Into the Country: DC's Country Junction in Lowell celebrating more than 35 years

2012-09-30T00:00:00Z Into the Country: DC's Country Junction in Lowell celebrating more than 35 yearsBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

It began as a structure intended as horse stables and indoor and outdoor riding arena.

But for herds of country music fans around Northwest Indiana and Chicagoland, it's the long-time watering hole for cowboys and cowgirls of any age who enjoy relaxed and rustic entertainment on a Saturday night.

DC's Country Junction, 3599 West 161st Ave., in Lowell is just as familiar as any classic Patsy Cline or Hank Williams Sr. song for region fans of country music.

"As soon as someone walks in, they feel right at home," said Dan Ward, the long-time manager of the food, dance and live entertainment family venue.

"And once all of the neon is lit up and the crowds have flooded in on a packed Saturday night with music coming from the rafters, it's like stepping into another world where time doesn't move so fast, but still seems to fly by once you're lost in the moment and having a good time."

Holding to a three decade-old tradition, DC's Country Junction is only open once a week, every Saturday from 6:45 p.m. to 1 a.m.

And true to form, Ward says it's remained "happily busy, thanks to families and regulars" who look forward to Saturday nights.

Ward, who lives in Wheatfield, is well familiar with the surroundings and history of DC's Country Junction, since he's worked there since almost the beginning.

It opened in 1975 and Ward began in 1981 as a member of the house band, an onstage music-making responsibility he still enjoys with his fellow band mates.

Owned and operated by Dennis Charles Miller, who continues to live on the 44-acre property with his family, the large entertainment space technically sits on 11 acres.

When Miller began leasing out the vast barn and stable space to the Lake County Sheriff's Department in 1975, the indoor horse stables and covered riding arena were ideal for housing and working with the officers' horses.

To help raise money for the maintenance and upkeep, it was decided to hold a large "barn dance" with live entertainment as a Saturday night event.

"Dennis discovered having the entertainment was not only popular, but people kept asking when's the next one," Ward said.

"And before long, the horses were good and it was being converted over to just an entertainment space. But what's so funny, is that not that much has ever been changed and converted. So, the horse stalls are still functional and right under the wooden dance floor is the original dirt riding indoor arena."

Miller decided to name the space DC's Country Junction, with the "DC" as an abbreviation of his first and middle name.

He immediately installed a ventilation and fan cooling system, along with plenty of restrooms and a food service area, and secured the proper paperwork to be licensed as "a family entertainment center."

"People sometimes wonder how we can have a bar area and still have so many children on the property, along with our kids arcade area," Ward said.

"But we know the regulations and keeping the tradition of having us be a place for families helps keep out problems. And having a police officer on duty every Saturday night also helps."

For the first two decades, DC's Country Junction also became famed for an expansive exotic animal and petting zoo.

"Up until 2002, we had two black bears, two leopards, two Siberian tigers and two cougars, among other interesting animals, in addition to the children's petting zoo farm animals," Ward said.

"It just become too expensive, so we donated the animals to the Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, even though we kept our animal licensing active up until 2007."

But other favorite features still remain, like the chance for guests to cook their own burgers on the large, sprawling Chuck Wagon Grill and the unique decor of curiosities on display.

A towering fiberglass smiling bear near the arcade area was purchased from Sauzer's Kiddieland at U.S. 30 and 41 in Schererville after it closed in 1994. DC's Country Junction also purchased the Ferris wheel from Sauzer's Kiddieland, but has it stored in hope of erecting it one day. 

As for an explanation of what has kept the 1,400-square-foot dance floor space filled consistently over the past 35 years, Ward says country music fans are faithful.

"There are many other places around Northwest Indiana and Chicagoland that have tried to operate as a country western dance bar and closed over the years," he said.

"And many places rode the waves of popularity of square dancing in the 1970s and then line dancing when it peaked in the early 1990s. But we've lasted through it all, even as country music became cross-over and then faded and then hit again."

The busiest Ward said DC's Country Junction has ever been is 1997 when the World Cup was played in Chicago.

"The German soccer team rented out our space and we were at our 2,800 capacity, with the fields where we park our cars all filled," Ward said.

"Germans love country music. And about three years ago, we had 2,000 people packed in here when we had Merle Haggard here to perform."

The space also offers line dancing lessons taught by Jenny Cain of Valparaiso, who is formerly from Nashville's Wild Horse Saloon and a choreographer for Alan Jackson's music videos.

He said it's also key that DC's Country Junction has always kept prices affordable.

"It's $5 for adults to get in for the cover charge and it's $10 for children, which includes tickets for the kids to get food and drinks," Ward said.

"And once everyone's inside, they find everything very affordable and a reason to come back."

On Dec. 8, DC's Country Junction will welcome a live performance by singer Matt Mason, of Fairland, Ind. and his band, who are the winners of the first season of CMT's "Next Country Superstar" reality competition that aired in 2011.

FYI: dccountryjunction or (219) 696-4955

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