Joshua Tehee

Joshua Tehee: Visalia’s Mavericks Coffee House a haven for cowboy music

Cowboy musician Dave Stamey has played at Mavericks Coffee House annually for the past 13 years. His performances have come to mark the anniversary of the Visalia business.
Cowboy musician Dave Stamey has played at Mavericks Coffee House annually for the past 13 years. His performances have come to mark the anniversary of the Visalia business. Special to The Bee

Gary Brown doesn’t have an official working title, but around Mavericks Coffee House, he’s known as the CMO, or Corporate Music Officer.

“I book the performers,” says Brown, whose son Jordan opened the coffeehouse on East Caldwell Avenue more than a decade ago.

At heart, Mavericks is a coffeehouse. It’s the kind of place that takes pride in producing a simple cup of coffee. It sources and roasts its own coffee beans. They sit in air-tight containers on the coffee bar and are ground to order. But over the past 13 years, the place has also earned a reputation as a hub for cowboy musicians and poets traveling through the area.

“He’s had anybody who’s anybody in the Western music world,” says songwriter Dave Stamey, who plays Mavericks on Saturday, Feb. 7.

Ian Tyson (of Ian and Sylvia fame) has played the venue. As has songwriter Katy Moffatt and the late “Curly” Musgrave. Cowboy poet Ross Knox played there last month with singer Trinity Seely.

Buck Owens even stopped at Mavericks once. Not to perform, mind you, but to see a performance. It was the Hot Club of Cowtown as Brown remembers. Owens came in dressed in a big black cowboy hat and long leather duster; jeans tucked right into his boots. He watched the show and then signed autographs for Brown and his family.

“Two weeks later he died,” Brown says.

Stamey doesn’t say it, but he himself is fairly well-known in the cowboy music scene. He was named the Western Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year six times. He’s also been the association’s male performer and songwriter of the year (six and five times over, respectively) and won the Will Rogers Award from the Academy of Western Artists.

He was the first performer to play at Mavericks, 13 years ago. He’s returned every year since, and his performances have come to mark the coffeehouse’s anniversary.

Stamey agreed to play that first year because it was Brown asking: “He’s always been a big booster for Western music,” Stamey says.

Western music, the kind Mavericks focuses on, is a niche genre that has its roots in the early part of America’s westward migration. The earliest cowboy singers took traditional Irish and Scottish tunes and changed the lyrics to fit their “new environs,” Brown says. “The Streets of Laredo” is an example people might know.

This music is the precursor to what eventually morphed into country and Western in the 1920s with Jimmie Rodgers and later Gene Autry (and Marty Robins, later still). It certainly stands apart from the three-minute pop songs that dominate contemporary county music, which some people would say is “not even music,” Brown says.

Brown became intrigued with the cowboy music and lifestyle as a kid, after seeing a series of cowboy double features. Over the years, he’s amassed a large collection of Western memorabilia, some of which decorates the walls at Mavericks. He’s been producing and promoting cowboy events since the 1990s and helped start several cowboy festivals, including the Monterey Cowboy Festival, which is now in its 18th year.

To be clear, Mavericks isn’t a traditional music venue. The performers set up in front in the coffee roaster. At capacity, it holds 50 people.

“If everybody holds their breath,” Stamey says.

It’s a tiny venue. But tiny venues are kind of his forte. That’s true for many cowboy poets and musicians.

Stamey returns to Mavericks each year because the venue is dedicated specifically to his genre and has built an eager and loyal audience for him. Most of the people who turn up at Mavericks return for every show. They know what to expect and are there to hear the music – as opposed to drinking beer or watching a game on the TV or any of the things that happen at other bars.

That makes Mavericks a rare and welcomed place, he says.

Indeed, true “listening rooms,” as Stamey calls them, are few and far between, even in big cities like Los Angeles.

“I can count them on one hand and have fingers left over.”

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

Mavericks Coffee House 13th Anniversary Show