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Back Roads Hoedown


G Love. At the Pozo Saloon, Sunday, September 24.

(Photos by Joanna Yates)

There are, I now know, many roads to the Pozo Saloon in San Luis Obispo County, perhaps the greatest unknown venue on the West Coast. There’s the main one that most folks take, where you take the Santa Margarita Lake turn-off of Highway 101 on Highway 58, just north of the Cuesta Grade. Then you turn on Pozo Road and follow signs to get you there. It’s the easiest, most paved way, which is why you may have to sit in traffic and park a mile away when you’re up there to see folks like Willie Nelson on his 72nd birthday back in April 2005.

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Then there’s the opposite way, where the roads—technically Highway 58 and then either Pozo Summit or Parkhill Roads—come into the rolling hills of Pozo from the stark high desert lands of the California Valley. That’s the one you take when you camp in places like Carrizo Plain and the Machesna Wilderness, and seek out the olive-decorated ales served in saloon’s wooden frame when the concerts aren’t happening. It’s a bucolic road, a meandering trek over asphalt and hardened dirt through country that must be what California looked like before we Euros came and planted our weird, intrusive grasses.

And, thanks to last weekend, I can introduce a third way—the best way, in fact, if it’s the end of summer, the creeks are dry enough, you just camped at Lopez Lake, and you ignore the super slow truck driver and the bloody ATV rider who surprise you along the way. That’s the way along the mostly dirt, but easily passable Hi Mountain Road, which starts just outside Lopez Lake and drops you, 16 miles later, into the parking lot of the Pozo Fire Department where the last two spots await your Honda Pilot and Ford Focus caravan. That route takes a little bit of faith in road graders and fellow man—it’s the middle of nowhere back there, an enchanted, remote land where stuck tires or murderous madmen could spell disaster. But it’s worth the attempt, especially when G Love is playing the Pozo, which is what happened last Sunday afternoon.

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The (Not Very Good) G Love at Pozo Poem

On the back roads in the county of SLO, Lies a little known saloon called Pozo. It’s a wooden shack, With some lawn in the back, Where superstar singers lay down musical attacks.

One such concert went down last Sunday, When G Love and Special Sauce showed up for a fun day. Of hip-hop grooves, And a celebratory mood, That was well attended by both ladies and dudes.

The Philly native delivered hits both old and new Proving, as we expected, to brew a tight musical stew. G Love was touched by Pozo, But of course that you’d know, ‘Cause the saloon is as cool as it gets yo.

Our new route got us there a little late, so we missed the first band Siko, a SLO funk-jam outfit our friends in Nipomo have been trying to see for months now. We also missed the first part of second opener Marc Broussard’s set due to finishing beers, tequila, and guacamole in the parking lot. But once inside the gates and upon the Pozo’s expansive backyard lawn—that’s where they have the concerts, which can attract up to a couple thousand music-loving souls—we laid down our blankets and chairs near a sprinkler-topped pole, bought some Firestone beer (they had the triumvirate of Pale Ale, Lager, and Double Barrel to choose from), and watched Broussard finish out his ample soul-rock performance.

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Then, after quite a lengthy intermission—but one spent eating tri-tip burritos, chatting with the always amiable Pozo audience, and festival-like people watching, with a special eye on those Cal Poly dollies taking public showers beneath the sprinklers—G Love took the stage. Starting off with “Rainbow,” the song off his new album Lemonade that he performs with Jack Johnson, G Love got the crowd moving immediately. Admitting that he’s always wanted to play a hoedown in the middle of nowhere, G Love announced that this was the place, and the crowd responded happily.

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The more than 1,200 in attendance were split between those taking a spot in the front of the stage and the rest of us hanging back and dancing in the lawn, with perfect views from our lawn chairs. What ensued followed was an onslaught of hits new and old delivered in G Love’s special way: sing-song-y verses interlaced with hip-hop cuts backed by a full band, complete with a stand-up bass and the Philadelphia native’s harmonica skills. Throw in a cover of Taj Mahal’s “Chevrolet”—a rendition that somehow rivaled the original—some solo acoustic love song stuff, and a raucous encore that was at least four songs long, and the day proved a resounding hit.

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G Love, much like Willie Nelson last year, appeared visibly moved by the venue, happy to be playing with views of a rural wonderland and a warm California sun setting off to the west. It’s a special place that even strikes veteran performers, and they deliver, as G Love did, with extra power and a joyous attitude.

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For the newcomers in my crew, they were sold. For the returnees, it only reconfirmed what we’d been thinking all along: (That’s the crew pictured there.) The Pozo Saloon reigns as the hidden gem of Central California concert going. So make a mini-vacation out of it like we did, and chalk up another weekend victory for Pozo.

411 Upcoming Pozo Saloon shows include Merle Haggard on Sunday, October 8; Gov’t Mule with Donavon Frankenreiter on Sunday, October 15; Ziggy Marley on Friday, October 20; and the Fabulous Thunderbirds with Asleep at the Wheel on Sunday, October 29. For tickets, see pozosaloon.com, click here, or call 805-438-4225.



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