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Melody Inn 70th Anniversary Show

The Melody Inn

Friday, April 29, 7 p.m.

History! It's what the Melody Inn is all about. From the original cherry bar to the root chandelier that predates just about everyone here to the many busted-up guitars lining the walls, the 70-year-old community cavern breathes history. Dean Berry then and now, as organist for the Melody Inn in the 1940s and dropping by 60 years later.

Just the last few years of the Mel's history are rife with unforgettable events: the Toxic Reasons reunion show, the hellacious wrongness of Human Aftertaste or Peelander-Z playing human bowling, the Speed City Sirens burlesque show, the crowded-to-the-brim shooting of Devil To Pay's "Tractor Fuckin' Trailer" video, the last dance of the Mighty John Waynes, the time The Common played Punk Rock Night completely coincidentally during a near-riot (leading to the improvised rule "No Common at Melody Inn!") or the time former bartender Tom Coryell jumped the bar like he was Batman to break up a fight.

And this isn't even getting into the regular standbys like '80s Night, Drum N Bass Night, Open Mike Mondays, Hillbilly Happy Hour, the old-school arcade game machines and pool tables in the back, Wild Apes on the Megatouch machine (on which I hold the all-time high score of 678,000, thankyewverymuch) and so much more - including the near-legendary Punk Rock Night, well into its fifth year. Hell, back in the 1960s they held turtle races on the bar, and that apparently attracted an enthusiastic crowd in its own right. Pity the Board of Health shut down THAT bit of wackiness.

And this Friday's 70th Anniversary Show will see a grand celebration of the Mel's history, with music quite literally from all eras of the tavern's existence. Doors open at 4:30, with music starting at 7 p.m.; admission is $12.

The headliner of the night is Dean Berry, 93 years old and still going strong, house piano player for the Mel 60 years ago and returning for the first time in many years. He'll be followed by the Tumbleweeds, Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band, Duenow from Chicago (who put on a smokin' show last time they were here), EXO, Evil Beaver and finally the Fuglees. From classic organ to "Get the Fuck Off The Stage" in one night; could you ask for a broader range?

"Dean said he's going to play a lot of old, old school. That's what we wanted and that's what he knows," said Dave Brown, co-owner (with Rob Ondrish) of the Mel since 2001. "We kind of set it up where after Dean Berry we decided to book some bands that would appeal to a wide variety of people. Since we're going to have a lot of old timers here for the early portion, we've got the Tumbleweeds after Dean Berry, and Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band after that, to bring some old-school flavor to it. And even though Duenow is kind of like a modern rock band, they throw some old-school blues in there and they've got some costumes that are really cool.

"There's a nice transition from the old school stuff to the rock and roll," Brown continued. "Although Dean Berry is playing first, he's the headliner of the show. He is THE highlight of this event, not only for me and Rob, but for the patrons here, and we're really hoping that people that used to hang out at the Melody way back in the day will get into this and listen to him perform."

The whole event is a tribute to the various eras of the Mel's history, particularly its commitment to local original music.

"The Melody Inn started as a piano bar, and that's where they come up with the name Melody Inn," Brown said. "It has evolved into a rock and roll bar. Within that genre we are all over the board, from solo acoustic to an accordion band to a guy that makes a homemade pipe and hooks electronic effects pedals up to it, and everything in between. We do a lot of old school country. We want to support original musicians and give them a place to play, not only local bands but bands from all over the world.

"It's working out very well. We continue to see an increase in business and more people that are coming out to support original music, even if they don't know who they are. Time and time again we hear bands from around the country say that this is one of their favorite places to play when they're on tour. We're not the biggest place, we're not the nicest place, but we treat the bands well, and people who hang out at the Melody appreciate original music and make the bands feel welcome. We book such a diverse array of music that if someone shows up at the Melody Inn on any given night and they didn't know who was playing, they could see ANYTHING."

The Mel itself isn't the only bit of history at play here; over those 70 years, it's the people that bring the place its distinctive flavor.

"Places come and go for whatever reason, but it's really cool that in Indianapolis we have this place where people can come back after years and years and it's still here," Brown said. "People can feel comfortable coming in here and reminisce about old times. Anyone who has grown up in Indianapolis and been there for many years, everyone has been to the Melody Inn. Everybody has a Melody Inn story. Older couples will come in and sit at the bar, we'll start up a conversation, and they'll say, 'Oh, we had our first date here when we were Butler students in 1966.'"

The Mel's staff is a miniature family in its own right, with Brown and Ondrish backed up by bartenders J Morris and Nichole Cummins. Dave and Rob themselves started out as part-timers and ended up owning the tavern, continuing a tradition started by Louise Munch, who started waitressing in 1950, bought the place and was still a regular fixture there until her death in 1994.

"This will always be our home base," Brown said. "And just like we appreciate the history of the place today, we hope that years down the road all of the people that come here today will still be able to come in here today and see me or Rob or both. There's a very high level of comfort in that for people."

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