Looking in the rear view mirror
It’s the time of year when there seems to be as almost as much “talk” about music as there is a focus on listening, but as the first few days of the new year clipped by one recurring topic was bubbling forth with regularity.
I can’t say why so many people I know in Edmonton, and for that matter other centres, have mentioned the Sidetrack Café
with fondness lately, but the consensus is that you really don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.
From what I can gather, it is a tough go in the club scene. Wages are down, door deals are the norm, and unless the act is guaranteed to make both the promoter and/or venue significant money, forget about hotel rooms and meals, which makes it even harder to balance the books when touring.
So back to the chatter concerning the ‘Track. And the comments concern the original venue on 112 street just off 104 avenue, not the short- lived replacement over on 104 street across from the Boardwalk. What was it about the original space so many music fans and music biz participants miss?
Consistency in a booking policy is a good place to start. The Sidetrack was built on presenting musicians who had either built solid track records or those who were quickly establishing themselves as artists with a unique creative stroke, or as engaging entertainers with serious chops.
I can’t recall an act that ever graced the Sidetrack stage that couldn’t pull off three 50 minute sets of strong material without repeating a tune. While it is now almost 30 years since the Sidetrack arrived on the scene, the players that were part of the first wave of talent to make their way to the Sidetrack stage were not mid-level artists. As history tells us, players like David Wilcox, Amos Garrett, Gaye Delorme, Chris Hillman, and Long John Baldry had serious reps around the world. Locals like The Rault Brothers, yes that would be CKUA’s Lionel and his brother Ron, had been recording with a heavy weight cast in Nashville. Vancouver acts, Jim Byrnes being one, were getting airplay coast-to-coast, and Calgary’s Diamond Joe White had just been signed to Stony Plain Records. A young Colin James was gigging with Billy Cowsill, k.d. lang was packing them in just weeks after she debuted with the Reclines, and as the years rolled by we heard world class reggae bands, and a young Blue Rodeo not long after they started recording. Before the first decade of the 'Track had come to a close, legends like John Lee Hooker, with Roy Rogers as his band leader, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Dr. John had performed in the inviting joint, and that was just the thin edge of the wedge in the talent department.
Looking at the equation that made the ‘Track work so well, it is apparent it would be hard to replicate in this day and age.
Leases are astronomical compared to the eighties, utilities are off the chart, liquor and beer prices are exorbitant in comparison, even when inflation is factored into the equation. Insert the fact that Sidetrack management had the joint open 20 hours a day. Doors would swing open at 7 a.m. for breakfast and things would just keep rolling through to 3 the following morning, and at seven days a week, those hours and that dedication allowed the owners to maximize profits. It was an equation that delivered on all fronts, as patrons, staff and management celebrated the success of the venue.
Enough with memory lane, but it would be fabulous to be proven wrong and witness the birth of new venues in Edmonton and Calgary that could mirror, and echo, what went down at the original Sidetrack Café.
If you are a fan of bluegrass and countrified acoustic music and live in, or anywhere near Edmonton, Red Deer or Calgary, a good live music bet this weekend would be Chris Jones and the Night Drivers
Based out of Nashville, Jones is a fine writer armed with a great set of pipes, both in terms of range and a distinctive delivery.
While he has created a solid body of recorded work over the past twenty or so years, Jones has also enjoyed a number of adventures that have taken him outside of the Night Drivers setting.
One such detour found him working with The Chieftains shortly after the legendary Irish band released the disc Down the Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions
back in 2002.
“I was recommended to Paddy Moloney by Jeff White who is in Vince Gill’s band. He had some scheduling conflicts between Vince and Chieftains dates. There was no audition, just one rehearsal and I ended up doing two tours with them. I would sing and play some of the material Ricky Skaggs had recorded on Old Plank Road
and also play behind them. Allison Moorer was also part of the show and it was a wonderful time,” says Jones, who has also experienced success in radio as a host and programmer.
College radio was his entryway into radio and he also worked on the side for a Nashville station before landing at gig at a major satellite network a few years ago. In fact Jones was named Broadcaster Of The Year last fall at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual awards for his on-air work on Sirius Satellite Radio’s bluegrass channel.
Jones is an artist who has always been about “the song” and that attribute was evident when he brought an early edition of the Night Drivers to Alberta in the mid-nineties for a date at the Blueberry Bluegrass Festival. Here we are years later and his ability to craft a great tune is still serving him well as he nabbed his second award at the IBMA awards show in the Song Of The Year category. The song is “Fork In The Road,” the title track of Album Of The Year winner from the Infamous Stringdusters.
“Alberta audiences will definitely hear more originals in our current set lists than they did back in the nineties, but it is still about the song rather than hyped up instrumental arrangements.
“I also have a philosophy of not micro managing the musicians in the band. Everyone on stage adds a different flavour to the material,” adds Jones who will be pulling tunes from his latest disc, a 14-song collection titled Cloud of Dust
, on his Alberta dates.
Chris Jones and the Night Drivers play Edmonton on Friday January 28 at Stencel Hall in the Taylor College and Seminary at 8:00pm.. The address for the seminary is 11525-23 Avenue.
On Saturday night, January 29, this fine bluegrass crew hits Red Deer for a show at the Elks Hall at 8:00 and on Sunday January 30, it’s another 8:00 p.m. start at the Irish Cultural Centre in Calgary.