. The club’s roster of regular visitors became a who’s-who of talent, including the likes of the late Johnny Winter, Sonny Landreth, Jimmie Vaughan, Larry McCray, Popa Chubby, Coco Montoya, Walter Trout, Samantha Fish and a proverbial list that goes on. And on. Moss is particularly proud of bringing guitarist Ronnie Earl back to the metro area after several years away.
“When word first came around that there was a gig in Auburn Hills, Mich., we didn’t think a whole lot of it. We just thought, ‘Well, that’s cool. There’s a place to play near Detroit,’” remembers Tommy Castro, who will close Callahan’s with sold-out shows Friday and Saturday, March 30-31. “But Mike managed to set up a place for guys like us to play and for people who love this music to come and enjoy it and have a full calendar, and that’s hard to do. It’s hard to really create a venue that can support this kind of music like that.”
Callahan’s also brought in acts from the rock realm, including former Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre, the Stick Men (featuring two members of King Crimson) and Kofi Baker with a tribute to his father, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ginger Baker, among others. Guitarist Gary Hoey played there many times, including several of his Ho! Ho! Hoey! Christmas shows. Artists such as Jimmy Thackery, Coco Montoya, Shaun Murphy of Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band, Detroit’s Jim McCarty and the Howling Diablos are among the acts that recorded live albums on the Callahan’s stage, while Corey Harris filmed a PBS special there.
Callahan’s was a launch pad for the reformation of the venerable Detroit rock band the Rockets, starting as the Helldrivers. It also was the home for the Detroit Blues Society’s annual Blues Challenge competition, and Royal Oak’s Funky D Records label used the club to celebrate the release of new projects by its artists, including Robert Bradley and Jimmie Bones from Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker band.
“It’s just been incredible,” Moss says. “I’ve gotten the opportunity to book some of my heroes. It’s been incredibly rewarding.”
Moss’ decision to close Callahan’s, which he announced in early December, was about lifestyle.
“Ten years for any club or bar is an incredible run,” says Moss, who resides in Orion Township. He hopes to spend more time with family, including two college-age daughters, and have weekends to himself again. “I’d like to just go see a show and enjoy it, which I haven’t been able to do for 10 years,” he adds with a laugh.
Moss has put the property up for sale. It may remain a music club, but won’t be called Callahan’s, a name he’s retaining. There’s a chance he may put a show or two in the building before he sells it, but they would be one-offs. He’s done with a regular schedule — but not with promoting music. In fact, Moss has already scheduled a concert by Tab Benoit and Sonny Landreth for June 10 at the Wildwood Amphitheater in Lake Orion.
“I don’t consider it an ending. It’s really just a transition,” Moss notes. “I doubt personally I’ll ever be too far from music. It’s in my blood, kind of what I know, so — no, I don’t think I’ll be stopping. But the frequency isn’t going to be there.
“I like to say I’ve been on a 10-and-a-half-year tour with no destination, and now it’s time to finish.”
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