The empty lot at 504 E. Wilson St. bears no trace of the location’s music history. No plaque or sign honors O’Cayz Corral, the beloved Madison rock club that burned down on New Year’s Day 2001.
But while the club is gone from the physical world, a footprint still exists in the digital realm. The Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based non-profit, has preserved a web page from the club’s defunct website that lists all the shows O’Cayz hosted for its last year and a half of existence, from Sept. 3, 1999 to Dec. 31, 2000.
To see the list, go HERE.
Cathy Dethmers, who leased ownership of the club for its final few years, and now owns the High Noon Saloon, said she saw the page after the High Noon's marketing manager, Justin Kibbel, found it. Initially, she had some trepidation about revisiting old memories of O'Cayz.
“Seeing the list of shows from the last year or two at O'Cayz was initially like a kick in the gut,” Dethmers said. “The memory of the fire and the subsequent loss is still pretty traumatic for me, so my first reaction to reminders of O'Cayz is always a twinge of stress and pain. But scrolling through the list of bands brought back so many memories of awesome shows and fun times that I'm ultimately really glad I took a look.”
Dubbed by one critic as the “CBGB’s of the Midwest,” O’Cayz was an essential stop for touring punk, grunge and rock bands on the rise. Previously known as Don’s Shell and Millard’s Bar, the bar took the name O’Cayz Corral in 1980 (after then-owner Catherine "Cay" Millard) as a 150-person capacity country music bar. Though the music changed during the ‘80s, the name stayed the same.
For local music fans, the archived site is a treasure trove of information and memories, an archaeological find from a long-lost alternative rock era that has suddenly been unearthed.
Were you there the night that Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire (identified as “ragtime swing”) opened for local band Jimmy Sutton’s Four Charms (Nov. 11, 1999). Or a great show on Dec. 29, 2000, just three days before the end, when Calexico and Archer Prewitt played the club?
How about when Jack and Meg White, aka The White Stripes, played the middle slot on a three-band bill headlined by The Mistreaters (March 16, 2000)? They would later come back to headline a “Sympathy For the Record Industry” show three months later, with The Mistreaters now in the opening slot. Such is the fickle finger of rock ‘n’ roll fame.
In between the well-known names are a Rogues’ Gallery of band names familiar to Madisonians who frequented the club, from Hum Machine to Transformer Lootbag to Mad Trucker Gone Mad. The Kissers’ regular Monday night slot of Irish rock is a recurring feature of the schedule, as is Paul Filipowizc’s Blue Tuesday Blues Jams. And then there are tons of ‘90s bands largely lost to the shifting sands of time and taste (Anybody remember Flick? Or Angelrot, featuring a member of White Zombie who was not Rob Zombie?)
Dethmers said she found herself remembering a lot of the shows listed on the site. In addition to running the club, she played in two bands who frequently took the stage there, Tormentula and PK Ripper.
“There was a serious stoner rock scene at O'Cayz in 2000, so the shows with bands like High on Fire, Cuda, Bongzilla, Eyehategod, and others were really exciting to me at that time,” she said. “We had a show with Mastodon scheduled for a week after the fire, and I've always been bummed that we didn't get to see them in a tiny venue before they blew up.”
As the list got shared widely on social media last week, it was clear that O’Cayz still had a powerful emotional hold on many music fans in Madison. Dethmers said seeing the list online reminded her of a different time in the Madison music scene — and the world.
“People weren't connecting via social media at that time — you had to actually leave your home to meet up with friends, and O'Cayz was a very comfortable and welcoming place to do that. I remember seeing the same bunch of faces night after night, no matter who was playing on stage.
“For many, O'Cayz was like a second home, but with an awesome (and very loud) soundtrack.”