Scene in South Bend: Vegetable Buddies
John Darr | Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Upon hearing its bamboozling name during a casual Observer meeting, “Vegetable Buddies” had my curiosity. When I learned that it was a concert venue, it had my attention. As my friend and I cruised into downtown South Bend that fateful Saturday night, questions weighed heavy on our existential senior-year minds. Would the venue, a resurrection of a historical but short-lived ’70s jazz and blues establishment, boast the casual intimacy implied by “Buddies?” Would it have a salad bar the likes of which we’d never seen? In a delightful turn of events, we entered Vegetable Buddies to find that, salad bar or no, Vegetable Buddies boasts everything a concert-goer could wish for.
The first thing that one notices upon entering Vegetable Buddies is the absolutely lovely atmosphere. Vegetable Buddies gives off a very relaxed, warm vibe; romantic lighting provided by candles on most of the tables has fantastic interplay with both the dusted Amarillo walls and the brick façade of the raised, restaurant-esque seating area and bar. In a word, the visual aesthetic of Vegetable Buddies is strikingly cozy; if it weren’t for the lively mood of the guests in attendance and the rollicking performances of the bands that come through, I could imagine falling asleep under a blanket in one of the booths.
As long as there’s a show on, however, you can be certain that no one within the walls (or even within a moderate distance outside them) is going to be dozing off. The setup of the venue maximizes the impact of its sizable stage and powerful sound-system so that the main focus of each night is live music. The aforementioned raised seating area is tiered up from a lower seating area and accompanying standing area; in this way, Vegetable Buddies functions as a miniature amphitheater with a very well-stocked bar far opposite the stage. The night I attended, the venue was driven by the smoldering soul music of St. Eve and the Vibe, the powerful, anthemic Americana of StarHeart, and the barreling funk-rock of Slow Orbit; each show was highly energetic and filled the space up beautifully. Though we didn’t get to try any of the delicious-looking items on the Vegetable Buddies menu, my friend and I agreed that we’d be returning to sample the music — and jalapeño hushpuppies with Sriracha remoulade — at a later date.
After attending the show, I got in touch with owner Jeffrey Harrison to talk about why he resurrected Vegetable Buddies. The venue was so clearly well-designed that I could only imagine the hours that had been spent in creating the environment I’d experienced. Like so many excellent establishments, the force behind its creation was passion. “Music is a passion that drives everything I do,” explained Harrison. “There is nothing quite like a live music experience. I have always dreamed of creating a space where the magic of live music could happen every weekend. Vegetable Buddies is that dream come to fruition.”
Pun intended or no, Vegetable Buddies does come off as a refreshingly organic project. The physical makeover that Vegetable Buddies has undergone puts its previous reincarnation — which was constructed mostly out of reclaimed barn wood — to shame, but the institution still shares the core purpose and ambition of its former self.
“The Original Vegetable Buddies was only open from 1976 to 1980 and created quite a legend in four short years,” recalls Harrison. “The level of talent that played there was the main reason why. Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy. A long list of artist that are now legendary. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band even played there one night after a performance at the Joyce Center.
“The look of the new [Vegetable Buddies] is a bit different from the original … but the location and most importantly the mission is the same: bring in the best artists from all over the world and at the same time give the deep pool of local talent an amazing venue to showcase themselves.”
Despite its international outlook, Vegetable Buddies stands as a local institution geared towards fostering South Bend’s own art scene. The venue plans on continuing the integration of Notre Dame and South Bend’s artist pools in the spirit of the Bridge Project that was established a couple years back; in the works is a recurring Thursday night ticket where Notre Dame and South Bend artists would play in succession. Given the quality of the venue and the passion of those who work there, it’s an opportunity that no active student band should miss. Here’s to hoping that Vegetable Buddies continues to be a shining light in South Bend’s art scene for years to come.
The venue is currently opening its doors to applications for local artists to perform; interested parties should contact buddiesdtsb.com for more information.