The new owner and operators of Lee's Liquor Lounge pledged not to mess with a good thing upon taking over the vintage Minneapolis watering hole this past summer, but they have lost one of their best things at year's end: The Trailer Trash Trashy Little Xmas concerts.
All six of the old-school country band's remaining holiday shows — a 22-year tradition that usually packs the place — will relocate to new venues, starting with the Aster Café this Saturday night. Other sites are being scouted for the other gigs.
The news arrived late Wednesday night via Facebook, where Trailer Trash posted a note alerting its fans.
"It is with deep regret that we have to announce that Trailer Trash and Lee's Liquor Lounge have called it quits after 22 years," the posting read. "Due to irreconcilable differences, the band and the bar's new management have severed ties."
Trailer Trash band leader Nate Dungan did not want to get much more specific than that over the phone, citing concern of litigation. He put the blame on new Lee's Liquor Lounge owner Craig Kruckeberg and his representatives.
"They made us an offer we had to refuse," Dungan said, pointing to "several different" alterations to the band's longtime agreement with the bar, on the west end of downtown at 101 Glenwood Av.
"It's their club now, yes, but they don't own the music or the crowds."
Kruckeberg said the dispute was over the number of advance tickets sold to the event. He claimed Trailer Trash wants to sell tickets over the bar's legal 203-person capacity. The band often performs several sets over the course of four hours, so people usually come and go.
"I understand this is what's been done in the past, but I can't risk going over the capacity and going to court or losing my liquor license," said Kruckeberg, who pointed out that he hired Trailer Trash to play his wedding.
"I love the band. I'm as disappointed as anyone."
A first-time bar owner who also runs a successful trucking accessories business, Kruckeberg bought Lee's in June from the saloon's beloved owner of 39 years, Louie Sirian, who wanted to retire.
At the time, Kruckeberg said, "I love it as is," and, "I just couldn't let an iconic bar and watering hole get torn down to build another condo building."
Dungan did not see a possible reconciliation.
"It's heartbreaking leaving the place after 22 years," the bandleader said, but he added, "Christmas has not been canceled. We're still going to have a lot of fun."
Tickets sold to Saturday's gig will be honored at the Aster Café, on the other side of the river from Lee's in the St. Anthony Main riverfront district. Stay tuned for venue information on the other scheduled dates. The band also hosts its less-trashy family matinee version of the holiday concerts Sunday afternoon at the Cedar Cultural Center.
Lee's staff is working on finding replacement acts for the six newly vacated nights.