Party in the barn
Initially, Mike Strauch just wanted to find a place for his band, the Fortunate Few, to play, but when he stumbled across the Sacramento Horsemen’s Association, he ended up with much more. Now, Strauch’s monthly Rootstock barn dance is a regular fundraiser for the SHA with live music, food and family-friendly activities. Strauch, who co-organizes the event with his wife, Joanne McLaughlin, talked to SN&R about Rootstock and its place in Sacramento’s country-music legacy.
How did you come up with the idea for a monthly barn dance?
I’d been looking for a venue where I could do live music, because there is a serious shortage of venues in Sacramento—at least medium-sized venues. There are small clubs that do small shows, and then there are big clubs that do big shows—but nothing really in between.
How did you end up connecting with the Sacramento Horsemen’s Association?
I’d been scouting venues for a while, and I drove by the SHA one day and stopped in and we started talking. It turns out that our needs dovetailed: I wanted a venue and they wanted to do a fundraiser.
What kind of fundraiser?
The Sacramento Horsemen’s Association does youth equestrian programs [in which] they provide their facility for a number of youth equine programs, charities and nonprofits. So the barn dance became a dual-purpose thing: to raise funds for the SHA in general and also awareness of what it’s doing.
What inspired the idea?
I have a band, the Fortunate Few, and a lot of times we’re just waiting for someone to call us with the right kind of gig. Doing the barn dance was a way we could have a steady gig … but repurposing old venues is [also] my life’s mission. Promoters are heroes because they keep doing it.
Yeah, this is a tough town for shows.
It is a tough town, but I think imagination is the missing link—and courage, too. A lot of times the people who run venues don’t want to open their minds to new ideas, and they end up going out of business while trying to find the courage to do something new.
Any plans to expand upon what you’re doing?
In September, we’re going to have a Rootstock Festival—a two-day event with 20 bands. We want it to have a strong regional bent, so we’ll have the best rockabilly and roots bands on the inside stage, and outside there’ll be bluegrass, western swing and straight country music.
Did you model the idea for the barn dance after anything else?
There is a historical model for this. When I was a kid growing up in Citrus Heights, a place called the C-Bar-C [Park] used to do a similar thing every fall. When I was a kid, my grandparents had a ranch there, and I remember riding on the hay wagon with all the other kids and the feeling that this was a gathering of community and a celebration of time and place.
What’s a typical barn dance like?
It’s in a hall at the SHA—a big knotty-pined room built in 1942. …
It starts at noon with an open acoustic jam—that’s open to anyone who shows up. Then at 2 p.m. we have a live band. We’ve had [artists such as] Richard March and Mike Blanchard and KB & the Slingtones—and that usually goes until about 6 p.m., until it’s dark. It’s a family-oriented show with the kids out playing in the back, so when the sun goes down, it’s time to shut it down. We’d like to go longer into the night. I’d like it to become more like a nighttime honky-tonk.
Are you trying to create an old-fashioned type of event?
Definitely, there’s a history of Sacramento in country music, and it got disconnected in the ’70s and ’80s. The kind of music my band plays is vintage honky-tonk from the ’50s and ’60s and also western swing. This town used to be a big country-music town, and we’re just trying to bring some of that back.
Do you have a favorite barn-dance moment?
I don’t remember the exact show, but the best time was once when the kids were out running around and everyone felt comfortable … everyone was relaxed. It was great, it was exactly what I wanted it to be—the grandparents were sitting around, and the parents were dancing and the kids were running around and no one was stressing. It was wonderful.