Photo | Courtesy Judge Roy Bean Reunion
The building that became Judge Roy Bean Saloon stood on Scenic Highway 98 in Montrose from 1946 until it burned in 2005.
Band: The Judge Roy Bean Reunion
Date: Saturday, June 9, 3 p.m.
Venue: Daphne City Hall, 1705 Main St.,
Tickets: $50 (includes four drink tickets),
available at www.jrbreunion.com
Until its unexpected fiery demise in 2005, The Judge Roy Bean Saloon spent decades as one of the Mobile Bay area’s most prolific and unique watering holes/music venues. With decor from the rowdy days of the Old West and a temperamental goat named Billy, Judge’s established a reputation for being a premiere locale for good times and good music.
The Judge Roy Bean Reunion & Memorial Benefit aims to rekindle the music and spirit of Judge’s in memory of owners Jack West and Phillip Calametti, both of whom lost battles with cancer last year. In the process, this event also aims to raise money for the Anchor Cross Cancer Foundation and Pilots for Christ.
The area around Daphne City Hall will take on the spirit of Judge Roy Bean’s Saloon for the afternoon. From classic Judge’s T-shirts to “The Bean Sandwich,” the Judge Roy Bean Reunion will be a chance to revisit tender memories in the name of charity.
Over the years, West and Calametti entertained their guests with a long list of musical acts, including Emmylou Harris, Dr. John, Wet Willie, Jimmy Buffett, Stephen Stills and Mac McAnally. However, the big names were not the only great sounds to grace Judge’s stage. This entertainment centerpiece on the Eastern Shore also featured a number of regular performers who gave patrons a soundtrack to their own memories.
Many regular performers would be quick to say they also shared in many beautiful memories born at Judge’s. Reunion performer Robert Sully is filled with an abundance of memories from his regular gigs there. Sully describes Judge’s as a “magical place” that maintained the spirit of a Neverland. Throughout his Judge’s tenure, Sully found himself sharing the stage with notables ranging from Buffett to Kevin Kinney (Drivin’ N’ Cryin’).
“It was a one-in-a-million place that did not belong,” Sully explained. “It would look weird anywhere. It was the heart and the soul of the people who came there and the music that played there that made it incredible.”
Sully’s most vivid Judge’s memory took root in 1974 in Louisville, Kentucky. At that time, he was a high school senior and heard a song that on his family’s classic home intercom/radio system. Sully says the unknown song haunted him for years, until he opened for Muscle Shoals legend Mac McAnally at Judge’s.
“I played, then he played through my gear and breaks out into this song called ‘Crazy World,’” Sully said. “It started bugging me. Then it dawned on me that that was the song from Louisville, Kentucky, and I’m opening for this guy. ‘That’s the song!’ Within two weeks, I was playing that song.” The experience led to a bond of friendship between Sully and the man who penned the song that had followed him throughout his life.
The Judge Roy Bean Reunion will also bring the Locust Fork Band before a number of familiar faces. Even though they have stopped playing full-time, bassist Dwight Williams says the bond Locust Fork Band has developed in the area always pulls them back for a show, especially one so philanthropic. For Williams, Judge’s sometimes served as a veritable after-party for musicians performing in Mobile, especially during the days of Hurricane Frederic.
“After Frederic, we played at Thirstie’s in Mobile,” Williams said. “There was a curfew, so we quit at 9. Everybody would get in their cars and head to the Bean, which had a full house. It was crazy every night and great fun! I will add that Baldwin County had a midnight curfew, and we were staying at Robbie Bacon’s house in Point Clear. Robbie didn’t have a curfew.”
Buzz Carpenter will also be on hand for this nostalgic trip to Judge’s past. Carpenter considers West and Calametti longtime friends, which led him to give back to the organizations that assisted both of them. As with many regulars and performers, he remembers that Judge’s was always packed with people. However, Carpenter notes that Sundays were one of his favorite days to visit and/or perform at Judge’s. The “good food and great atmosphere” led him to play about 300 times, he recalls, for Judge’s patrons.
“The atmosphere was so unique,” Carpenter said. “You really felt like you were back in the Old West, and it was always filled with familiar faces. It was the first place I ever played live.”
For singer-songwriter Ryan Balthrop, performing at the Judge Roy Bean Reunion is personal: The late Calametti was his uncle. Even so, Balthrop established his own musical connection with Judge’s during his time with Slow Moses. During that time, Balthrop says, holiday performances at Judge’s was almost a Slow Moses tradition. Even on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas night, Balthrop says, there was no shortage of people taking in Slow Moses’ music. Between sets, he adds, there were “epic pingpong battles” between the bartenders and members of the band.
“I loved playing Judge’s,” Balthrop said. “It was truly one of a kind. It was one of those places you thought would always be around. June 9 will be a lot of fun catching up with a lot of good folks from back in the day, and for a great cause.”
The Judge Roy Bean Reunion would not seem complete without a musical sample of one of the area’s most promising up-and-comers. The Red Clay Strays’ involvement in the Judge Roy Bean Reunion is an answer to the question, “Who would be playing Judge’s if it was still open?” According to guitarist Drew Nix, The Red Clay Strays are honored to be involved with this event before they embark on a tour of the Southeast in the band’s new van.
As the reunion’s musical entertainment plays on three stages, there will be culinary nostalgia such as Bean Sandwiches. Bacon My Day, Southwood Kitchen and The Dew Drop Inn will be on hand dishing out delicacies. There will be new and classic Judge’s gear for sale as well as a silent auction to generate money for this charitable event.
Ultimately, this will be a perfect time to revisit Judge’s colorful musical and social past.