A surprising thing happened as the COVID-19 crisis ran roughshod over the local live music industry throughout 2020. You know, the year in which many performance venues — especially indoor-only ones — closed down from temporarily to permanently.
The year in which most able to stay open downsized their calendars from full bands to solo artists, ranging from DJs to omnipresent white male singers with acoustic guitars (often accompanied by looped or pre-recorded backing tracks). And the year in which some that incurred lost revenue took license to realize a long-held goal of not having to pay performers, causing musicians to be compensated only through tip jars ranging from actual to virtual.
But while other area venues sought such ways to save money during the forgettable past year, owner David Mathews of the Lake Worth Beach-based Mathews Brewing Company (mathewsbrewingcompany.com) decided to roll the dice and splurge in a big way on his large, fenced-in outdoor patio adjacent to the smaller indoor brewery (the former site of newspaper the Lake Worth Herald).
Mathews upgraded with a large, SunFest-worthy stage, complete with house PA and lighting systems; a massive chickee hut roof that protects not only the stage from weather but also close to half of the outdoor seating area, and artisan concrete tables and seats that are anchored to the patio. Large umbrellas cover most of the remainder.
“The hut was installed in November of 2020 and the stage in December of 2020,” Mathews says. “I’d rented the stage previously for bigger shows, but was able to buy it when the company got put out of business due to COVID-19. The concrete seating goes back to 2018. An artist I know is a stone collector. The combined cost was close to $70,000.”
Previous to the new stage, which faces west from the extreme eastern section of the patio, bands set up on the raised concrete slab near its western edge. In case of rain, performers once had to move under the small covered area that joins the patio to the brewery. And the seating then involved mostly long wooden picnic tables, a half-dozen of which remain, now joined by their more stylish and distanced counterparts on the outskirts.
For Lake Worth Beach-based vocalist/guitarist Mike Hill of the West Palm Beach rock covers act the Rosario Craig Band, the new setup came as a most pleasant surprise when the group played at the brewery on New Year’s Eve.
“I was shocked, because no one had even told me about all that,” Hill says. “We’d played at Mathews before on the concrete stage, so that’s where I went and set my stuff when I arrived that night. Then I turned and saw the new stage and thought, ‘Well, this is awesome.’ And it was. The sound levels were great, perhaps because the sound waves had more room to breathe on such a spacious stage. And we didn’t get paid full scale, but we did get paid. We understand that everyone has taken a financial hit over the past year, and we have to work with each other to recover.”
The reaction to the new and improved Mathews Brewing Company has likewise been universally, and predictably, positive. New Year’s Eve drew a capacity crowd, and a week later, West Palm Beach-based rock covers act 56 Ace likewise packed the patio, where patrons have the option of ordering drinks from the wait staff outside or from the indoor bar before adjourning to the patio to the north.
The following weekend, Delray Beach-based original and covers rock trio The Flyers also filled the patio while all three band members alternated between playing guitar, bass, or drums. The brewery also features a variety of available cuisine outdoors from rotating food trucks, which park near the stage under the hut, and it’s a dog-friendly venue (although it should be said that canines’ sensitive hearing isn’t meant for the decibels too close to live musical stages).
Mathews lives in West Palm Beach, having moved to South Florida after graduating from the University of South Florida in Tampa with a degree in civil engineering in 1991. He was previously a home brewer, and spent considerably more to initially renovate the site than on the recent upgrades when he incorporated the Mathews Brewing Company in 2016.
Its location, in the non-residential warehouse district slightly southwest of Lake Worth Beach’s busy two-way downtown thoroughfares of Lake and Lucerne avenues, was his calculated take on its pluses over its minuses.
“One of the pluses was that I was able to have an awesome outside beer garden,” he says. “In a commercial area, that probably would’ve been another building. We can also have food trucks and live music with no restrictions or noise ordinance problems, and I own two parking lots close to the brewery, so it’s free parking. The main minus is that we don’t get walk-in traffic. We’re more of a destination.”
That destination is becoming increasingly popular despite the setbacks of 2020. Its outdoor patio, with tribute murals on a north wall to late rock idols including Freddie Mercury, Tom Petty and Chris Cornell, repeatedly draws large crowds ranging in age from 20-to-60-somethings, with most feeling comfortable enough to go maskless. Still, Mathews has felt a considerable COVID-19 pinch, both in attendance and in the distribution of his popular craft beers to restaurants and nightclubs from Broward County north through the Treasure Coast.
“Most customers still want to be outside in our beer garden and not inside the taproom, where they’re required to wear a mask,” he says. “We’re down about 30 percent for in-house sales, and 40 percent in distribution. Being shut down for two-and-a-half months last year was brutal. If that happens again, I won’t shut down. Constitutionally, they can’t force me to. If they fine me, but I’ll just pay the fines.”
The brewery’s new stage, and sound and lighting systems, give it all the earmarks of a venue for touring acts. Mathews plans to work toward that end, albeit slowly.
“We’re booking a lot of tribute bands this year,” he says, “including Pearl Jam, Van Halen, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tool, and Rage Against the Machine. The Van Halen tribute is by Completely Unchained, a national touring band, and you get a free 12-ounce beer with your $10 ticket price. We will be looking to book national acts in 2022, when COVID-19 is completely over, we hope.”
While Mathews’ pockets might not be as deep as those of the other Dave Matthews, the Grammy Award-winning South Africa native who helped make his adopted hometown of Charlottesville, Va., a musical hub after starting his self-titled pop band there in 1991, he’s clearly brewing up a plan.
Only a few blocks east of Mathews’ location, the Bamboo Room once transformed the Lake Worth Beach live music scene in the early 2000s, drawing notable blues and roots music acts like NRBQ, Elvin Bishop, Hubert Sumlin, and Chris Duarte. The venue still exists, under the same name and in the same location, but has become more of a dance club since changing hands several years ago.
“They were an indoor venue anyway,” Mathews says. “I prefer live music outdoors. Especially now. And I want to be the musical destination for all of Palm Beach County.”
If you go
See Tasty Vibrations, Feb. 5; Project X Feb. 6; Spider Cherry Feb. 12; Still Alive (Pearl Jam tribute at 8:30 p.m.) Feb. 13; Switch N’ Whisky Feb. 19; The Flyers Feb. 20; Krazy Train Duo (7 p.m.) Feb. 25; Sons of a Tradesman Feb. 26; Completely Unchained (Van Halen tribute at 9 p.m., $10) Feb. 27; and Jose Almonte (3 p.m.) Feb. 28. All concerts are free and at 8 p.m. unless otherwise noted, at Mathews Brewing Company, 130 S. H St., Lake Worth Beach (561-812-3738).