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Cooking up some vintage country at Snug Harbor 

Two music aficionados create a Tuesday night brand

In 1979, a medical journal published a study entitled "The Tempo of Country Music and the Rate of Drinking in Bars." The results confirmed what everybody who likes country music knows empirically — the liquor goes quicker with country music.

FOUNDING FATHERS: Country Tuesdays creators Corey Zeigler (left) and Derek Ghent
  • FOUNDING FATHERS: Country Tuesdays creators Corey Zeigler (left) and Derek Ghent

You don't need to tell Derek Ghent or Corey Zeigler that, since they each have honorary doctorates in Old School Country by virtue of having run Country Tuesdays in Charlotte for much of the last decade. Ghent began it to jump-start slow Tuesday nights at turn-of-the-century Fat City in NoDa, and then recommissioned it with Zeigler shortly after Snug Harbor's 2007 opening. In that time, Country Tuesdays has become a brand, much as its even more popular Thursday night counterparty, Shiprocked, has.

Ghent, 31, and Zeigler, 33, have kept things diverse by hosting juke joint swinger Wayne "The Train" Hancock, the garage Americana style of Holly Golightly and the Handsome Family, as well as bluesman T-Model Ford, while sprinkling in mac-and-cheese election night parties, Elvis impersonators, spaghetti and Westerns nights and taco-eating contests. They've weathered "Country Tuesday beatings" as Zeigler calls the next-day hangovers that follow, and an April 1, 2008, robbery everybody thought was a joke until the hot lead began to fly. They even collected bail in about five minutes for one DJ the day he got locked up for a minor pot infraction.

Mostly, though, they just spin really cool old school country, including their two-hour weekly warm-up spot (8-10 p.m. on Tuesdays) on Plaza Midwood Community Radio — pmcradio.org.

As far as DJs Ghent and Ziegler see it, this is as much an archival mission as it is fun. Sure, at Country Tuesdays you may meet Zeigler's pug, Homer, wearing a cowboy hat, or have to avert your gaze from the boys going shirtless if the mood strikes them — but this is also serious business. They spin selections from the earliest acetates to the current era, but only if the latter fit the Country Tuesday aesthetic. And what is that? Well, you'll know it when you hear it.

"We think we're doing a good thing for our city because people who think country music is Toby Keith don't know real country," says Zeigler, whose raucous acoustic country act Appalucia played its first show on a Country Tuesday and, by any measure, knows its country.

"We definitely feel a certain ownership over the genre just by virtue of having done this so long," adds Ghent. "We really do consider there to be an end-date on the genre, too."

They cite 1978 as that end-date — for the record, that's the year Maybelle Carter died and Zac Brown was born (just sayin'). So, fans of Toby and Zac, Garth and Trace, or Trish and Shania, will likely leave unfulfilled. But so too may the fan of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" and other old school country standbys when instead they'll hear Gastonia Gallop: Cotton Mill Songs & Hillbilly Blues — Piedmont Textile Workers On Record: 1927-1931, or Roger Miller singing "Do Wacka Do" on The Muppet Show or one of Dave Dudley's innumerable truck-driving tunes.

"If you hear 'Ring of Fire' or 'I Walk the Line,' it's because we're really drunk and actually played the wrong song," Ghent says with a laugh.

Ghent and Zeigler uphold a rich — if somewhat buried — local tradition. The city has a long history with "hillbilly" music, once briefly rivaling Nashville as the country music capital of America. That's when Bill Monroe cut sides at the old Hotel Charlotte, and Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith — you may know him best as the composer of "Dueling Banjos" (originally "Feudin' Banjos") from the film Deliverance — hosted a WBT show that in 1951 was the first country music television show to be syndicated nationally. (It ran for 32 years in 90 markets coast to coast.)

And though city leaders have obliterated local tradition in favor of cosmopolitan airs since those early days, you could feel that pride in country music return in the late '90s and early 2000s when locally based acts like Jolene, Lou Ford, Les Dirt Clods and David Childers made their names during the resurgent country rock era. That's also when Ghent, then just 20 years old, first fell under the spell of original country music. But like a lot of kids, he came to it through punk rock, drawn by the two genres' similarities: honesty, simplicity, attitude and alcohol.

"No one in my family listened to country music," says Ghent. "I did discover it through that punk rock back door that a lot of people find it through."

That transition isn't new — it was Jeff Tweedy, during his Uncle Tupelo days, who pointed out that the Louvin Brothers' murder ballad "Knoxville Girl" was more terrifying than anything Henry Rollins ever did. But it's the democratic nature of old school country that holds the real appeal.

"Every single emotion you can have, there's a country song about it," says Zeigler.

"It's regular guys writing songs about their life," Ghent adds. "If you're in the right frame of mind, so much about old country works for everybody — you could be from Pakistan, but if you have a couple of drinks, you're going to dig it. It's universal."

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