“Seeing enjoyment on people’s faces is why I do this,” says Keith Stokinger, aka “Stokie,” who manages bookings for Cactus Jack’s Saloon and Grill, a destination for live music. With the support of CJ’s owners, Gary and Megan Mitchell, Stokinger has amplified CJ’s music program to include a mix of touring bands, local talent and themed events such as “Jerry (Garcia) Week,” Phish tributes and an annual celebration of Widespread Panic days.

While his parents were in drum and bugle corps competitions—his dad a drum major of the Boston Crusaders, Stokinger’s passion was not music, but playing hockey. His musical preferences developed when his dad introduced him to Pink Floyd, the Beatles, and Frank Zappa. He also enjoyed the ’80s “hair bands,” the Talking Heads and the Grateful Dead.

“I saw Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead at the Boston Garden, and they were amazing,” said Stokinger. “Then I saw Phish and was blown away!” Stokinger has become such a devoted Phish Head that he will be attending his 330th Phish concert on his birthday April 20th.

The Roads to Music and to Evergreen

Stokinger cut his teeth in the music business 20 years ago as tour manager and promoter for his friend’s band, which hailed from New Orleans. Its mix of jazz and funk, with a strong horn section, made a lasting impression on Stokinger, as did the band’s performances for the community in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

During a visit to his cousin, who had moved to Evergreen, Stokinger arranged for The Brotherhood of Groove band to play at Cactus Jack’s. He felt an immediate connection to the personality-filled bar and Creekside location. Seeing two stages, he figured the owners must be music fans. Stokie returned to Evergreen, and on a historic day in 2013, just as the flood waters were raging across CJ’s Creekside deck. When he made Evergreen his official home in 2019, getting a job at his favorite local establishment seemed meant to be.

“I’ve been a prep cook, line cook and kitchen manager, learning the business before taking on more of a general manager role which has included booking the bands,” said Stokinger. “The number of talented musicians in this town is insane.”

“According to Stokinger, this summer promises to deliver good music and good times.”

A Destination for Musicians and Music Lovers

Stokie finds joy in showcasing local performers and witnessing the musical collaborations that result. CJ’s Thursday Open Mic nights can often become spontaneous jam sessions. The Open Mic series is coordinated by Jonathan Townsend, who many locals know from his street music performances near the intersection of Evergreen Parkway and Bryant Drive.

Friday nights and Sunday afternoons draw crowds to CJ’s to hear jam bands, rock, bluegrass and blues. The second Friday of the month is reserved for Deadheads. Saturday features the only karaoke night in the area, and solo and duo performances on summer afternoons. New to the line-up is “Broadway and Beers,” featuring musical performances by Ovation West Performers once a month. Another recent venture has been the presentation of drag shows every other month. These extremely popular shows have drawn a diverse crowd who enjoy a unique mix of musical performances and comedy.

According to Stokinger, this summer promises to deliver good music and good times. “Memorial Day Weekend is all about showcasing our local musicians, and welcoming families. Rodeo Weekend, we will feature the Drew Dvorchak Band, and we’ll feature a tribute to Widespread Panic later in the season,” Stokinger says. “We plan to take advantage of booking bands that are performing at nearby venues like the Boulder Theater, Fox Theater and Cervantes. A lot of bands call me to play here and experience our unique atmosphere of a stage along a raging creek.”

“I am always thankful for introducing people to bands they’ve never seen before and them loving it,” he says. “‘Where did you find these guys?’ is music to my ears.”

For a complete schedule of music, go to evergreenmusic.com.