UNPLUGGED: Legendary music venue Tidball’s for sale

Published 4:03 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2023

By MICHAEL J. COLLINS, Bowling Green Daily News

The stage that helped put Bowling Green live music on the map will soon grow much quieter.

Tidball’s bar quickly rose to prominence in the early 2000s, helping bands like Cage the Elephant, Moon Taxi and Sleeper Agent get a foothold in the industry.

Now, the venue is up for sale.

Co-owners Brian Jarvis and John Tidball said it was a difficult decision, but the memories and friendships made along the way have been “priceless.”

“It’s something that we’ve been kicking around for a while,” Jarvis said. “The bar and music, it’s definitely a young man’s game and it’ll beat you down. I’m 48 and John is 50, so it was time.”

Jarvis said they’ve felt a long-time obligation to provide a space for their community, and they’ve done so happily.

They’ve spent 22 years putting others first, Jarvis said. Now it’s time they “sit back and enjoy time with their family.”

“That’s something we have done, but not in the way we should, not in the way we deserve and not (in the way) our families deserve,” Jarvis said. “So it’s time to go.”

Jarvis has a 9-year-old daughter and said his wife, Kristen, has been a driving force behind his success over the years.

Tidball and his wife, Shellie, have a 9-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son. Their son, Tyler, tells him his least favorite nights are the ones Tidball has to work.

“It’s tough to leave them there at night when you won’t be home until three or four o’clock in the morning,” Jarvis said.

The duo began the venture with a handful of friends in their mid-20s. After previously working at another bar, Jarvis and Tidball thought they had what it took to do it themselves.

“I put all the money I had to my name and I bet on myself and John and a couple other friends,” Jarvis said.

All they had was some music gear, a liquor license and a stage. They didn’t even start off with an ice machine – someone would haul in ice for the crowd each night.

Lucky for them, the bet paid off.

“We were sold out the first night, and that just went on and on and on and on,” Jarvis said. “We were like man, maybe we’re on to something here.”

Tidball said when they were just starting out, they mostly just wanted to throw a party each night. It took some time before they hit their stride, but once they did, success kept coming.

Their rapid popularity, spread mostly by word of mouth, meant local bands looking to make a name for themselves flocked to their venue. Cage the Elephant played its first show on that stage, as did many others.

Before they knew it, some of those bands were playing The Late Show with David Letterman. Tidball’s was written about in Rolling Stone magazine with high praise.

“We still talk to (several bands). Anytime I see them it’s not like seeing rock stars, it’s like seeing a good friend,” Jarvis said. “It just became a whole community. Everyone congregated there for the music – they weren’t going to socialize, they were going to hear the music.”

That community has kept Jarvis and Tidball along for the ride for as long as they could hold on. Jarvis said they’d never take full credit for their success; Rather, “the church is its people.”

“A friend of mine told me, ‘a building is just a building,’ ” Jarvis said. “The relationships and things we accomplished there, those will last a lifetime, and maybe people will be talking about those years and years after we’re gone.”

Jarvis said if the bar had a gravestone, it would read “Bowling Green’s Living Room” – a place where everyone is treated like they belong.

“I heard a lot of people saying that during COVID when we were doing live streams,” Jarvis said. “We knew there was a pandemic and couldn’t be open, and musicians needed something to do. That was definitely a silver lining.”

Jarvis plans to continue working as an account executive. He said he’s blessed to walk away with friends and memories he’d otherwise never have.

Tidball isn’t sure what’s next for him, but he’d like to find less demanding work to make time for his family. Jarvis said he’s confident Tidball will be OK.

“John is the nicest person I’ve met in my life,” Jarvis said. “Whatever he does, he’ll be good – I don’t think he’s too worried about it.”

Tidball’s is still open, though the duo is currently looking for buyers. Jarvis said they have no control once the sale is finalized, but they’d love to see a buyer willing to foster a community as they have.

“We’re not doing this out of a need for money, I feel like we could go for 10 more years,” Jarvis said. “I want to know that the community in Bowling Green means something to (the buyer) – maybe that’s me being too controlling, but that’s the way we’re going to be.”

Tidball said it’s possible the venue stays music-oriented, but much remains uncertain for now.

Jarvis added that no matter what is offered, no matter who the buyer is, it’ll be hard to walk away. Jarvis said Tidball’s is like his own version of the “Cheers” sitcom.

“Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name,” Jarvis said. “I know that will be missed not only by me but by hundreds of hundreds of people and the community.

“I’m sorry to walk away, but it is time.”

Follow education reporter and Report for America corps member Michael J. Collins on Twitter @MJCollinsNews or visit bgdailynews.com.

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