As Backstage Bar & Grill prepares to celebrate its one-year anniversary in April, the live entertainment venue-cum-restaurant looks back on its brief history – and consequently, looks eagerly forward – with plenty of expectations to continue to establish itself as a fixture of the city’s music and dining scene.
Ambitious? Possibly, but to hear general manager Shane Carey tell it, there was no grand formula involved in developing the venue’s concept before opening its doors on Main Street across from the Ford Center less than a year ago.
“The vision was just to provide an excellent yet affordable dining experience and a memorable evening with friends where you could come in and relax,” Carey says. Such an evening might include karaoke on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, “College Night” Thursdays featuring a live DJ, acoustic music on Fridays, or full bands rocking out every Saturday on the compact but adequate stage via an in-house sound system.
Backstage brought in long-time national touring musician Edwin McCain to headline its grand opening last April, and throughout its first month, it featured fellow national band Sister Hazel and regional musician Clayton Anderson. Relying on a steady line up of local, regional, and national rock and country talents to keep the crowds enthralled, in both full band and acoustic-based formats, Carey says Backstage “wanted to get the best musicians in the Tri-State area, and (to) help make Downtown Evansville the spot to be. Our attitude is you can’t download a true live musical experience.” The venue hopes to book at least one nationally recognized band this spring or summer to help ring in its one-year milestone.
Like its entertainment model, Backstage’s food menu is more about variety than size. The Fry Bar offers three different types of fries and 13 dipping sauces, including jalapeño ketchup, basil garlic aioli, and honey wasabi. It has quickly become a menu favorite. Customers can also opt for salads, flatbreads, fish tacos, or more substantial fare like the “Roadie,” a half-pound burger served with peppercorn mayo and all the trimmings. Carey’s own fave? The buffalo chicken sandwich, which comes tossed in the customer’s choice of house buffalo sauces.
The results have, in many ways, been a direct reflection of a key component of Backstage’s concept – diversity. Ages among both lunch and dinner patrons and live music audiences have consistently ranged from 21-70, including college students sporting torn jeans and buttoned-up business types. Local DJ Jon B., who has worked several post-IceMen nights at Backstage, says the range of tunes he spins at the venue are as varied as the crowd itself. Wander in on a DJ night and you might hear 80s & 90s pop and rock, sing-a-long party tunes, country, Top 40, and a slew of styles in between. “And of course I always get a wide range of excellent requests,” he says.
The Ford Center held its first public event less than six months before Backstage opened its doors, and subsequent events at the Downtown entertainment center have been instrumental (pun intended) in the diversity of the venue’s first-year clientele. This, in turn, helped word spread more quickly. Crowds of all ages typically swarm to the venue for appetizers, or just to unwind by way of some musical serenading, after taking in IceMen hockey or Aces basketball games at the arena. DJ Jon B. says this puts the venue in a unique position. “It’s different than some bars Downtown, where the crowd doesn’t arrive until after midnight,” he observes. “The crowd rolls in after the events and the party gets rocking.”
For more information on Backstage Bar & Grill, visit www.backstageevansville.com.