Unlikely as it seems, a 100-year-old Kentucky tobacco barn has become the vortex of Montgomery County's bustling country and Americana scene. In less than two years, The Woodlands' Dosey Doe Coffee House (25911 I-45 North) has gone from fledgling enterprise to major venue.
And Dosey Doe is only part of the flourishing scene just north of the Harris County line. Once-sleepy Conroe now supports several festivals and concert series, and more venues are in the pipeline.
Dosey Doe is the brainchild of Steve Said, who owns a bank-equipment and software company and has spent much of his adult life on the fringes of the music business as a ghostwriter. (He worked on Collective Soul's "Shine" and Dan Hartman's '80s hit "I Can Dream About You.") Still, Said never pictured himself as a venue owner.
Dosey Doe Coffee House
"I had this piece of property on the I-45 feeder I needed to do something with or sell," he says.
An avid collector of Americana objects, Said was viewing a major collection in Ohio that was housed in an old barn that had been taken apart, moved 150 miles and reassembled. Intrigued, Said began searching for a similar barn. At the same time, Said was at a point where he was trying to find "that thing in life you think you were meant to do."
With the success of Starbucks staring him in the face, he got interested in coffee.
"I took some courses though the American Coffee Association. I never knew until then what a nose I have," he says. "After some education and practice, I got to where I could tell what any coffee was and where it came from just by smelling it."
Today, he roasts, grinds and ships over 1,000 pounds of coffee per day; his most recent major customer is cowboy singer Michael Martin Murphey. Once Said finally found a suitable barn, in Kentucky, it took another year to get it moved to The Woodlands.
"As we began putting it back together, it dawned on me — we have to take acoustics into account."
Sound engineers were brought in and, when the oak and birch barn was finally ready, local sound guru Harold Rubens pronounced the structure one of the most acoustically perfect rooms he'd ever encountered.
"And that's what the artists who play here always tell us," says Said. "Clint Black liked it so much, he literally wanted to know everything about it."
After a slow start, Said says Dosey Doe has finally hit the national map.
"At first, I just had to be very aggressive about chasing acts," he explains. "It's only been in the last year when acts like BeauSoleil have called us wanting to play here that I began to feel like maybe we've arrived. In fact, Larry Gatlin, who played here a few months back, has been our best salesman. His word-of-mouth support has been huge."
Besides BeauSoleil, Black and Gatlin, Said counts recent gigs by Fred Eaglesmith, Mason Williams and Gary Nicholson as booking milestones.
"Jerry Jeff Walker hasn't played a small venue [the Dosey Doe accommodates 260] in 15 years, but he'll be here February 14."
In the next 90 days, Dosey Doe, which features gourmet chef Dan McEachern and coffee roasted on location, will play host to an array of national and international stars like Richie Havens, Carlene Carter, Pam Tillis, Juice Newton, John Conlee, Hayes Carll, Asleep at the Wheel and B.J. Thomas. The club also hosts the "Real Life — Real Music" songwriter series, where noted songwriters (Bryan White, Rodney Hayden) not only play their work but tell the stories behind the songs.
Said notes the Dosey Doe concept has been so successful that he's considering another location, in downtown Conroe, whose city fathers have been solidly behind a revitalization program that includes the renovation of the Crighton Theater (234 N. Main).
Debbie Glenn serves on the Sounds of Texas music committee, which books the Crighton, and also works with the Conroe Cajun Catfish Festival, an annual three-day event featuring regional and national acts. Glenn credits Conroe City Councilman J. Ross Martin and Mayor Tommy Melder for the emphasis on music in downtown Conroe.
"J. Ross is just so into this music and he knows his stuff," she says. "And our mayor, our Main Street director Larry Calhoun and all the other city council members see music and art as important ingredients for revitalizing downtown."
The 2009 Sounds of Texas Music Series has booked Los Lonely Boys, Chris Knight, Guy Clark and the Flatlanders, and negotiations are under way with Nashville heavyweight Darrell Scott for 2010. Glenn, an insurance agent, also hopes to get a Texas Independence Day Festival off the ground in 2009.
"Montgomery County is growing by leaps and bounds," she says. "I think we all agree that entertainment and music have to be in the mix for the kind of community we want here."
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The City of Conroe also sponsors an outdoor First Thursday in the Park concert series; according to Martin, a Friday in the Park series is on the drawing board.
"We are all about the arts and the artists," Glenn stresses. "We go to great lengths to treat the artists well and make them comfortable. That's why we've been able to book people like Richard Thompson, who'd probably never even heard of Conroe until he played the Crighton."
"Music is just part of our total arts and cultural package," Melder says. "Name me another town with a population of 54,000 with three first-class facilities — the Crighton, the new Owen Theatre and Heritage Park — dedicated to the promotion of arts and culture.
"Companies that consider moving to Conroe look at more than just water rates, sewer rates and schools — they want to know what you have to offer as a city," Melder adds. "We had Marvin Hamlisch here at the Crighton Saturday night. How many small cities can say that?"