Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Lean Green Music Machine: A look at Green Bar's history, influences on T-Town scene


Any given weekend night, Thursdays included, the all-too-familiar chorus of ‘Wagon Wheel” echoes through Tuscaloosa’s downtown bars. A cover band strums away as a most-likely-intoxicated audience belts the lyrics. Just around the corner, on the same night, a different audience is waiting with baited breath for Spaceface, a psychedelic rock band, to take the stage at Green Bar. This downtown venue has a specific purpose in the Tuscaloosa music scene: provide a place for original music and for musicians to experiment and perform.

“If you go to Green Bar, you’re coming for a specific show,” said Zach Forbus, promoter and booker for Green Bar. “It’s interesting because it’s kind of away from Temerson Square. There you’ve got Copper Top, Rhythm and Brews, all those bars where people just walk in. At Green Bar, you know the band that’s going to be there, and you know it’s going to be a good show.”

Located next to Wilhagen’s, Green Bar originally operated under the name Little Willie’s. Little Willie’s opened in 2006 for the sole purpose of being a venue for jazz and blues music. Sometimes other genres were featured, but it was considered exclusively a jazz venue. In 2011, Little Willie’s became Green Bar, a venue for all genres, all original music and all music fans. The venue is equally important for many musicians and concertgoers.

“When a band’s trying to make their own art and live off of that, they go on tour to support that,” Forbus said. “It’s important to have these venues that cater to it and don’t want to hear them play the same songs. We want to hear them bring their art form to the forefront and put that onstage.”

Forbus began working at Green Bar in 2014. He transitioned from bouncer to bartender to his current position, talent buyer. He’s seen change across the board in the Tuscaloosa music scene.

“A couple years ago, it was mainly indie rock, kind of garage rock and roll,” Forbus said. “And now, the jam scene has really taken over. The Doctors & Lawyers and Black River Thieves spearheaded that jam change, kind of like that Phish, Widespread Panic jam scene. CBDB also spearheaded that. They’ve been on the joy funk scene for awhile.”

While the music has changed, Green Bar has remained a popular destination for many upcoming artists. Many bands hit it big months after performing on the Green Bar stage – bands like Alabama Shakes and St. Paul & the Broken Bones have graced the intimate venue with their distinct sounds and powerful lead vocals.

“Just seeing old pictures of them on that stage, it’s exciting to see what they did,” Forbus said. “I have bands that come through that I book, and I see them grow, I see them starting to get bigger and play bigger venues. My friend’s band went on tour with Umphrey’s for a couple of shows. They went on the road with them and I’ve been seeing them play bigger venues, and a year later they’re opening at the Tabernacle, or Georgia Theatre in Athens. I’m watching them take bigger steps. That’s why I try and keep good relationships with them because they always want to come back and play Green Bar.”

As artists continue to return to Green Bar, they bring other bands and expand the Tuscaloosa music scene. In the past, Tuscaloosa was just a blip on the radar for bands, but many musicians want to stop here because of Green Bar. 

“For the longest time, it was just Birmingham,” Forbus said. “You would hit Birmingham, go up to Nashville or Memphis, maybe New Orleans, and you’d kind of pass by Tuscaloosa. It just wasn’t a big spot. But in the past year and a half, it’s really changed where people want to hit Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. Some bands will go play Zydeco and then the next night they come down here and play Green Bar. It’s become a good venue to come check out and play for them.”

The bar’s adaptability and devoted clientele allow for the venue to put on large events with roaring success. In February, Forbus and the Green Bar staff put on a three-night EDM festival. “Interlectric” featured local electronic musicians, each with their own personal take on the genre. The festival was a success, with two sold-out nights and the third almost at capacity.

In his position, Forbus takes into account the music trends in Tuscaloosa and surrounding cities. 

“I know what I’m seeing in the music scene, so I’m trying to stay one step ahead of that,” Forbus said. “The whole EDM thing would have never happened two years ago. I would have laughed if someone had told me there was a three-day EDM fest in Tuscaloosa. Two years later and here we are putting it on and nearly selling it out every night.”

Since “Interlectric,” Forbus has begun planning another festival for the fall. His plan is to continue to host similar festivals centered on a different genres each time, with a jam band festival in the works for fall. Forbus’s ultimate plan is to create a festival that incorporates all aspects of the Tuscaloosa music scene, including different venues, like Druid City Music Hall and Bama Theatre.

When Forbus discusses the upcoming Green Bar shows, it’s clear he excels in his roll as booker for the venue. Having moved up the ranks, he has seen the bar improve and, in turn, the caliber of musicians.

“The bands went from being small touring bands trying to hit it big to small touring bands that are on the cusp, like Stop Light Observations,” Forbus said. “We’ve had a couple other big ones. We try and have the biggest and best shows we can. There have been a lot of really good shows that I have loved being a part of. It’s been fun, and it’s been a lot of work.”

As promoter, he gets new musicians in a variety of ways. Sometimes band agents will reach out to him, or he may go after certain bands that he wants to bring to Tuscaloosa. Other times, he is introduced to bands through positive relationships with previous performers at Green Bar. He has big plans for future Green Bar performers, but the current line-up is already impressive.

“One of the bigger ones that I’m excited for that’s coming up is Spaceface on March 24. That’s going to be an incredible show,” Forbus said. “The day after that I have Higher Learning. That’s going to be an incredible show. Then the week after that I have Funk You, Little Raine. Then, I have Mr B & the Tribal Hoose coming up. They’re very interesting characters. They’re like inspirational hip-hop rock. They’re a really unique band. I think there are nine of them in the band. That’s going to be a really good show.”

Tuscaloosa jam funk band CBDB knows Green Bar well and has had their fair share of memorable performances at the venue. Before playing Druid City Music Hall, they sold out Green Bar on many occasions. The band held the release party for their popular album, “Joyfunk Is Dead,” at Green Bar.

“What separates Green Bar is the focus on original music,” said Cy Simonton, lead singer and guitarist for CBDB. “At a lot of bars in Tuscaloosa, if you told them you were playing an all-original set, they would tell you no. Green Bar encourages it. They get a lot of small bands from all over the place and have such a diverse lists of acts.”

Green Bar continues to be an influential force in Tuscaloosa and will continue to serve as a place for bands to experiment with their original music. With Forbus at the helm, the roster of musicians will continue to grow and impress wide audiences.

“I think the future is really bright for Tuscaloosa, especially with what we’re doing at Green Bar,” Forbus said. “There are a lot of really great things happening right now.”

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