Thursday, 17 May 2012

That Night in Atherley

Some things should be mandatory for all Ontario residents, no matter if you were born on this soil or not. Certain rites of passage that have to be experienced before one can declare oneself a true Canadian.
I’m not painting a picture of a Molson Canadian commercial here, with buff dudes jumping off the end of a dock in Lake Muskoka or Olympic quality bikini babes playing beach volleyball at Grand Bend. I’m talking about a few experiences that end up deeply woven into the fabric of the soul. Ones that offer a bit more grit and may, on occasion, force you to set down your Pinot Noir, pick up a large plastic cup of watery draft and wade into the trenches so to speak.

Case in point…when I was seventeen years old, I walked straight into a dank strip bar to see David Wilcox play. The legendary Atherley Arms otherwise known as “The First”, had the lowest ceilings, the filthiest urinals and rumour had it, the best burgers this side of Peterborough. (I never had the guts to actually eat there, but I have heard tell of those who survived the experience.) It was the first real bar I had ever been in, and at 8 pm the strippers were still in attendance at the far end of the bar, mingling with the bikers and various other ne’r do wells.  Those of us non-regulars who had snuck in crowded around the stage and tried not to make eye contact with the characters playing pool, most of whom looked like they had been there since the previous Tuesday. I guess “snuck in” isn’t really the right term because in those days if you flashed even the crudest of homemade ID at the bouncer, you could pretty much walk in uncontested. For backup, I had an expired driver’s license that said I was 22, just in case.

Once the show started however, all the stars aligned as they sometimes do in these situations and the event transformed itself into an experience. There is something to be said for being able to stand three feet in front of the entertainment, squished in amongst all your buddies, singing along and not caring if someone spills beer on your foot. Despite the lack of air conditioning, a non-existent light show, and having to share the space with strippers and coke dealers, it couldn’t have been better. For a few hours on a Saturday night, all was right with the world. Whether or not you are a fan of David Wilcox, you can say you’ve at least done your civic duty if you’ve seen him play in a hot sweaty bar, somewhere in Ontario. I’ve seen many concerts where tickets have been on the wrong side of $100, so for 10 bucks, this was money well spent.

That’s the beauty of these joints scattered around the region. It could be the Albion in Guelph, the Doctors Hotel in Belleville or any other number of local watering holes that all come with their own quirks, but you pair that atmosphere with the right band and suddenly, you’re part of Ontario’s rock and roll history.
Other legendary Ontario venues such as the Kee in Bala, or the Dardenella in Wasaga Beach should be experienced at least once. Even seeing out of towners Sam Roberts or Blue Rodeo at the Kee on a hot July night still qualifies as a true Ontario experience. In the olden days, it would have been Teenage Head or maybe Kim Mitchell at the Dard. If you are real old school you may have been to the Pav in Orillia, watching Max Webster or Coney Hatch. The list of bands that have graced the stages of many of these out of the way venues is unimaginable. From back in the day when the Tragically Hip were practically the house band at Alfies in Kingston, to 54-40, The New Pornographers, The Constantines, and Zeus.

I’ve also seen my fair share of less than stellar performances in some dives across the land. If you head into a bar for a beverage, and there happens to be a Cinderella cover band going at it…well you can imagine. At least they’re out there, givin ‘er, as we say.
So heres to all the hair metal cover bands, punk rock outfits, jam bands and Indie treasures that make their living in the hideaways of Ontario.
Heres to The Embassy Hotel and Call the Office in London, Clancy’s Hotel in Peterborough, the defunct Clifton in Barrie and many many more great venues.

And hey…if you’re seventeen. David Wilcox is playing at the Kee on June 30th.
Maybe you can sneak in and catch him while he’s still got the chops. Trust me…it’ll be $33.35 well spent.

Here is your homework if you choose to accept it:


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