Wooly’s Looks To Be Awesome, But Will This Town Be There For Wooly’s?

Wooly's. 504 E Locust Des Moines


This is a bit long. After the jump…


The light from the faux-streetlamps bounced off the hardwood floors, casting shadows from the revelers who could be bothered to show up on time. To my left, a newly varnished bar spread liquor and beers for what seemed like the length of a state highway and back-lit in a way that somehow highlights the heaven and hell of hard liquor. All this while underneath the glow of high definition basketball. To my right, booths were filled with those who only sort of came to party and be seen, but really just wanted a place to sit. Tables filled the middle of the floor, but which I’m sure would end up being just in the way for a larger show, as would the pool tables no one was bothering to play. Behind me, animal trophies were mounted as if to say, “The animals were slaughtered by rock.” The stage set high above those of us on the floor; lording over us in a way that stages in this town rarely do. It was reminding us that while there were other reasons to be there, music was the ruler of this joint. The high ceilings and exposed rafters added a slight cathedral feel to the place, as if we were about to hear the Pope pontificate, and not just a dirty garage band. I was, however, immediately glued to the television because the Duke basketball team was about to lose. And while music rules the world, it can be ignored, however briefly, if it means Duke is about to lose.

Wooly’s at 504 Locust in the East Village, opened this past weekend. Because I suck at this, I somehow thought it was okay not to mention this all last week. To rectify this, I made a trip down there for their public grand opening. The night featured two Des Moines acts, The Holy White Hounds and Bright Giant. For arguably the first time (there was an ill fated trip to The Gas Lamp that I may share one day. Teaser: it features Pocket Blade), I went in a professional capacity. I quickly threw that away in favor of $4 24 ounce Newcastle.

I waited patiently at the bar to order, but was quickly approached by a friendly waitress who offered to put in my order. She had a friendly smile, a kind face and slightly curly hair that would bounce when she moved. I wanted to ask her name, you know, for professional reasons, but my decades long inability with women prevented me from doing so (other than with my beautiful wife, of course) (spoiler alert: I eventually ask). I sipped on my Newcastle and stared in disbelief and joy as the 2011-2012 Duke Blue Devils were un-ceremoniously bounced from the NCAA Tournament.

Right about the time the Lehigh Mountain Hawks were celebrating their victory, the opening chords were struck by The Holy White Hounds. The Holy White Hounds look act and sound like a garage rock band. They are a tornado of dirty notes, grimy riffs and surprisingly soft spoken vocals. The lead singer and guitarist, Brenton Dean, is a whirlwind of charisma. He commands the stage in a way that few front men can. A staple on the Des Moines scene, Dean is also the front man for La Strange and also The Dig Angees, who are now The Holy White Hounds (insert Paul Harvey). Dean moves and plays like a veteran musician, slightly unhinged yet still engaging. He makes fleeting eye contact, his eyes slightly hidden under neath a knit hat, but moves across the elevated stage with purpose.

They sounded amazing, and the high ceilings and fairly narrow space allows for optimal acoustics. The stacks of speakers carry the sound in a way that any spot can be advantageous, although the end of the bar closest to the stage isn’t great for viewing. I moved around the venue to try and get a different vantage point, and honestly with as high as the stage sat, it was pretty optimal wherever. Sound was great too, although 31 years worth of loud music (ask my Grandma, she’ll tell you about my listening habits as an infant and toddler) has kind of corrupted my ears. Wooly’s proved, one band in, that this was the type of place that could really make Des Moines whole. A medium capacity venue that is capable of holding a solid crowd and still sound great. And maybe allow us citizens to finally get to see some bigger acts without having to wait until July.

Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of people there to witness it. I mean, it was an okay crowd, but for a joint that size, it seemed a little lonely and empty. I moved freely and unimpeded. There were stacks of tickets to an upcoming show that were left unclaimed. And therein lies the potential problem with Wooly’s. Des Moines is sometimes a little, shall we say, finicky. While Wooly’s itself is awesome, it appears that there has to be a solid, well known act to get a crowd. While the hope of this blog is that the local acts will fill that void, I guess the parade of national acts Wooly’s is bringing in will hopefully keep the doors open long enough to be established. But I implore you, Des Moines, to get to the venue. We need this.

After my Newcastle, I switched to Jameson. Jameson is smooth and delicious, but is also known to be a solid sinus clearer. It seemed like a solid choice to battle my allergies, but it also unfortunately loosened my tongue. I finished my second, and the bouncy haired waitress came back and asked if I needed another. I turned her down because, “I was working”. While it has been almost a decade since I’ve taken an honest to God journalism class, I do know it is generally not a good idea to tell your intended reviewees that you are reviewing them. Slightly embarrassed, I finally got the nerve to ask her name. But with my aforementioned deafness, I couldn’t hear her. I think she said “Delaney”. That’s a name, right?

By the time Bright Giant came on, some friends had arrived, so I was slightly distracted for their set. But they, too, sounded great. While Wooly’s booked two of Des Moines’s best, it could also be that the venue itself has sound figured out very early. So yes, Des Moines, the hopes of many have been answered. Don’t squander it. Support your town.

I talked to another of the servers, an attractive blond with a shoulder tattoo. She eventually brought me my bill and my last drink. The ticket said “Beth” so either I was way off on Delaney, or the blond’s name was Beth. If that was the case, I hope Beth at least shared the tip I left with possible Delaney. As the night progressed, the people who were there seemed to be having a good time. So good booze, good drink specials and good music in a cool joint. What more could we want?


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