In the club scene, country music gets treated like a red-headed stepchild.
Except for a couple of bars in the 'burbs, you'll be hard-pressed to find a night of good old American line dancing in the Twin Cities. Apparently, the boot scootin' boogie is an endangered species.
"There's just not a lot of places left to dance," said Mike Shadick, a 27-year-old cowboy who spends every Tuesday at the 1200 Club, a bar inside the Burnsville Bowl.
But now a country night has shown up in the most unexpected of places: downtown Minneapolis.
A party bar called the Lone Tree is giving country music another shot on Thursday nights. Once a week, that familiar twang bumps out of the bar's sound system, beckoning a growing number of suburban cowboys and cowgirls to venture into the big city.
They come wearing their cowboy hats, their enormous belt buckles and real cowboy boots.
There was a time when a Cottage Grove nightclub called the Rush commanded the area's largest line-dancing crowd. "We used to turn that place upside down," said Russell Myers, 26, a former Rush regular who now spends his Thursdays at the Lone Tree.
But the line dancing died when the Rush closed in late 2007, sending cowboys off in all directions as they searched for a new dance floor to call home. The last place they expected to go was downtown Minneapolis.
"I dreaded going downtown," said Dave Brooks, 22, of Cottage Grove. "It's scary sometimes. But once I started to come down here more, it's not that bad."
Myers, a former rodeo rider, feels the same way about this new club frontier. Like his fellow cowboys, he feels most comfortable in the suburbs (he lives in Lakeville).
City slickers "don't like our cowboy hats," he said. "Us country guys, we're not used to this. I used to come down here three or four times a year. Now it's once a week."
Hoedown at Hoggsbreath
The Twin Cities longest-running country night can be found far from downtown, in Little Canada, at a no-frills bar called Hoggsbreath.
It's not necessarily a country bar, but on Monday nights the cowboys feel comfy enough to spit their chew juice right into the garbage cans. The night, dubbed "The Tom Katt Rowdy Cowboy Show," is named after a guy who's been instrumental in keeping country nights alive. Katt, the longtime We Fest host and resident Monday-night DJ at Hoggsbreath, is a self-described "middle-aged man acting like a teenager." While Hoggsbreath still draws a good crowd, Katt remembers line dancing's heyday in the 1980s when "people used to line up around the building to get in."
With so few country nights, the cowboys who populate these dance floors all know one another. When a new night pops up -- like the one at Lone Tree -- they are quick to show up. They've learned that nightclubs are a fickle business; if the numbers aren't there, the weekly night will end just as soon as it began. It doesn't seem to bother them that clubs often relegate country nights to the weekdays.
"I've got no problem going out and partying hard on a Tuesday night and then getting up the next morning to go to work," Shadick said.
New urban cowboys
If you're going to go line dancing, you have to dress the part. Brooks, the 22-year-old who used to dread going downtown, walked into the Lone Tree on a recent night in full cowboy regalia. He wore a black hat, black boots and a black Rodney Atkins T-shirt. His shiny belt buckle must have been the size of a dinner plate.
"It was handed down from my stepdad's grandpa," he said.
Beyond the belt buckle, the hat is very important. Some guys have only one; others have several, which they rotate. A good one starts at about $150.
The familiar sight of cowboy hats bobbing in the medium-sized crowd at the Lone Tree makes it an inviting place for these suburban adventurers. Of course, not everything is the same downtown.
"They charge five bucks for a beer here!" one cowgirl yelled out on a recent night. (A Miller Lite at Hoggsbreath costs $2.75.)
Minor culture clashes are to be expected. But it's nothing that a night of old-fashioned partying can't fix, said Jason Hetland, a cowboy whose friends call him "Tex" (because he's from Texas). The 33-year-old is a rodeo announcer who works as a Lasik eye technician by day. Last Thursday, he wore a large $275 cowboy hat, thick-soled boots and sported a Skoal patch on his denim shirt. He's gotten goaded for wearing his cowboy gear downtown, but a night like the Lone Tree's could change all that.
"We were hanging out with a guy who had dreadlocks last night," Tex said. "Once the barriers go down and they realize that we party just like them, we get along great."
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