JEWETT — This Harrison County community is probably not the first place you think of when you want to go somewhere to see nationally-known performers live on stage.
But since July 2021, Pennington’s bar and restaurant has booked a steady stream of comedians and country singers who have been performing in the establishment’s intimate atmosphere, often before sell-out crowds.
Those performers have included Frankie Ballard, Jerrod Niemann, Thompson Square, Joe Nichols, Little Texas, David Nail, Neal McCoy (who appeared for two nights), Tyler Farr, Confederate Railroad, Kentucky Headhunters and a Bon Jovi tribute band, which is sanctioned by Bon Jovi.
Country singer Deana Carter is scheduled to do two shows the second week of February.
And fans of these performers have been willing to travel long distances to see them, coming from as far away as Cincinnati, Dayton, Erie, Pa., and Lansing, Mich.
“You never really know when you put shows on sale what the reaction’s going to be,” said owner Shawn Pennington. “All of our shows except for one have either sold out or come within five or six tickets of selling out.
“When we announced the Neal McCoy show, that show sold out, 90% of it, within an hour and it was sold out within three hours. Then we got the second show, and that one sold out within four or five hours, which was amazing.”
Pennington, who works in the music industry in Nashville, takes pains to make sure the performers are happy, have a good time and want to come back.
That’s not always the first reaction artists have when the arrive at Pennington’s, housed in an unassuming 110-year-old building at 106 E. Main St.
“You pull in here and you go, where are we, first of all? What is this place?” he said.
But once they see the interior — the lighting the bar, the stage, they change their minds.
“What happens is, they walk through the door and go, whoa,” he said. “That’s what I’m after. I figure if I get that reaction out of people and it’s totally unexpected, then we’ve won. Then it’s up to us to deliver on the rest of the night.
“By the time the show comes around, that’s where we get them. They always leave going, ‘That was one of the most fun shows we’ve ever done.’ The only thing I can attribute that to is the people here. That’s what I love about this area. It’s just genuine, and people have a great time.”
He believes people enjoy themselves because of the intimacy of the place, which can seat just 170 people.
“Even if you’re at the back of the room, you’re only 50 feet away from maybe your favorite artist,” Pennington said. “And if you’re up front, you’re 6 or 7 feet away. You pay the same money or more to go to the amphitheater over in Burgettstown (the Pavilion at Star Lake) and be 600 feet away on the lawn. I think that creates a bit of intimacy.”
He added, “I don’t look at us as we sell food, or we sell drinks, or we sell concert tickets, I’m selling an experience, from the time you pull in the parking lot until the time you leave. It begins and ends with our staff and how we treat people.
“I want Jewett to be a destination town.”
Though Pennington is a native of Pittsburgh, he considers Harrison County to be home.
His family has lived in the county since the 1830s. Growing up, he would spent weekends and every summer with his grandparents, Hobart and Mary Stroud of Scio. He was very close to them.
In the late 1990s, he moved to Nashville to break into the country music industry. He spent six or seven years playing guitar for country singer Sara Evans, but around 2004 he made the transition to the business side of the industry, working in management.
“For me, I discovered that the business side, marketing and things like that, was easy for me,” he said. “The creative side, playing guitar, was actually hard. I had to work really hard, and I was never super confident in my ability.”
Among the groups he has managed was Thompson Square, a country duo made up by husband and wife Keifer and Shawna Thompson. Pennington calls them two of his oldest friends
But he never lost touch with Harrison County.
When he learned that the Deersville General Store, famous for its homemade ice cream, was about to close in 2014, he teamed up with longtime friend Pete Koch to operate the place. Pennington said he didn’t have any experience in running a store.
In 2015, Deersville celebrated its 200th birthday. Pennington arranged to have the country group Trick Pony perform during the event. A stage was set up on the main street in front of the store, and close to 2,000 people attended the show.
That’s when he came up with the idea of opening a performance venue in Harrison County.
“It became this light bulb moment of how starved this area was for national level entertainment. That was kind of the genesis of it,” he said.
Soon after, he learned that Ja-Lin’s restaurant in Jewett — his grandfather’s favorite place to eat — was up for sale. So Pennington bought the place, and Pennington’s opened for business on Jan. 1, 2016.
He brought on Koch to serve as general manager. As Koch spent more time in Jewett, they realized they needed to sell the general store in Deersville. They sold it to Laura Peters, an employee, and her husband, Kurt.
“They’ve done a better job than we did,” Pennington said.
As with the store, Pennington had no experience running a restaurant.
“Didn’t know anything about it. To be honest, I still don’t. I’ve got some amazing people here that take care of things,” he said.
“As long as you have the right like-minded people, we call them our kind of person, it’s pretty amazing what you can accomplish.”
Pennington spent time renovating the place and learning the restaurant business. Then he was ready to start putting on shows. But the COVID-19 pandemic halted those plans. He said he pushed pause and waited it out like everyone else.
“Once the governor opened the doors last June, it was on,” he said. “We couldn’t go fast enough.”
Pennington still lives in Nashville, but he comes up on show nights to help out. In addition to Koch, the Pennington’s staff includes Brooke Bardall, the general manager, and Danny Emery, the chef. He has about 15 people working on show nights.
“We have a little family here,” Pennington said.
In the future, he wants to expand the type of acts appearing at Pennington’s to include other genres, such as rock and singer-songwriters. He has an Irish band scheduled to perform on St. Patrick’s Day.
He noted that many people listen to everything from Frank Sinatra to Metallica to George Strait.
“What I don’t want do is, I don’t want to be one thing because everybody likes different things,” Pennington said.
Pennington’s bar and restaurant is located at 106 E. Main St., Jewett.
Hours of operation:
For more information, visit Pennington’s Facebook page.