An Ode to Marty’s

photo credit: J Mark Gooch for WELD Bham

I’m not sure when I set foot in Marty’s for the first time, but it was well before WorkPlay, Bottletree or Iron City were a part of Birmingham’s live music landscape. At that point, Zydeco, Five Points South Music Hall, The Nick and Ona’s were some of the only places in town to regularly see live music that wasn’t just cover bands. To be honest, I probably didn’t even go for the music the first time. I probably went for a patty melt or a grilled cheese with bacon that their late night grill was so loved for. I came back for the music though. While not everyone that ever took the stage at Marty’s was legendary or amazing, he didn’t allow any old bullshit up there either. He brought a good mix of regional talent and solid local acts (and he always gave promising young bands a shot too.) Friends’ bands played there, some of my earliest live jazz experiences were there and I even discovered a Tennessee band there called The Lazybirds that I still listen to all the time.

One of my favorite Marty’s stories involves me and some friends dropping by late one evening for a beer or two and a sandwich. We had no idea who was playing and we were happy to pay the $5 cover just to get access to the kitchen. As we were sitting there drinking beers and eating our sandwiches at a table with an obstructed view of the stage I sat there and thought, “This guy sounds really damn good for some random dude up there playing covers and the occasional original. Like REALLY good.” I left my seat to get a glimpse of this mystery performer and it turned out to be Glen Hansard, one half of The Swell Season. They’d played a very pricey show just down the street at the Stephens Center earlier that evening and Hansard apparently hadn’t gotten all of the music out of his system and asked where he might go jam some more and he was steered to Marty’s. Marty and whoever was playing that night were happy to accommodate the famous Irishman. That wasn’t an isolated incident. Though I can’t think of any other specific acts right off the top of my head, that’s the kind of thing that happened at Marty’s.

Marty Eagle, the club’s founder passed away on February 1st of this year and I found myself wondering how long it’d stay open after his passing. After 3-4 months of continuing to operate I thought, “Awesome, it’s going to keep on keeping on,” but it was announced in early August that the club would be shutting its doors on August 31st. I spent much of the month of August out of town and was sadly not able to work one last visit into my schedule after I heard it was closing. I’m kind of okay with that though as all of the memories I have from there are great ones without a hit on sadness: countless nights of stopping off for one more beer with friends, the best grilled cheese in town, famous musicians dropping in, Sunday jazz shows, leaving the place at the rising of the sun, getting snowed in there one night, etc. The list goes on and on.

Clubs come and go. It’s just the nature of the beast that is the entertainment industry. Most of them close their doors because nobody really cared that much in the first place, but that’s far from the truth with Marty’s. It was just its time to close. Though its doors may be shut, the memories made there will live in all of us forever.

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