“There aren’t any country music clubs in San Diego that hire bands,” says Sara Petite, “unless you go to Lakeside. And then, it’s all Top 40” or what she calls “radio country.” A singer-songwriter and guitar player, she fronts Sara Petite and the Sugar Daddies, this year’s winner of a San Diego Music Award for Best Americana or Country band. She cites two clubs that book country bands. “In Lakeside, there’s a country bar called the Renegade. And Mulvaney’s Wagon Wheel in Santee. In Cahoots,” she says of the venerable country music establishment in Mission Valley, “doesn’t book live bands anymore.”
Petite claims that the majority of the country bands based in San Diego have taken the cover-band route. “Aside from the Top 40 clubs, there really isn’t a market here. You have to make your own way,” even if that means turning down paying gigs.
“Somebody asked if we wanted to play at their club, and we said, ‘No, you don’t want to hire us. You want dance music, and we’re all originals.’ ”
Sara Petite and the Sugar Daddies have worked in the past for local country-radio station KSON as a show opener for national touring acts. The Sugar Daddies work a few festivals, and she says she also travels solo to play Nashville club dates every few months.
Petite, 30, moved here from Sumner, Washington (“It’s a tulip-farming town”), over a decade ago. The Sugar Daddies, a self-described cross between Dolly Parton, Steve Earle, and Tom Petty, have been together for four years as an original country band. But Petite says she’d prefer that her music not be categorized. “I kind of get thrown into country because my voice is a little country sounding, and I also have some really old-timey bluegrass stuff. But,” she says, “I also have rock and roll.”
So, why aren’t local clubs hiring live country bands, Top 40 or otherwise? “I’m not sure,” she says. “It seems like there should be more clubs. Sometimes, there’s a weird stigma about country music. We have fans that don’t listen to country radio.”
Sara Petite and the Sugar Daddies will hold a CD-release party at the Belly Up, Saturday, November 21, for Doghouse Rose, produced by Eddie Gore at Insomnia Studios in Nashville.