Stardust of Yesterday
If necessity is the mother of invention, then South Florida's lack of concert venues has given birth to some truly bizarre music-scene mashups. Local promoters have always had to improvise to make shows happen, which is why we're now used to folk strummers at sports bars, hip-hop at Irish pubs, drunken karaoke at Thai restaurants, and underaged militant hardcore at Sonny's Stardust Lounge.
Sonny's Stardust Lounge the name conjures images of a glittery oasis lost somewhere in time on the outskirts of vintage Las Vegas. And while it sits unglittering in the generic industrial midsection of Broward, the 25-year-old honky-tonk definitely wears a patina of bygone glory. When Sonny Scott first bought the joint back in 1982, it quickly became the area's country music mecca.
"Hottest spot in town music six nights a week. Used to come in here at 9 p.m. and there'd be 300 people in here," recalls Sonny, who, from the time he was 14 years old in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was a respected drummer and singer. "I put together my own bands, a lot of them road pickers that didn't want to play the road anymore. So I'd put 'em together, rehearse 'em, get 'em to work. We had a lot of the '50s shows in here too. We had the Coasters, Drifters, the Commodores, the Platters, the Inkspots, the Shirelles. Those are some of the guys I worked with when I was on the road. I started out in Motown, and then I switched over to country."
The country acts dried up a few years back, Sonny says, and with them went the packed houses. "I was working too damned hard, and I couldn't find any decent help. So I just kinda let the bands go and run it myself." With the right encouragement, he may belt out a little karoake once in a blue moon. And with an eye for enterprise, he still features live music pretty much every week.
"It's got an awesome atmosphere. It feels like somewhere else; it doesn't feel like South Florida," says Jasper Delani, who's been throwing all-ages hardcore and hip-hop shows at Sonny's for more than a year. "Sonny was always cool as hell from the second we walked in there. The first thing we ever did in there was like a tsunami benefit, so it was all hip-hop groups pretty left-wing, opinionated people and I was afraid that somebody was gonna say something and Sonny was gonna get mad. So I went up to him first and kinda prepped him, and he was like, 'I don't care he can say whatever he wants.' And he never complains about the music or anything. He's like, 'Eh. Not bad.' That's all he's ever said about anything."
A couple of Sunday nights ago, Sonny's hosted an early, all-ages hardcore show. A pack of teens and young 20-somethings stalked around the smoke-stained, wood-paneled room, bristling in black hoodies and cockeyed caps. A kid played pool in the far corner while West Palm Beach's Get the Ammo, shirtless and tattooed, took the stage overlooking a dance floor that for some reason is encircled by a waist-high wrought-iron fence.
Sonny leaned back against the bar, silver pompadour standing stately over his gold-rimmed glasses. Ochre-haired Donna Aven, a wispy Midwest sophisticate who's been working with Sonny since she first arrived in Florida from San Antonio back in '84, served Cokes and the occasional bottle of Bud to the crowd.
"This song is about beating up emo fags and fucking their girlfriends," the gangly singer taunted from the stage. "You've got it coming, faggot!"
A trio of regulars mulleted, missing teeth, nursing cans of Natural Ice, and smoking 305s hooted with mock approval from the far side of the bar.
Ask Sonny how he feels about the crowd and you get a response shored up by decades on the road and session life in Nashville the response of a laconic, 68-year-old music industry vet who's been around the block more than a few times:
"Oh yeah, no problems at all."
"Actually very nice, nice people," Aven agrees. "I was surprised. I thought they'd be kind of rowdy, but they're great. Most of them come in here and say, 'You've got an interesting place. How long has this been here?'" she laughs. "We've enjoyed it; we really have. It kinda keeps us up a little bit with what's going on."
It may have been the same three barflies perched on the same three stools a few nights later when Sonny talked about finally giving up the Stardust after all these years.
"Time for an old dog like me to go out to pasture," he says. "Like I tell 'em, I paid my dues. There's nothing on paper yet, but I'm trying to sell out. A lot of people want this place. I'm willing to let them have it..." he rubs his thumb and forefinger together, chuckling as he counts imaginary bills. "Song and dance."
"I was under the impression that it was already a done deal," says Delani, who has shows at Sonny's planned through March. "When I asked him how much it was going for because I was kinda interested in potentially buying it he told me it was like a million and a half."
That's a lot of stardust, sure, but between the memories stacked up in the place and its development-ready location, Sonny will probably get his price. And if he doesn't?
"Like I said, if the money comes through, then we sign the papers," he says, and you can almost see the dreams of a North Carolina retirement running behind his heavy-lidded eyes. "If the money don't come through, I'll still be here."
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