This tavern owner may look like a retired ex-pat prowling the beaches of Ensenada, Mexico. But make no mistake, James Brock means business.
With a wild mane of gray hair and a goatee to match, Brock makes his way slowly around crowded tables, a welcome sight after a year of COVID restrictions.
He stops to chat up a customer.
“You want the Mexican shrimp,” he said. “ I made it myself.”
They sure looked delicious served in a martini glass topped with slices of avocado and a pinch of cilantro. But what’s in it?
“Well, there's these wild-caught extra large shrimp, and there's cilantro, there's clam juice, there's garlic and onion, there's tomato,” Brock proudly recites.
And then there are “some things we can't tell you,” he added with a raspy chuckle.
It is a Tuesday night and Brock’s Food and Drink was hosting a jam session with musicians he’d met before he opened his tavern — an establishment he decided to buy almost a year ago in the middle of a pandemic.
“Who does that?,” he asks no one in particular.
He wanted to buy a place for his son to take over. Instead he has built a bar and smokehouse that is true to its name — Brock’s omnipresence and culinary reputation: “We slow cook everything. I mean, every day, all day and all night long. We’ll do in this little restaurant over 100 tons of meat on that smoker this year.”
Yeah, this wild man is crazy serious about his meat, and you can taste the love.
“This is what he's always wanted to do,” Brock’s wife Jan said. “And it’s just always kind of worked out.”
Even though “I’m not a businessman,” Brock added.
But back to the music and his friends.
LOVE OF MUSIC
Brock likes to jam, and he has the friends to back him up. It hit him one day that he wanted a place he can go to where great music is played and good food is eaten.
Conveniently the Rib Shack in Acton came on the market. He knew the owner. He pounced. The rest is history.
“He’s a really, really cool guy,” Gary Mulholland said. “He's really supportive of good music.”
Mulholland had met Brock at another music venue, and when COVID struck, everything shut down.
He lamented to Brock how meager the pastures were for working musicians. There has to be something someone can do. This became one of Brock’s inspirations.
“This guy's doing such a nice job,” said Mullholland, as he set up the stage inside the tavern for the next jam session.
Mulholland is no musical midget. He’s played with the best of them. His resume is filled by nearly half a century of gigs — on stage and in the studio. He loves music.
“Music is very important to me,” he said.
He talked to Brock about bringing musicians together. “It’d be good business,” he told Brock.
“You know, let's say you get 10 musicians, to come out … and play,” Mulholland said. “They'll bring their wife, their girlfriend or their neighbor. You get 10 musicians, you usually get another 30 people.”
That was an easy sell to Brock.
“Music has been a big part of my life,” Brock said. “In most people lives, right? A lot of (the music) mark certain things that's happened (to us).”
And Brock is proud of the caliber of musicians he has been able to wrangle onto his stage.
Take the sultry Lizz Schellhorn for example: This blonde-haired maven of the microphone sings with the blues fluency of a Janis Joplin and the rock sincerity of a Linda Ronstadt.
Schellhorn took the stage with abandon in a red and black printed jumpsuit cloaked in a sheer gold caftan. Anyone within a dozen feet stopped and took note of the voice.
She fronts the local rock band Mysterious Scoundrels. On stage at the jam session, she was accompanied by Scoundrels lead guitarist Jacob Johnson.
“There's nothing more special than just jumping up and jamming,” she said. “What we did in there, it never happens the same way twice… so you never know what's going to happen when you go to a jam like that.”
What a special half hour it was.
“Yeah, I feel a lot of emotion,” she said. “And sometimes you're telling a tale. Sometimes you're telling a story. And then sometimes you’re just up there and I'm like, I need to get this off my chest.
“Oh, it's therapy. Music is my therapy,” she adds, laughing.
Kind of like the story of Brock and his place.
A HEART TO GIVE
The 65-year-old former oilfield hand who was raised in Florida and has since lived everywhere else, has a heart to give. He cannot help himself.
It is not for the recognition. It certainly isn’t for the money. He just loves giving.
Take for example his Thanksgiving feeds from years past when he would rent out the Reunion Grounds to feed seniors anonymously.
“We made up a name ‘Pastures A Plenty’ so no one would know it was us,” Brock said, pointing out the Woody Guthrie song title he used.
The feed was popular, drawing more than a thousand people. Then COVID hit. The grounds were out as a venue. But Brock still wanted to feed the elderly.
“When I bought this place I was reluctant to put 300 or 400 (elderly people) in one room,” he said. “But they’re still hungry.”
If I get them sick, he said, “I wouldn't sleep for a day or two.”
So he organized a drive-through feed on the gravel parking lot of his tavern along Acton Highway.
“So we cooked everything here,” he said. “(My) family helped. They came out and dealt with traffic and helped give food away.”
It all seems easy for Brock. Like the way he works the room in his tan cargo shorts and a black T-shirt, shaking hands and laughing loudly.
“People have the best time here, no drama here,” he said. “People just want to have a good time, have a couple of drinks, listen to great music, eat great food and just have a good night.”