Joe Ely at Dosey Doe Conroe: Not Your Average Shopping-Center Show

It has been said that the original Dosey Doe recalls a cozier, more tastefully curated Branson, Missouri. To that comparison I often joke that it's more like a giant Cracker Barrel or Saltgrass Steakhouse with world-class in-store performances. But Saturday night at Dosey Doe's new Conroe location (463 FM 1488) I saw as unique a room as I have in years.

Antique doors, salvaged stained-glass window panes, flower vases and lampshades hang suspended from the ceiling like a still-frame from The Wizard of Oz's tornado scene. Hundred-pound sacks of flour are affixed to the back of every wall, and very heavy velvet curtains hang in front of thick glass windows, all in the name of sound quality.

The décor is as much "reclaimed" as anything else. Candles are set in Mason jars with a ribbon tied around them. During shows, the large main room is lit mainly by the light of 100 Philco radio dials. For a large venue carved out of an otherwise very normal shopping center in southern Conroe, the Dosey Doe Music Café retains every bit of the charming comforts of the Big Barn just south, in The Woodlands.

Chef Will Curtis furthers that charm with a menu of comfort foods like chicken fried steak and bread pudding, but also with fascinating choices like burgers made of wild boar, venison, American Kobe, and Texas Nilgai Antelope. If you need beer-courage to order that last one, the beer menu includes both Karbach and Southern Star as well as all the seasonal Shiners. And as usual, Dosey Doe always has impeccably efforted coffee service, better than even the nicest hotels in Houston.

Seeing Joe Ely and Joel Guzman seemed like the perfect introduction to Dosey Doe's new location. But by looking at the wall of autographed guitars and house photographer Dave Clements' 8X10s, it seems any of their shows would've been great. Roy Clark smiled down on our table. So did Edgar Winter, Robert Cray, Los Lobos and Alejandro Escovedo. I lost count of all the past shows I wished I'd been there for.

Artists must love playing there, because the only thing more fastidious than the food and the ambience is the sound quality. Joe Ely's road manager posted up in their roomy sound booth next to their state-of-the-art soundboard, which sits right next to the merch table. The space is created as much for the artist as for the audience.

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I've seen a lot of bars packed with speakers, but I've never seen a giant cave like this carved out of a strip-mall and transformed, even crafted, with such care for audio quality. In fact, while looking for a to-go menu I instead found a tri-folded brochure detailing the venue's efforts in the pursuit of a great-sounding room.

Saturday was an older crowd, and you'll see a lot of that at both locations. It's way outside of town, so at a show where I'd expect to see jaunty hats and Chuck Taylors, I saw instead a crowd wearing expensive boots and even wristwatches.

The people here drive shinier cars and drink less, even slower. They don't elbow each other and don't' get loud when they drink. There are no long lines for the bathroom, and you do pay more for stuff like that. A show at the Big Barn can run over $100 per ticket; the Joe Ely/Joel Guzman show was under $40.

Ely sat on his stool with the same black guitar all night. Joel Guzman brought two accordions. They used to play together a lot, but hadn't in a while and played mainly from the album they made together, 2008's Live Cactus. This was a highly anticipated reunion for many in the room but neither one ever made mention of it onstage.

They improvised a lot. Ely played a song off the top of his head and then announced that Guzman hadn't ever heard that one before, but the accordionist adapted as if the song were his own. Guzman plays his accordion like a guitar and a piano at the same time' I've never seen anything like it. And Ely tells such stories with each song that even though it reminds me of Rodney Crowell or Guy Clark, I wouldn't like comparing him to anyone at all.

It was all so authentic and such a rich cultural exchange that I marveled that we were sitting in a venue reclaimed from a shopping center. But then again, in many ways this could be proof that Houston (or Conroe) is coming of age.

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