Last Train To Hooterville...
Days like these the Allegany County winds blow cold, but today is just a little bit colder. While getting a hot cup of coffee this morning I was informed of the passing of Fran Stedman of Bolivar. Fran operated the Bolivar Hotel for many years, at first side by side with his Father Ken, then eventually by himself. For anybody that had ever been to the Bolivar Hotel, we all know it was nothing, if not unique. Fran was equal parts bartender, councilor, interior decorator, antique collector, matchmaker, SPCA supporter and many things I may not even know, most of all, Fran was a gentle soul. He most certainly was the proprietor at one of the funkiest joints in these here parts! If anyone knows me, it's the funky joints I like best!
Before Zoar began playing in 1988 I had never stepped foot in the Hotel. Sometime around Christmas in 1989 the crew from Wellsville Pizza Hut hired us to play their Holiday party to be held at the Bolivar Hotel. Fran had the place decorated from floor to ceiling, the wood stove was cranking in the corner and I know I counted at least three different cats milling around. What a great party! Fran seemed to like us, eventually booking us to play a "dance". He was the only bar owner in over 2,000 gigs that ever called it a "dance". He loved having us on holidays... Valentines Day, Halloween, Good Friday, New Year's Eve and the place was always decorated accordingly. Of course Ken would always tell us "turn it down" before we even started! I learned to always talk baseball with Ken and everything else would fall in place. Many great times were had in the ensuing years at the Bolivar Hotel when Zoar came to town.
Acoustically speaking, not all rooms are created equal for sound. The hotel, to me, was a place that sounded amazing. It was the room that an electric guitar took flight in! I'm not quite sure if it was the carpeted walls, the high ceilings, the room openings, or some other geometrical phenomenon that made a Gibson Les Paul or Fender Telecaster sing, but I do know it was something. We all loved playing that room...for the the people that came to hear us and for Fran Stedman. Another thing that made the Hotel so special was that Fran would allow aspiring teenage musicians of the area along with some of their friends watch bands from the kitchen. Of all the great bands the Hotel hosted (Reality Jones, Mojo Hand Blues Band, Blue Wax, Rogues, RJ & Lisa, West among others) these young folks seemed to adopt us, or perhaps we adopted them. Seeing them develop in to good players and even better people is something we will always cherish. These are OUR peeps! We would beam with pride when they eventually played during our breaks, all with the consent of Fran and the support of their parents that would chaperone.
Fran had a great sense of history. I think that is why he kept the hotel going. It is a spectacular building, the kind that they just don't build any longer. He often talked about downtown Bolivar of days gone by, including places like the Lyric, Washington and others. A few years back, before the Hotel closed, Zoar played their debut gig at the Bulldog just down the street. Before we started, I felt like I had to go to the hotel. Walking through the front door brought so many memories to my mind, wonderful thoughts of a place that meant so much to this band. I walked in to a smiling Fran ("hey there Mr.", his usual greeting) and few of his regulars. I made sure I went into the band area and took a long look and then peaked my head into the kitchen. I could see the guys from Route 66 in my mind anxiously awaiting the band to fire. I had a very hard time playing that night, but I'm sure glad I walked down! Our condolences to Fran's family and the Bolivar community,he will be missed. All aboard... the last train to Hooterville.
Pass it on!