True country music has lost a major champion and local legend after it was revealed Friday afternoon (4-30) that Dustin Boyer—the beloved owner of the local honky tonk Duke’s Indy in south Indianapolis, Indiana—has died.
A long time traditional country fan, Duke’s Indy was Dustin Boyer’s dream, and became an answered prayer for both local country fans, and the artists and bands that would build appearances at Duke’s as anchors for their regional and national tours.
Boyer grew up listening to traditional country being played by his grandfather on the record player. When he opened Duke’s in 2018, he decided to name the venue after his grandfather Hayes Boyer, who was affectionately known as “Duke.” The venue’s eagle logo comes from one of his grandfather’s old belt buckles. On the buckle, the eagle is missing one leg, and so the logo has a missing leg as well.
Dustin Boyer was resolute about just what kind of music the venue would cater to.
“We don’t like pop country here. We like real country,” Dustin was famous for saying, and that’s what he booked. Bands like Mike and the Moonpies, Dallas Moore, Cody Ikerd, Alex Williams, Nick Dittmeier, Tyler Lance Walker Gill, Josh Morningstar, and many others that help define today’s traditional country were regulars at Duke’s, and to a man, will vouch for how important Duke’s was to their career, and how crushing the loss of Dustin Boyer is.
“We would not be a band if not for Dustin Boyer and the opportunity to cut our teeth in his house in the early days,” says the Indiana-based band The Cold Hearts. “We have played Duke’s nearly 25 times, and NO PLACE feels like home like that hardwood … Rest easy hoss. You and your vision of Duke’s left a big mark on anyone who shinned under that neon, and we will do our best to make you proud.”
Songwriter and performer Josh Morningstar says, “He was always there with a kind word when I stepped offstage, and always made me feel incredibly welcome. Those of us that make our living running around singing songs wish that every venue could be like Dukes, and every venue owner like Dustin.”
Duke’s is a honky-tonk, but it catered to songwriters as well. It famously has a neon sign hanging in the rafters of the old ice house that frankly states, “Please Shut The Fuck Up,” and Dustin was known to be very protective of his songwriters, asking people to leave who talked over a good song. Another neon sign in the venue simply says, “Honest.”
“An absolute jewel of a venue in Indianapolis, and he gave that spot more heart than most rooms could dream of,” says songwriter Justin Wells. “He loved music, he LOVED country music, and every inch of Duke’s showed it.”
No word at the moment of how Dustin Lee Boyer passed away, or what the fate of Duke’s will be after his passing. The venue announced that Friday night’s performance had been cancelled. Like many music venues across the United States, Duke’s Indy has been closed for most of the last year due to the COVID-19 lockdowns.
More information if or when it becomes available.