Thursday, September 20, 2007

Canal Street's been nearly 20 years.

Canal Street Tavern was the first bar I went to in Dayton after moving here from California.

It was in December 1987…a Sunday night…I went to see a bluegrass band. I was a big bluegrass fan back then, and used to listen to it a lot back in Califas.

After that I was there frequently from, say, 1988 through the mid 1990s. Even had a favorite seat: the crows nest up in the 'bleachers' near the doorman, where one had a great view of the stage and who was coming in, but pretty private, too.

I saw a lot of bands here. The place was playing what I was into. A lot of that folk/celtic/rock hybrid, acts like The Drovers from Chicago, Cordelias Dad from New England, Figgy Duff and Boiled in Lead from up in Canada. And some big-name overseas acts like Silly Wizard and John Renbourne. Later, they even had Dick Gaughan (one of my all time favorite celtic folk performers) and Old Blind Dogs. And bluegrassers like Peter Rowan (who I saw in California, too).

The place always featured local original acts. Forgotten (but memorable for me) bands like Tuba Blooze and the Highwaymen, and performers that are still around, and still peform there, like singer/piano player Sharon Lane. CST always had some good bluegrass every so often, but the highlight for the trad style was the Dry Branch Fire Squads annual winter show, especially with Anne & Phil Case as the opener.

CST is a "musicians room". It was intended as such, as a venue for original live music. The owner, Mick Montgomery, is an old folksinger from back in the 1960s, and I think they always have performers on their staff. I know that Steve Gullet, late of the American Static, was their doorman for awhile. People who come there are as often as not musicians themselves (for the record I can't play, sing, or read music, just a fan). So the vibe at CST had a certain wasn’t a bar with music as incidental, it was there for people who appreciated popular music of a certain type, artists and fans.

It is difficult to express my feeling about this place without getting mystical or gushy about the connection between artist and audience, the power of music to move people, or the spirit of the place, and so forth. But there have some transcendent moments there where things just clicked right, and you came out just glowing (and it wasn't the beer).

Though I don't go there much nowadays Canal Street Tavern has helped make Dayton livable for me during my early years here. It's also been a musical education of sorts. For me CST remains one of Daytons special places, and its good to know it’s still around.

As postscript, there is this poster on the wall of CST, near the stage entry for the musicians, that reads like this:

"I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you. I could hire out to the other side, the big money side, and get several dollars every week just to quit singing my own kind of songs and to sing the kind that knock you down still farther and the ones that poke fun at you even more and the ones that make you think you've not any sense at all. But I decided a long time ago that I'd starve to death before I'd sing any such songs as that. The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes and your songbooks are already loaded down and running over with such no good songs as that anyhow."
- Woody Guthrie.

....and I'll leave it at that.


Anonymous said...

Good to know CST is still rocking. Say hey to Mick from Boiled In Lead in Minneapolis!

- Drew Miller

Anonymous said...

I grew up there. The music and the people there are a large part of the soundtrack of my life- Mick being the front man all along.

The government of Dayton (city) needs to be more supportive of Mick and recognize his contributions to this community, and the world of music.
The things he asks for are simple and they fight him every time he trys to do anything.
He asked for a simple permit for a band load in area off the street- NO.
But every bar in the OD has one.
I've grown up at CST, as a patron and as a performer.
In 25 years, I have never felt unsafe or uncomfortable there. The city doesn't appreciate or applaude a venue of this caliber not only for it's contributions but for keeping the reputation of being a safe place that doesn't burden the police or the citizens.