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They've got good roots

A club with some history and a country rock scene enjoy a revival together.

January 05, 2006|Heidi Siegmund Cuda | Special to The Times

YOU pretty much know when you walk into a joint whether it's a place you want to hang out. It's usually the subtle things -- the way you're treated at the door, the smiles on the faces of the partyers. It's the bartender who gives you a nod even before he takes your drink order. And then, of course, there's the music. If the sounds spilling from the stage make you feel like shimmying as you snake your way inside, it's usually a good sign.

If it's a Friday night at the Mint, you've probably checked "All of the Above."

Some scenes have all the warmth of the White Witch in a Narnia winter. But when Shilah Morrow's booking the Mint, you can actually heat your soul with some heartfelt rock 'n' roll. It's the kind you find in barrooms throughout the country, where people wear Lynyrd Skynyrd shirts they didn't buy at an upscale boutique, and where the cowboy hats are worn low and dark. It's a place Waylon Jennings would call home.

"It's all about the diversity of American country rock," says Morrow, who books every Friday at the Pico Boulevard club. "And that means everything from blues, country rock, rockabilly and hard-core country bands like the SnakeHandlers, who are like the Sex Pistols of country."

Morrow is all about spreading that diversity -- her events also include the Sweethearts of the Rodeo at Molly Malone's, a monthly jam session at the Mint called the Sin City Social Club and such star-studded events as her annual Gram Parsons tribute festivals in London and Los Angeles. Her promotions have earned the L.A. native a cult following.

"Shilah's the heart of the roots scene in L.A.," says Pamela Des Barres, a regular at Morrow's events. "She has such faith in it and the guts to make it work. It breaks my heart that real music isn't heard by more people, and she's doing everything to carry the torch that Gram Parsons lit."

"The scene is really self-sustaining," says Chris Morris, the host of the roots rock show "Watusi Radio" on Indie 103.1 (KDLD- and KDLE-FM). "Everyone pitches in and does their part."

The Mint -- reopened under new ownership in early 2005 -- offers an ideal backdrop for what's become known as the Sin City Social scene. The club has a no-gloss vibe -- owners Todd Christiansen and Tim Sheehan have kept the place unpretentious and cozy, where patrons, Christiansen says, "can enjoy all the perks of a Hollywood nightclub without any of the attitude."

If the camaraderie on Morrow's nights is any indication, it's an inspiration for both musicians and fans.

"I always thought it would be so much fun to be a part of a scene," says Aaron Beavers, a Georgia-reared singer whose band Shurman is a favorite in the Sin City circle. "And now I'm actually a part of one. Artists I've met here, like Mike Stinson, Randy Weeks, Dead Rock West and Anne McCue, all inspire me to write better songs."

Singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams is a supporter too, attending Sin City nights when she's not on tour. Guitarist Doug Pettibone, who backs Williams on tour, plays in the Sin City All-Stars house band.

"We felt Shilah added a lot to what we wanted to do with the club, which is bring back a history of great music," says the Mint's main booker, Leah DiBonaventura. "The Mint's working with national artists again, booking everyone from great singer-songwriters to R&B artists and even indie bands. If we believe in the music, we'll nurture a band."

Promotions such as Morrow's have helped put the Mint, which has been around since 1937, back on the map after it was closed for much of 2004.

On a recent rainy Friday, the Mint was packed even though it was the night before New Year's Eve. Shurman, named after a North Texas town, was warming everyone up with some edgy twang rock, and the crowd was lapping it up.

"There's such an authenticity to this scene," says Des Barres, who recently reissued her seminal rock tome, "I'm With the Band." "If you look around, it's amazing. Everyone is always smiling."

And musicians say Morrow gives this cadre of bands more than just a stage.

"Shilah's been the glue that holds a lot of these groups together," says Beavers. "She's the mom of this whole pack of drunk and broke musicians. She always has a warm meal and a shot of Jack for you, and really, you can't beat that."


Sin City Presents Fridays at the Mint

Where: 6010 Pico Blvd., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays

Price: $10 cover. All ages.

Info: (323) 954-9400.;

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