The Blues Are Back in Town
Words by Olivia Singer, Photos by Sarah Northrop
“The number of talented artists and musicians we have around here is incredible. It never ceases to amaze me how great some of these people are that live right here in our community,” says Pat McCallum, owner of Mac’s Nightclub, a restaurant, bar and live music venue in Eugene, Oregon. Mac’s is advertised as “the home of the blues.” Since opening nearly 15 years ago, McCallum has faced some challenges with the popularity of his business, as he considers a blues club a bit of a “dinosaur.” “We manage to sustain and remain relevant, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that it’s a challenge.”Although McCallum has encountered some business obstacles over the years, Mac’s has built its own community over time.
Mac’s is located on 16th and Willamette Street and hidden inside the old, white Veterans Memorial Building. From the outside, many may not realize the inside of this 1946 building hosts a nightclub with the longest standing bar in Eugene, signed instruments, images of musicians covering the walls, underground club lighting, and bands on stage playing live music.
Every Tuesday night, Mac’s features live blues music. On Wednesdays it’s jazz and variety and the rest of the week features other genres like folk-rock, reggae, rock & roll, R&B and classic rock. Although Mac’s started primarily as a blues music venue, it has since introduced these other genres of live music over the years. McCallum says this shift was necessary to reach out to greater audiences. “Some of the music is world class stuff, some truly dynamic music,” he says. They host local, regional, and sometimes even national bands.
McCallum says the average customer is aged from 45 to 50, or older. “Primarily, we definitely cater to an older demographic,” he says. “I think the music is a big part of that. But I also think there are very few establishments in Eugene where people of this age group can go out and still enjoy live music and dance to live music.” Though McCallum may not always see the number of customers he hopes for, he does often see familiar faces. Much of Mac’s clientele are “regulars” and have found this venue to be a comfortable and special location.
“Music is something you can play ‘till you drop.”
In a place like Eugene it can often feel as though the city exists around the University of Oregon, and all of the young people who attend. A place like Mac’s opens up a location where people of any age can dance, drink, eat and enjoy an evening out.
Betsy Williams is a Mac’s regular. She has been coming to Mac’s for the last few years since her West Coast Swing Club started meeting in the ballroom upstairs of the Veteran’s Memorial Building. “Some of us [from the club] started coming on Tuesdays because there is just nothing like dancing to live music,” she says. Williams has been teaching jazzercise for 20 years and says she lives for dancing. “I always tell my students ‘Hey I am going to dance at Mac’s tonight!’ and several of my students have come here because they love to dance also.”
Williams says Mac’s feels like a safe place. “I come down here sometimes to meet friends or sometimes I come down by myself and there are usually people here that I know.” Mac’s is unique for being one of the few places in town to listen to live music and for much of her generation to go out and feel comfortable dancing to it, she says.
Byron Case, house bass player and co-host of the “Rooster Blues Jam” has been performing at Mac’s for many years. Every Tuesday evening the Rooster Blues Jam hosts an event where individuals and sometimes groups of musicians come to Mac’s and sign up to perform. The Rooster Blues Jam sign-up sheet includes space for guitar, bass, drums, vocal, harmonica, keyboards, horn and “other.” The hosts then form completely unique musical groups from the names on the list and put them together for a 35 minute set to perform for the audience with no rehearsal. Many of these musicians are regulars but sometimes there are new faces, artists eager to perform.
“We are very lucky to have this wonderful, historical building for our Tuesday night Blues Jam, which is kind of like a social club,” says Case.“We all know everybody: Dancers, musicians, and people who just like to listen to good music. This is something we do for fun. There’s no pay. It’s just for fun.” Performing every Tuesday, Case says that Mac’s feels like his second home. “Music is something you can play ‘till you drop. I’m retired. I’m 70 but I just enjoy it. I love seeing people smile.”
Though McCallum has encountered some obstacles with the relevance of older styles of live music, a sense of community has been found inside the old, white building and he certainly doesn’t plan to change that anytime soon. In a time where inclusiveness often feels hard to come by, Mac’s provides an environment where people of all ages can feel comfortable dancing or coming together just to enjoy their shared passion for music.