Dennis Pepe, 45, is the owner of Green Fire Bookshop, located at 925 E. Fort Lowell Road. Before opening the store--which sells mostly used books and focuses on Southwest, local and environmental genres--a year ago, he had worked at Bookman's for eight years, spending stints as manager at two of the Tucson stores. He came to Tucson from his native Southern California 17 years ago. Pepe is also a musician, and after opening Green Fire, he started hosting hootenannies for all comers on the first and third Saturdays of the month at 3 p.m.; that was the focus of our recent conversation.
What in the heck is a hootenanny?
It's just an opportunity for musicians to get together and play music that they all enjoy--a real sing-along-type event. We also have a songwriters' circle, and that's more of a "be quiet and listen to what the other guy has to say" thing.
Fair enough. But there are a lot of words that could describe musicians getting together to play music. Why hootenanny?
There's a musician in town, an old guy by the name of Ron Riggs. Ron kind of looks like Santa Claus, and I told him I wanted to have music here on Saturday afternoons. He would come down with his guitar-playing buddies and sing old country songs--old Johnny Cash and stuff. When there were guys like that sitting around in a circle, playing that music, that's the word that came to mind.
What is the point of the hootenanny, in your mind? Is it for participants, or for people who may just want to come and watch, or both?
It's both. It's a great time for musicians to come and play, and it creates a great ambiance for the store.
What do you play?
How good are you?
How do you rate that? Well, I am a singer-songwriter. I play out occasionally. I am good enough to play at Bookman's.
If I put a gun to your head and told you to pick your favorite song, what would it be?
Probably a song by Steve Earle, called "Poor Boy."
What makes "Poor Boy" your favorite?
It's just got a good beat. People enjoy hearing it right off the bat.
I understand your love for music, but this is a bookstore. Why have a hootenanny here?
Well, I've always had the dream of having a concert venue. For me, a bookstore and music go hand in hand. The other thing is, music venues in town are very limited. If you don't drink or don't want to go to bars, where else can you go to watch music, other than paying a lot of money to see a big concert? I like the fact that you can see music on a Saturday afternoon--just a casual day of music.
Give me the names of three people, at least one of them local, you dream of having come participate in the hootenanny.
Eric Hansen. He's a local singer-songwriter. I really like Greg Brown; he's a hardcore folk player. And John Gorka; he's a singer-songwriter from the East Coast.
How many people usually show up for the hootenanny?
Usually between four and 10 people. We usually play for three hours, from 3-6 p.m.
Wow. Don't your fingers get tired?
Well, we take turns, kind of, and you can rest. A lot of times, we've gone past 6 p.m., and I've had to tell the guys, "The store is closing. You guys have to go."
Has it ever gotten to the point that you've felt like you needed a bouncer?
Do you have any overarching goals for the hootenanny?
Well, I want to have an afternoon of music that's fun and casual. We're missing the old-time pastime of just getting together and playing music in our society now. Maybe it's happening in a lot of living rooms, but it's happening in my store, which is kind of like my living room.