The Old Folsom crawl

Cover bands, country bars and Mission-style burritos: Midtown isn’t the region’s only nightlife scene

Thunder Cover rocks the Saturday night crowd at Powerhouse Pub.

Thunder Cover rocks the Saturday night crowd at Powerhouse Pub.

Photo by Ashley Hayes-Stone

The 9 p.m. pilgrimage starts at the Sutter Club, a friendly sports dive that sells cigarettes and the night’s first round. We’re not here for the billiards or the jukebox, where Pantera raises hell.

Our eyes are dead onto the frontier along Sutter Street. The old-West strip is quieter than usual, the bouncer says, but that’ll change in about 30 minutes.

There’s more to the Sacramento region’s nightlife than downtown or Midtown. Toward South Sacramento, shows at the Morgue and Café Colonial keep the all-ages underground alive. In West Sac, Swabbies on the River draws partiers to a mariner’s paradise on the riverfront. In Roseville, the Opera House Saloon’s grand hall draws dance-lovers.

On this night, it’s Folsom’s historic district. On the southwest corner, families have a late dinner at the Fat Rabbit Public House and Hop Sing Palace. Down the street, it’s a packed house at the Gaslight Company, where The Vintage Find is hosting its album release show. The five-member Americana band crams into a corner of the narrow bar.

For lead singer Chris Matthews, who’s lived in Folsom for years and hits the Gaslight’s Wednesday open-mic with his son Jason, the bar’s a good hangout and a hotspot for new bands.

For Jason, it’s an opportunity: The 16-year-old played a few songs during The Vintage Find’s intermission. He’s at the beginning of his journey, playing in bands and busking as a singer-guitarist.

“I first started playing guitar at 14,” he said. “As I got better and better, this bar encouraged me a lot. … Around here, it seems they like helping people.”

The tables on the Gaslight’s outdoor deck overlook the action. The Sutter Street Sock Co. booms with customers, while further down Sutter Street at the Folsom Hotel, the classic rock cover band Playback brings a retro party with hits from Thin Lizzy and Peter Frampton.

While the Gaslight features original music, the Folsom Hotel and its neighbor, the Powerhouse Pub, are well-known for hosting cover and tribute bands on the weekends. While it’s mostly middle-aged drinkers and dancers carving out elbow room during Playback’s set, the crowd is eclectic: a health care worker from Rancho Murieta who prefers an older crowd and a retired programmer from the Bay Area who played in bands and loves live music.

Traveling busker Will Murrill plays his song, “Mitote,” to Sutter Street pedestrians.

Photo by Ashley Hayes-Stone

“Folsom has got a different vibe,” said Ed Nelson, frontman of Playback, die-hard rock ‘n’ rollers who dig a blue-collar crowd. “You get a lot folks, people in their 40s and 50s, and even in their 60s, who like classic rock. We just have a great time here …I don’t get home ’til 3 a.m., and I can’t talk the next day. But well worth it.”

Across the street is the Powerhouse Pub, a multi-room nightclub on sensory overload. Psychedelic, glow-in-the-dark paint splatters complement ukuleles, tiki masks and Hawaii license plates plastered to the walls. On the main stage, it looks like a country bar; in the middle area, it looks like a tropical DJ nightclub with a cigar bar and hookah lounge. And the venue’s last room, Scarlett’s, is a foggy nightclub led by former 103.5 DJ Jason “Sugar Bear” Harris.

Owner Naz Nguyen worked at Powerhouse for more than a decade before taking over six years ago. Now, she handles every aspect of the business: the booking, the people, the janitorial work and the weekend rapture. Her children work the front of the house, selling hot dogs and checking IDs.

“It’s controlled chaos,” Nguyen said.

The night ends as quietly as it started at the Sutter Street Taqueria, one of the only local restaurants open until 2 a.m. The most popular menu item is the carnitas super burrito with chile verde, which owner Rosario Rodriguez modeled after the burritos in the Mission District in San Francisco, where she grew up.

Rodriguez moved to Folsom 12 years ago and opened the taqueria in 2016. “I’m a bonafide workaholic, and I said, ‘I want to work for myself,'” she said. “I’m a foodie at heart. I want to bring a little bit of home to Folsom.”

Folsom is changing, said Rodriguez, who plans to run for City Council next year.

“I love that it’s a growing little town. I love that there’s so much history,” she said. “And now you have people that are trying to preserve the small town feel. … I think it’ll be an interesting time in the next 20 to 30 years.”