Recent patrons to Jake's Toadhouse, the jam, rock and roots haven on Lawrenceville Highway, were surprised to see "Bombay Nites" on their credit card receipts. Visitors also have been scratching their heads about the venue's entertainment calendar, with some shows posted on its website canceled and others differing from the usual jam bands. CL tracked down Jake's co-owner and booker Shawn Simmonds to see what's been going on.
The club, operated since May 2000 by Simmonds and his business partner, the blues impresario known simply as "Big Jake," had been in a period of transition. This past May, with input from two New York-based investors, the jumpin' joint went from unpretentious roots-rockin' roadhouse to Indian entertainment mecca. Instead of guitars wailing, belly dancers shimmied. The sudden change was a jolt to both American and Indian customers.
"It just didn't work," Simmonds says. "Then we tried to offer a balance of American and Indian entertainment. Didn't work, either." The veteran barkeep, with the blessing of his Indian partners, reverted the club back to its Toadhouse fare.
The hastily assembled Caroline Aiken benefit Sept. 25 was the beginning of the back-to-what-works formula. "I like having all kinds of music here," he continues. "This place is a community center, everyone is welcome. We've changed the interior a bit. It's not like someone's living room in 1972 anymore but it's comfortable and safe."
And where did that "Toadhouse" name come from, anyway? The gregarious Simmonds says he once made a joke about frogs to a table of six people, "then it got legs. People were bringing me toads, it just got out of hand. Then one night [former Z-93 DJ] Jeff Dunham called it Jake's Toadhouse on the air. It stuck."
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