Tuesday, October 7, 2014

117 South Main (South Main Cafe)

117 South Main  -  Photo courtesy of Linda Ruth Schwab


Not long after this former church building housed the New River Trading Company, it transformed into what many people consider to be the best bar and music venue Blacksburg ever had.

If I have the story right, three business fellows (Bob "Bullwinkle" Summerell, Al Freeman, and Fred Blake) shifted from Levi's to Budweisers around 1973, and over the next couple of years the partnerships changed to include Steve McBroom and most importantly Mike Schwab.

By 1975 or 76, Mike Schwab became the sole owner of the establishment which eventually included wife Linda Ruth.  They enjoyed a 20-year run, and the number of little known and well known musical acts that graced the stage is countless.  In the latter years (1984 to 1995) the joint was known as South Main Cafe, but everyone I knew just called it "117".

If you're too young to remember this place, that's a shame because it was definitely the primary gathering place for cowboys, hippies, and everything in between.  I remember the long neck Buds, pinball machines, pool tables, and a balcony above.  It was rustic, but that's the way we liked it.  Today it is home to Cabo Fish Taco.

I know this post is going to fill up with comments.  Looking forward to the reader's own memories of drunkenness, debauchery, and ass-kicking music.

39 comments:

  1. I first saw what quickly became one of my favorite bands, Eddie From Ohio, when I was a freshman in '98. I saw them there at least twice, the last time (prior to its sale in maybe '01 or '02?) the band later commented that they couldn't hear anything because the crowd was so loud. Also saw Carbon Leaf there (I think twice). It was an awesome venue and still my favorite place to see good music.

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  2. Saw the Dixie Dregs there around 1980, from the balcony. Remember the beer menu being behind glass in an ornamental wood case. Empty Beers got thrown into a plastic trash can, crashing against the others. Would hear that sound all night. Skip Castro around 1980 too, with their guitarist walking on the tables.

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    1. The Dregs were also at 117 in the fall of 1983 (I think late October) the night the played in Radford. I remember they showed up about 11pm after they played their set at Radford, and then proceeded to play in Blacksburg for maybe another 45 minutes.

      The next night they were scheduled in Charlottesville, but I remember the a few of the guys said that while they were in the New River Valley area, they wanted to stop and play another set at 117.

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  5. We danced to many bands many nights, drinking lots of beer. ��

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  6. Loved this place. I spent many a night hanging out there during the mid to late 70's. Great music and atmosphere. Love your blog too. It brings back a lot of memories. I lived in C-burg, but spent most of my time in Blacksburg and remember all of the places in your posts. Thanks for doing this.

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  7. Well things really got crazy when we finished playing and all the customers left and Mike locked all the doors, and then....Hmmm, maybe I better just shut up now.

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  8. "Stillwater" was a remarkable southern rock band that played their to packed houses numerous times during the mid '70s. Lost a piece of my front tooth during one of their shows when a jerk blind sided me because we wouldn't let him push thru to the front.

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    1. Stillwater was a great band. Saw the in DC during the mid 1970s as well.

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  9. My buddy and I were thrown out one night, circa '73, for lighting a joint in the balcony.

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    1. It very well may I been me that threw you out (worked to door ~ '73 thru '75). We did not tolerate that sort of thing as it provided to easy an excuse for the authorities to pull the beer license.

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  14. At least as late as '82, maybe later, on Wednesday nights every beer in the first keg was a penny.

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  15. At least as late as '82, maybe later, on Wednesday nights every beer in the first keg was a penny.

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  16. saw the classic band Bill Blue Band at 117 south main in 1982. What a great show. Never will forget that night. That place was hoppin. For my 4 years at VT-1980-1984- best music venue by far in Blacksburg. Also saw 3 members of 38 Special at 117 the night before they played in Cassell Colesium.

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    1. I was at the Bill Blue Band show AND also saw the 38 guys at 117 as well. great memories.

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    2. The Outlaws, Molly Hatchet with Jimmy Farrar and Toto also played at 117 in the early 1980s as did the Charlie Daniels band.

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  18. Going back to the clothes, I remember seeing a t-shirt with a bullseye on it with "STUDENT' below, during and after the "revolt" about '71 - '72. I think we also called it 117.

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  20. I remember going to see Steve Forbert there in the early 90's (I think). Steven Wright was in the audience -- he'd performed earlier in the evening at Burruss. Forbert was doing his encore, planning to do "Romeo's Tune" (his hit), and asking the audience what song they'd like him to do, but people kept shouting out obscure stuff from his other albums.

    I remember seeing Lowen and Navarro there multiple times, including one show where the two of them came out into the middle of the crowd to do an acoustic version of "We Belong". It was amazing.

    Many shows with The Kind and other local talent.

    Cabo is nice, I guess, but I do miss the old 117

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  21. Favorite SMC experience was the Pietasters and Toasters in '94. Just missed the Dave Matthews days. Great venue.

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  22. Favorite SMC experience was the Pietasters and Toasters in '94. Just missed the Dave Matthews days. Great venue.

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  23. Pud Land Jam Band rocked 117 in the early 70's !

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  24. Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin - great times.

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  25. LOL I stumbled in here on a sunny weekday afternoon as a child of about 9 or 10 walking by sometime in 74 or 75... I recall a very trippy lighting scene and some music playing along with some "hippies" looking quizically at me like "wtf" .

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  26. Blue Sparks from Hell, Good Humor Band, Skip Castro.

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  27. Many great memories for me, 1981-86 as a student, then frequent visits back until early 90s. When the wall fell down in 1986, several of us banded together to help Mike and Linda Ruth get the place going again. I took pictures of the process, and documented it in a Facebook photo album on my page.
    I've made it public so folks can see it, but my images are copyrighted.

    https://www.facebook.com/eugene.evon/media_set?set=a.10150260032334836.344663.765089835&type=3

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  28. 117-Northstar Band- WUVT live remotes - Deadwood Days - big part of my life from 76 - 82...

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  29. 117 was just the best venue ever. So many great bands and good times. Can't count the number of times I saw Robin Thompson there, "Another Cup of Coffee and a Cigarette" sung with such intensity that the veins in his neck were bulging out. The Good Humor Band ending their shows with "And the Girls All Look Prettier at Closing Time". Some of my roommates had a band called "The Keen" that played there a few time. Have great memories of other bands like Smalltalk out of Bethesda and a couple of visits from one of the best Rockabilly bands ever, Tex Rabinowitz and The Bad Boys.......and of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention The Charlottesville Blues Allstars. Thought the world of Mike and Linda, it was a great run for them and for all of use that got to enjoy it.

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  30. What Rob just said. I've just moved back to the SE after life and career out west. Several trips back to Tech the last couple years brought back TONS of memories, many surrounding 117. Saw all those iconic bands previously mentioned. Had forgotten about The Keen. Fun trip down memory lane.

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  31. 74-77. Great years at VT and many nights at 117. Drinking beer, shooting pool in the balcony and listening to Stillwater and Snuff. Never missed a Snuff show!

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