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Saving Byron’s — one song at a time

Musical community rallies to help raise funds, find new location

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Byron Stuart, owner of Byron's Bar in Pomeroy, allows himself a few quiet minutes between the Friends of Byron's meeting and the show that Sunday evening. Efforts are underway to save the music venue and move it to a new location.

POMEROY — There’s a magic place called Byron’s out among the fields of corn and soybeans. To get there, you only have to drive to Pomeroy, then find the small town’s downtown. Look for a row of storefronts built in 1893. The one you want is on the south end. It’s the only one actually occupied. The others are long closed: The building is falling apart and the sidewalk is blocked off by orange safety fence to keep pedestrians off.

Once inside, finding Byron’s owner, Byron Stuart, won’t be hard at all.

He’s usually down at the end of the bar in “Byron’s Chair.” He is a smiling, bald man with a closely cropped neat beard in coveralls, some sort of tie-dyed shirt and in one of his hundreds of pairs of Croc shoes.

Stuart directs the magic of live music that “only happens once” at Byron’s.

“I knew I wanted music here,” he said. “The first artist was Larry Meyer. On March 4, 2001, I had my first national act, Todd Snyder. Canned Heat played here for my 50th birthday. Can you imagine what Canned Heat thought when they pulled up here?”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Byron Stuart, owner of Byron's in Pomeroy, calls out a winning number for one of the door prizes during a recent Sunday evening show. The door prizes, which include whimsical things like work gloves, back scratchers and pictures of the show, are given away during set breaks.

That magic has been ongoing almost every Sunday evening since then.

Then the needle got dragged across the record when the city of Pomeroy made it known that they would like the building Byron’s is in to be taken down.

Stuart, who will tell you he operates on a shoestring budget, didn’t have the money for the engineering study the city asked for, much less any renovations it might have required.

But as it turns out, he does have a lot of friends who stepped up to save his place.

Dave Hearn, of Fort Dodge, is the chair of the Friends of Byron.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Before a recent Sunday evening show, Byron's owner Byron Stuart prepares some of the door prize items given away during set breaks. Yes, someone will be gifted the bucket too.

One of the first things he did was set up a GoFundMe page to raise money. As of Sunday, it’s $85 short of $30,000 with a goal of $100,000.

“Our best option is to move to a new location,” Hearn said. “We’re looking for a place to move to in Pomeroy. Buildings here are not very costly, but to make them habitable is what’s going to be costly. If we can raise $100,000, we feel we can get Byron an opportunity in short order.”

The group didn’t stop with an online fundraiser. They’ve already organized the first of a series of concerts to help raise the money to save Byron’s.

“We’ve got musicians that want to do something,” he said. “Byron’s is really not a place, it’s a community. There’s a lot of musicians that can’t imagine not having that to come to.”

The first Iowa Roots For Byron’s concert is 3 to 8 p.m. on March 3 in the historic Phillips Auditorium, 1015 Fifth Ave. N. VIP tickets sold out in hours. General admission tickets are still available on EventBrite.com.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Byron Stuart, owner of Byron's in Pomeroy, calls out a winning number for one of the door prizes during a recent Sunday evening show.

Musicians include Chad Elliott, Jordan Messerole, Todd Partridge, Dave Zollo, The Weary Ramblers, David Huckfelt, Joe and Vicki Price, Dave Moore and Greg Brown.

“They’re all Iowa legends.” Hearn said.

Joe and Vicki Price are both Iowa Blues Hall of Fame members. They’re also proud veterans of many shows at Byron’s.

“We first played here maybe 20 years ago,” Vicki Price said. “It’s been a long time. The first time Joe went to Byron’s he came home and told me about the place. ‘This guy is great,’ he said. The next time I went, I said, ‘What are we doing in this place in the middle of nowhere, who’s going to come here?'”

Vicki Price loves everything about the place: Stuart, the wall-to-wall Grateful Dead decor, but mostly the fact that Byron’s is a listening room. The family of patrons is there to immerse themselves in the music.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Mace Hathaway performs recently during a Sunday evening at Byron's in Pomeroy.

“The people come for the music,” she said.

The magic of the place is Stuart’s.

“It’s about Byron,” she said. “It’s real magic that he makes. Here’s this gay man in a conservative part of Iowa. All the good things in life are rolled up in him. You feel like you’re among family. The whole venue is filled with these characters that should be in books.”

Chad Elliott, of Jefferson, will be playing the March 3 concert too.

“I first played Byron’s in 2011,” he said. “I remember loving it. I’d been wanting to play there. It became family immediately after that first gig. I felt like it was the perfect gathering of people who appreciate music, who get up and dance.”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Mace Hathaway is reflected in the mirror above the sink as he performs recently during a Sunday evening at Byron's in Pomeroy.

He also appreciates that the audience doesn’t expect the same show he played somewhere else a month before.

“I can go in any direction I want. I don’t have to stay stuck in my box; I’m valued,” he said. “That’s a wonderful thing. The people that get it, get it. When I play Byron’s, I’m playing the best bar in the universe. I can be as weird as I want at Byron’s. That’s a gift; everyone is weird.”

Elliott has been instrumental in reaching out to the other musicians that are playing the first show. They’re calling him now.

“I have a whole list of other artists that want to play,” he said. “This was my dream list of my favorites.”

Elliott is also contributing prints of one of his paintings. Other artists have contributed works as well. They will be sold on an online auction.

On a recent Sunday, Mace Hathaway played at Byron’s. His vehicle broke down on the way there. He still made it — not because it got fixed, but because a fan and frequent visitor, Marie Farrell, of Sioux City, went and picked him up.

“I did this because I wasn’t going to see this show canceled,” she said. “This place is my respite. This is where nothing but music and love exist. There’s an exchange of souls. I try to feed their soul the same way they feed mine. Your brain does something vastly different with music you’ve never heard before. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to take that man (Hathaway) back to Omaha.”

Musician Clint Riedel, of Barnum, stopped by to catch Hathaway’s set, see friends and enjoy a few beers.

“He called me to fill in once, he calls me the Iowa John Prine,” Riedel said. “It’s a listening room. There’s no better listening room than Byron’s. I’ve played honky tonks and I’ve played nursing homes — Byron’s is the best.”

Riedel helps organize the monthly Thursday Jam that gives anyone with a song in their heart and the ability to play or sing a bit to stop by and share.

Losing Byron’s current space is personal for Riedel.

“I was supposed to get married here,” he said. “It’s depressing. I met my future wife here. I really hope everyone comes out to donate. Let’s pad his pockets so there can be a Byron’s 2.0.”

Kymm Stokke, of Ames, was doing something that you’re only likely to see at a place like Byron’s.

She was working carefully with a pair of scissors to remove the dead blooms from some flowers in a vase on her table.

“It feels like home,” she said. “I felt welcome from the first time I came. You’ve got everything from hippies to white collar and everybody gets along.”

During the committee meeting, Dave Hearn asked Byron if he had wanted to say anything.

Stuart replied simply.

“Thank you.”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Kymm Stokke, of Ames, removes a few dead flowers from the arrangement on the table at Byron's in Pomeroy during a recent Sunday evening show.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Marie Farrell, of Sioux City, closes her eyes and listens to musician Mace Hathaway during a recent Sunday evening at Byron's in Pomeroy.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
The part of the building not occupied by Byron's in Pomeroy is fenced off to keep pedestrians off the sidewalk.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Dave Hearn, of Fort Dodge, leads a meeting of the Friends of Byron's before a recent Sunday show. The group is raising money to help move the Pomeroy music venue to a new building.

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