Photos by Brandon Payne
On Team Trivia Night, held every Tuesday at 9 p.m., friendly F-bombs bounce from wall to art-lined wall in the yellow atmosphere of Clementine Café on South Main Street in downtown Harrisonburg. The voice responsible belongs to Dallas Sweezy, a waiter and bartender who doubles as the popular and irreverent trivia emcee. He and his righteously thick beard can be found up on stage, perhaps sipping a Dark and Stormy, one of Clementine’s stronger drinks, and almost certainly getting progressively louder. He begins a question, cutting through the equally boisterous crowd. “On this day in history – shut the f–k up while I read this…”
A senior history major at James Madison University, Sweezy always includes an on-this-day-in-history question. The rest of his questions range from chemistry and mountains to constellations and Freddie Mercury. “I want people to go away being drunk, having fun and maybe learning something,” said Sweezy. Dave Anderson, a senior political science major at JMU, has been a regular at Trivia Night all school year. “It’s something stimulating to do on a Tuesday night that doesn’t involve video games,” he said.
For the March 13 game, Dallas gave some of the trivia questions a theme corresponding to St. Patrick’s Day, but he “protests” in favor of his own heritage by wearing a Scottish kilt and a Scottish satchel made from the pelt of a baby seal, a product which is now quite illegal to produce. While Sweezy embraces his Scottish heritage, he’s also extremely proud of his roots in the American South. He has family from Arkansas, Georgia and, of course, Texas. He and his siblings, Austin, Carson and Madison, are all named after Texas cities. He tries to pinpoint what makes the South, the South, and according to him, Virginia doesn’t have it.
“You gotta have Spanish moss, a s—load of cicadas…” Mike Hughes is currently Sweezy’s co-host and will step up as the new trivia host once Dallas graduates. He is more than happy to object. “Wait, cicadas are really big in the North,” he said. “You know what? New Jersey has a lot of cicadas.” Sweezy concedes on the cicada point, but continues to search for his definition of the South. “I mean, mainly it’s the cooking, it’s the culture, it’s…” “The lack of turn signals?” Hughes suggests.
They appear to be arguing for the sake of debate. Even though Mike identifies as a Northerner and Dallas as a Southerner, the enthusiastic banter that goes on between them makes it clear that trivia will still be a good old, controversial time next year. One Tuesday night, someone in the crowd said something about Sweezy’s beard. It’s difficult to understand what exactly was said, but easy to hear Sweezy subsequently threatening the heckler with the human-sized sculpture of a giraffe neck looming over the bar. Alas, the threat turns out to be an empty one, and Sweezy continues with trivia.
“Dallas is definitely unconventional when you think about a trivia host,” said senior nutrition major Aubrey Stueckler, who has only been to trivia night a few times. “Sometimes we have to rein him in a little bit,” said Lauren Jones, general manager at Clementine. “Every host has been pretty bawdy but Dallas has taken it to another level.”
In addition to writing the questions for trivia, Dallas makes the playlists. One night may have a cornucopia of tunes from Jimi Hendrix to the Dropkick Murphys for St. Patrick’s Day, another may feature a more streamlined Michael Jackson and Prince soundtrack. He says he sometimes makes up three or four playlists and asks the audience which one to play. He may follow their suggestion, or he may choose to play exactly what they don’t want to hear.
The song that plays during the shot question — “Shots” by LMFAO — never varies. The answer to this question is always a number; it is rarely common knowledge. What if a team have no earthly idea how many species of horsefly there are, or how many pounds of green dye are dumped into the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day?
As Sweezy says: “This is the shots round. You can leave if you don’t like it.” He comes across as someone who wants to be heard and known, but for a guy who’s so talkative, Sweezy is surprisingly attentive. If someone asks him about Texas then, at the end of his tangent about the state’s motto, he’ll ask, “Where are you from?” He can’t walk from one end of the restaurant to the other without seeing someone who knows him, but if he doesn’t recognize a face immediately, he’ll offer a sincere apology, and a double chocolate stout — on the house.