Howard’s Club H: A musical history of BG’s iconic venue

Coming up on a century of influencing the cultural scene in Bowling Green, Howard’s Club H has featured a multi-genre array of musical acts, ranging from blues musicians like Luther Allison to Top 40 heavy hitters like Twenty One Pilots and Fallout Boy in the early aughts. Howard’s is equally recognized as a welcoming place for up-and-coming local bands to cut their teeth, as well as being a business known for its support of philanthropic causes and weekend festivals.

Founded in 1928 as a candy shop— Howard’s Confectionary Store— by Fred H. Howard, Howard’s Club H became a bar once Prohibition was lifted, only to be sold in 1938 when Fred,  its founder, moved to Tarpon Springs, Florida to become that city’s mayor. Throughout changes in ownership over subsequent decades, Howard’s became known as a welcoming stop for musicians. In the late 1960s, blues musicians traveling between Memphis and Chicago made Club H a regular stop.  

“There were some pop bands in the late 70s, but it was in the 80s that a lot of different local bands started playing here, more than only blues music,” says Steve Feehan, booking manager and owner of Howard’s since 2016.  “It had moments that it would return to its blues roots like when Michael Katon— a huge blues guy— played there numerous times and still does. He’s in the Michigan Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has had a very big career.”

Full circle
Though Feehan only took ownership of Howard’s a few years ago, his own history with the place goes back to his time playing with the band Mad Hatter when he was 15 years old. “I don’t know why my parents let me do it,” Feehan says. “I just happened to be at a music store messing around on a piano when some guys in that band heard me and asked if I wanted to join.”

Prior to taking ownership of the place, Feehan was working a job where he was unhappy and learned that a friend had purchased Howard’s. Feehan was asked if he was interested in running the place. “I thought about it and decided to take the lead soon after that,” he says. Since then, he’s refurbished the original bar and takes great effort to keep the same down-to-earth vibe Howard’s has always maintained, with graffitied walls and low-key decor.

“Howard’s is all about the live music; it just happens to have a bar,” says Feehan. “We don’t really exist without live music. By far the most rewarding thing for me is doing sound for all the bands every Friday and Saturday, and I play in a band here on Wednesdays. There’s just a good spirit about the place.”

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with typical operations, but relying on grants and savings, Howard’s has been able to pull through. The pandemic has also made Feehan more aware that incorporating video of performances at Howard’s could be well received with future broadcasts..

A dedication to the venue’s roots with a continued emphasis on bringing in both new and established talents have kept Howard’s as a mainstay over the decades.

“Both the atmosphere and the bands make it so welcoming for people,” says Feehan. “The history of it draws people in. Parents come in with their kids to show them where they used to hang out, and they’re just amazed that very little has changed.”

Howard’s is always open to bands interested in hitting the stage. Contact Feehan at sfeehan@outlook.com or via Facebook.com/HowardsBG.