Back in line (dancing)

Honky-tonk hotspot returns, re-imagined but true to its roots

Owners Todd and Cindy Peterson hope to open Pure Country Canteen by New Year’s Eve.

Owners Todd and Cindy Peterson hope to open Pure Country Canteen by New Year’s Eve.

Stepping inside Pure Country Canteen—the resurrected honky-tonk about to redeem die-hard country music and dance fans across Northern Nevada—the smell of sawdust on a wooden dance floor reaffirms that this place aims to be the next real deal. The buzz has begun: Pure Country 2.0 is returning to Sparks, and for those who thirst for authentic honky-tonk ambience, it’s been a long wait.

As owners Todd and Cindy Peterson ready the club, hoping to open by New Year’s Eve, they reflect on the passion behind their project.

“Basically, a love of country music, country life and the country community,” Cindy said. “Everything to do with the dancing, and getting back to country roots, versus steering to what the new country sounds like, the hip-hop and whatnot. We wanna go back to the roots.”

It’s a lively debate, with both artists and their fans weighing in. Devotees of old-school country—a string-infused sound with fiddle, pedal steel, mandolin—assert that much of today’s slickly-produced “crossover” music—with pop and rap sticking an overpriced-sneaker-sporting foot in the genre’s door—absolutely is not country. A new generation grooves to artists marketed as country, complete with crossover songs and videos with superstars in skinny jeans and couture, flanked by a squad of backup dancers, overkill choreography, synthesizers, and the lackadaisical label of “today’s country.” Yet the not-so-subtle, boundary-blurring incorporation of pop melodies and rap rhythms and lyrics, prevents it from being classified as traditional Country & Western.

“I don’t think country is pop—and that’s where it’s leading to these days,” Cindy said. “People want true country again. Any place you go to now mimics the pop-culture of country. We are going to give people what they’ve been asking for and wanting, because it has been void in our community.”

Opening a honky-tonk is a natural progression of the Petersons’ love of the long-shuttered Pure Country Dancehall & Saloon that thrived on Oddie Boulevard beginning in 2003. It was the real deal, with live bands that played traditional country, a dance floor and pool tables.

“That was my home-away-from-home,” said Cindy, who met Todd when they were students at Reno High School. Former owner Cathi Woods, now living in Texas, gave her blessing for them to incorporate the old club’s name into the new one.

“We reached out and asked if she would mind if we used the Pure Country name, and she was happy to have us do it. When we have our grand opening, she’s going to be here and pass the baton to us.”

The proverbial baton probably has longhorns. Music comes and goes, but Cindy says that the essential elements of a honky-tonk are timeless.

“A honky-tonk is a live country band, a jukebox, people line-dancing and country couples. It’s got the attire. It’s old. It’s rustic. It’s barnsy. It’s what this is.”

Wild country

Pure Country Canteen features a 1,000-square-foot hickory dance floor, providing plenty of room for dancers doing the waltz, two-step or Texas swing. Cindy’s band, Nevada Hazzurd, will perform, and the new Canteen will have karaoke on Wednesdays, and rotate local acts like Silverwing, Greg Austin & Southern Justice Band, NV 445, and the Joey Carmon Band on Fridays and Saturdays, starting at 8:30 p.m. Vikki Vaquera will teach line and couples dances, but not with a DJ.

At 520 E. Prater Way in Sparks, PCC includes a restaurant that will serve lunch and dinner, beginning at 11 a.m., seven days a week. Cowpoke folk can enjoy canteen-like “grub”—sandwiches, loaded baked potatoes, nachos, salads, fries, chili and chowder in bread bowls, fresh baked goods, and hot pretzels—in a smoke-free environment. Todd, one-half of the couple’s other business of home-repairs, explains that the honky-tonk vibe is real, too.

“The wood is from barns, old shacks, old fences,” he said. “All the décor is antique, or unique items, very warm and rustic, to make you feel like you’ve lived here a million years.”

In Goldfield, Mina and Beatty, they scored branding irons, barrels, tooled-leather barstools, and other accoutrements perfect for Pure Country Canteen’s interior, one that y’all can bet will have a jukebox.

“On our jukebox, you can only play country,” Cindy said with a little laugh that implied this one simple rule must be enforced. “The bands have been told to only play country—classic and some newer stuff. Some of it’s fine, some of the artists are trying to stay pure to it.”

Without one real honky-tonk, Reno’s status as a Wild West town would surely suffer. Longtime Reno radio disc jockey J.J. Christy—who moved here in 1987, and still works for country station KBUL 98.1—recalls a chronological list of honky-tonks that held their own, long-gone places like the Shy Clown casino, Rodeo Rock, Easy Street and Haywire, to name a few.

“The Shy Clown had shut down, and a lot of country artists used to come there,” Christy said. “Things have changed over the years, but I think a real good honky-tonk has to have the atmosphere. It’s something you feel comfortable in. You can have new and shiny, but it’s gotta feel like a comfortable pair of shoes.”

Or cowboy boots. Christy concurs that Reno’s Wild West history simply wouldn’t be the same without the vital honky-tonk. In a city brimming with talented musicians, we’re at a critical juncture, as our live-music scene dwindles, musicians struggle for gigs, and many venues opt to have a DJ.

“Like it or not, as big as we’re getting, we’re still a country-music kind of town,” said Christy. “You would think we’d have more country bars for dancing, but just the opposite is true. We have little pockets, here and there. As it stands right now, we don’t have that huge nightclub for country dancers right now, and we haven’t for quite some time. You’ve got to super-serve your clients, so you’ve got to know where their tastes lie.”

The Petersons move toward their target, completing construction on the Canteen so they can open before the year is out. For this country couple, failure is not an option. They’re determined to have staying power.

“I do believe that sometimes [venues fail], because they didn’t stick to their roots, and started catering to pop,” Cindy said. “I believe if we stick to what we do—and not worry about pleasing everyone, but pleasing our country crowd—we’ll be just fine. When we open, they’ll be here. We’ve already got an outpouring from the community.”

The original Pure Country club had—literally—swingin’ doors, something the creative Petersons can deftly craft for the new Pure Country Canteen. On the first night, when their doors open, and real country music wafts into the parking lot, and the dressed-up, die-hard cowpoke folk stream in, and those first beers are poured, perhaps it’s that hickory-wood dance floor scent that will most define northern Nevada’s newest country music venue as an authentic honky-tonk.