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Blues, Barbeque, Brews, and Dogs

Arts & Entertainment

By Ryan Howell

Somewhere north of here someone is shoveling snow and daydreaming of the Florida lifestyle. It’s the experience of walking in sandals from the water to going see live music in the courtyard at the Ale and the Witch on a Sunday night they are thinking of.  Two Sundays a month there’s a small local get together at the Ale and the Witch tavern in Saint Petersburg. It’s one of those little treasures that epitomize living in this quaint but great city. Only the locals know about it. There’s barbeque for your belly, any kind of craft beer you could want, and three hours of soulful blues by one the areas best local acts, the Betty Fox band.

The Ale and the Witch is a beer garden located at 111 2nd Ave NE in Saint Petersburg. It shares an open courtyard with a few neighboring businesses, including the Witches Den Barbeque. They are open from three in the afternoon to midnight on most nights and boast one of the best craft beers selections around in a city. Whatever your taste, be it rich, thick stouts or porters, to ciders and fruity Hefeweizens, they have you covered. The same great folks that run the Ale and the Witch also run the Witches Den. I spoke with longtime bartender Vickie, who has been with the Ale and the Witch since it started. When asked if they were a family operation she replied, “We aren’t family but we have all been working together for more than ten years. It’s been a great success and just worked out really well, so it feels like family.” In fact, some people even bring their families, including the kids. Earplugs are a good idea though; sometimes it can get loud.

Over the past few years Ale and the Witch has established itself as a local hotspot for a wide array of musical styles. Alt country, rock, folk, jam bands, reggae, bluegrass, and the blues can be heard on any given night from courtyard. Local bands like Applebutter Express, Cope, and Uncle John’s band have found the Ale and the Witch’s courtyard a great place to play and expand their fan bases. One local talent that has been making regular stops at the Ale and the Witch is the Betty Fox Band, a powerful blues quartet from Tampa. The Betty Fox Band is comprised of Kid Royal on the guitar, Barry Williams on the bass guitar, Sam Farmer on the drum set, and the beautiful Betty Lou Fox singing her heart out behind the microphone. Together they jam out a nice mix of blues classics and covers, as well as their own original recordings. They have one album released thus far, 2012’s Too Far Gone, and the highly anticipated Slow Burn, which is nearly completed after nearly two years of hard work. Their set spans everything from funk and soul to rhythm and blues, and Betty Fox sings it all with raw power. It’s the kind of performance that only happens when the performer loves what they are doing. In just one song she may bring the soul like Aretha Franklin and the scream of Janis Joplin. Yet, when she’s up on stage, she makes it look natural and easy. Betty Lou Fox started singing in a family gospel quartet with her cousins and few years ago decided to make her passion a full time gig. Guitarist Kid Royal can sing the blues himself, jamming out on blues mainstays like the Muddy Waters classic, Hoochie Cooche Man, when Betty takes a break to visit with family and friends. And we can’t forget the steady back beat and rhythm provided by Williams and Farmer. They make the perfect compliment to Betty and Kid’s all out style.

The Good Sunday Revue is a family friendly event for music lovers of all styles. You can even bring your best friend as long as they’re on a leash. That’s right, The Ale and the Witch is a dog friendly establishment. They even keep a couple water dishes by each door. While the band played on stage the dogs played in the courtyard. There were small dogs, large dogs, dachshunds, corgis, boxers, a chocolate lab and even a poodle. They seemed to be having just as good a time as the people, though they paid more attention to the barbeque than the band.

If the music, the craft beers, and the food aren’t enough for you, the Good Sunday Revue is also raising money for charity. Organized by Betty Fox herself, it has raised money for a variety of charities around the bay area. One Sunday’s proceeds went to RedefiningRefuge.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping victims of sexual abuse and trafficking. This group provide a safe house for women rescued from the sex trade, as well rehabilitation so that they may find meaningful, and last change in their lives. When asked why it was important for her to take the time out of her busy touring and recording schedule to do a smaller charitable show like this Betty replied, “I have never been someone who is about just me and taking as much as I can from life. It’s important to give back to the community in some way, and this organization in particular is important to me because of all that they do for these women. They give them a safe house to get back on their feet again.” That kind of good karma goes a long way. By the beginning of their last set an anonymous donor matched this Sunday’s Good Revue proceeds, furthering the cause just that much more. The Good Sunday Revue is a great chance to kick back and relax to local music while supporting a great cause. How often does such a good time come with such greats tastes and even greater rewards?

Header photo from Ale and Witch facebook page.

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