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From Tractors To A Honky Tonk, The Evolution Of Puckett's Farm Equipment

Gary Puckett's 1971 pickup truck.

Gary Puckett's 1971 pickup truck. For nearly 80 years, Puckett's Farm Equipment has been a staple in north Charlotte's Derita neighborhood. While it once sold tractors and farm supplies, it has evolved into what third generation owner Gary Puckett calls a 21st Century honky tonk. Ashley Talley explores how live music has given new life to an old Charlotte institution. It's a Friday night, and the gravel parking lot of Puckett's Farm Equipment is starting to fill up. The owner's 1971 brown pickup occupies its usual spot, and the dog that greets you when you walk in is named for the truck: Chevy. But the crowd here isn't looking for farm supplies. They're here for beer, atmosphere and live music. Owner Gary Puckett is behind the bar, surrounded by items that tell the story of his family business. There's the old TV in the corner, one of the first in the neighborhood, I'm told. There's NASCAR memorabilia like helmets, pictures and dented car hoods from the sport's heyday, and dozens of clocks line the walls, all telling slightly different time. To appreciate what Puckett's is today, you need to know a little of its history. Puckett's Farm Equipment Company was once exactly what it's name implies. "It was originally an Oliver tractor dealer, sold and serviced Oliver tractors," Puckett says. Gary Puckett's grandfather started the business in 1932. Things started to change the following year. "In 1933, when Prohibition was over, he got a beer license... People would come in the mornings to get hardware and the afternoons to get beer." Puckett's is off Sugar Creek Road in Derita, a neighborhood in the heart of north Charlotte. Back in the 1930s, it was pretty much farmland. "Like across the street where Food Lion is, that was a man's field and he, he grew all kinds of stuff over there and had a little side of the road market that he sold it at. My grandmother had a big garden back behind us. And it was still, a lot of it was still country. There's not any country left to it now. We're slap in the middle of the city. Things have changed a lot over the years." The entrance of Puckett's Farm Equipment in north Charlotte's Derita neighborhood. And so has Puckett's Farm Equipment, except for its name. The tractor parts are gone, but people still come in for beer--Gary doesn't sell liquor--but tonight, most of them are here for the music. When he took over the business after his father died in 1999, Gary added a stage and sound system to the bar. The live music has increased his business, and it brings in people from around the region. "Music's kind of a culture for everybody. Whether you're in your car or out in your garage or whatever you're doing... And so, music's for everybody," he said. " And I give a lot of local bands a shot at, that don't really have any fans. And they get a chance to get out, and play in front of the public." Before they made it big, the Avett Brothers played here. Their manager, Dolph Ramseur, says Puckett's was an important stepping stone for the band. "I think those places are definitely key in the landscape of the music business. And a lot of times, there's power in the small. It doesn't have to be bright lights big city to make a dent, and I think Puckett's has made a dent." Musicians say the crowd at Puckett's is what makes playing here special, says musician Jud Block. "Since it's so out of the way, you kinda gotta make a point of coming to Puckett's. And you get people who are in their nineties, a couple in their nineties coming in here all the way down to college kids from UNCC." Puckett's celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. Gary is proud of its place in the community, and its history. "This has provided for three generations of families, and it's done pretty good at it. All the way from the Oliver tractors to the live music and honky-tonk. Nobody knows what the future holds. I'm gonna stick it out for quite a while longer and keep the tradition going as long as I can." Music heard in this story is by the band Porch Dog. The Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance is a collaborative effort of WFAE, the Charlotte Observer, WCNC-TV, QCityMetro.com, Charlotte Viewpoint and UNC-Charlotte to enhance arts coverage in our region.