On Saturday night, Shrug will take the stage at 308 East 1st Street and when they are finished, the space will no longer officially be called Canal Street Tavern as founder Mick Montgomery’s association with the venue he founded over 30 years ago will end. Right now reports say that the space will continue to host live music under its new ownership, and both fans and musicians will keep careful watch in the months to follow to see how this new reality for the space fits into our music community.
Like so many of us, Canal Street was the cornerstone of my musical education with side lessons in friendship and community. I learned to be a listener in that room whether I was jumping up and down screaming along to the Luxury Pushers or finding truth in Tod Weidner’s lyrics in a room paying such close attention, you could have heard a pin drop.
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Mick tell the story of the founding of Canal Street a few times. Once, I even got to sit on a panel with he and Jerry Gillotti about the Dayton music scene, an honor I still question whether I deserved. Mick certainly succeed in his goal of creating a listening room, a place for music to be appreciated without pretense, but I wonder in those early days in 1981, if he knew that he was also creating a family as tight-knit and diverse and downright quirky as anything you’d see in a movie but a thousand times better. This family would celebrate weddings on stage, send some of our best and brightest out into the world with one last show and welcome newcomers from near and far with open arms.
It’s in this spirit that I’ve invited some of my musical family, individuals who I met either directly or indirectly because of Canal Street, to share their thoughts, their memories and to say thank you to Mick for the time and energy he’s given our community. It won’t be forgotten, and things we learned onstage and in the audience will carry on wherever we find ourselves playing or listening.
I played my first Musician’s Co-op, when I was 15 years old. Brian Wells, Thadd Brittain, and I played a bunch of Velvet Underground, Smashing Pumpkins, and Pearl Jam covers. We were probably terrible. Regardless, we were on a real stage, with real lights, PA, sound tech, listening audience…it was unbelievably cool. With King Droopy, Shrug, Human Cannonball, and solo performances, I’ve since been on that stage more times than I can count. KD did the Dayton Band Playoffs a couple of times. We got more votes than we deserved, and got to play with some great bands that blew our minds, and taught us about etiquette and connecting with audiences. When we got knocked out of the competition, we started getting show offers from the guy who counted the ballots. Enter Mick Montgomery.
If you love Canal Street Tavern, you love Mick Montgomery…the man behind the curtain. He has channeled passion, charm, elbow grease, and unrivaled stubbornness into the improbable anachronism that is CST. As a result of this work, he provided the community with an incubator for young performers, a reliable source of gigs for local bands, and intimate access to some of the best acts in the world. I’m very grateful to have been in this time and place to enjoy the spoils of Mick’s labor. I have shared that stage with incredible performers, who have often become incredible friends. I can’t express how much joy CST has brought into my life.
You want to sit 10 feet from Arlo Guthrie? Done.
You want to see Glenn Tilbrook stand on your table with no PA, singing your favorite Squeeze song? Done.
You want to hear Jay Bennett dish about Jeff Tweedy pretending to be sick in the Wilco movie (whether that’s true or not)? Done.
I could name drop all day. Just as special to me are the many weddings, birthday parties, and unforgettable events that I got to see and be a part of. The memory of hearing the words “This is for Gregg Spence” still sends waves of emotion over me.
Mick has also provided a place for like-minded and not-so-like-minded music lovers to get around the normal bar nonsense, and focus on the music. It’s such a great place to be a fan or performer; there are no TVs, blenders, games, or anything else that makes noise. If it’s a quiet performance, loud talking is not tolerated. The patrons enforce the rules as often as the staff. It’s just the right thing to do. Would you have a conversation during a movie? My CST friends replaced most of my school friends. The club is at least partly responsible for my wife and I getting together. Maybe it was the right time. It was certainly the right place. How many happy relationships can draw a path back to this room?
In return for giving us this special place, Mick has received very little. He never made a fortune, sold out, or compromised (much) for anybody. I hope that he feels satisfaction of doing things his way, and the love of an obviously appreciative group of fans and friends. I can’t thank him enough.
All Good Things…
Yeah, I know but still! I for one love change and really am not a fan of tradition, but Canal Street Tavern has been such a part of my life I have a hard time seeing it cease to exist as it has for so very long.
Among some of the most memorable moments for me:
– Playing my first show with The Oxymorons!
– Being the last place I played on stage (11/24/12)
– Having my first wedding & reception there (Mick gave away the bride!)
– Went on the first date there with my current wife
– Playing on stage to bring in the New Year
– Held several benefit shows there for my old zine Mutant Renegade
– Played my first sold out show
I’m sure I’ve played on that stage over 100 times and have seen hundreds of other bands there over the years. I’ve made countless friends with patrons, fans, employees & musicians at Canal Street. I have shared so many wonderful experiences there I cannot think anywhere else can ever replace it.
So, Mick it was great while it lasted. Thank you for doing so much for the Dayton music community. I for one really appreciated everything you did even if I didn’t always say it. Also thank you to all of the wonderful friends who have worked at Canal Street over the years.
R.I.P Canal Street Tavern…
Canal Street Tavern is where I cut my teeth as a musician, bought my first (legal) drink, played my first sold out show, and basically came of age. As a kid, it was the only place I wanted to hang out and my folks were gracious enough to make that happen once and a while. I may have even snuck in under the radar from time to time on my own. My teenage band landed a gig there when I was 17 and I accomplished what had perhaps been my most lofty goal to that point of my life.
I could go on and on about all the shows I’ve played and seen there since, but I’ll just mention a few of the moments that I’ll never forget.
-Playing Tod Weidner’s beat-to-hell Takamine for the first time at a Musician’s Co-Op, followed by “guess what I just got to do” type phone call to my best friend who’d moved to Nashville to go to school. We both kind of idolized Shrug at that time.
-Flyaway Minion’s EP release in 2006 to a sold out bar sponsored by Camel (what the fuck?). Crazy night. Incredible.
-Seeing Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson a few years ago. Still perhaps the best performance by a two-piece I’ve ever seen and completely enthralling as Hillman is a person hero of mine.
-Talking to Mick Montgomery for well over an hour, after closing time, about Donavan’s visit to Canal Street.
E. Ryan Roth
My fondest memory of Canal Street
I had been to my first show about a month earlier. I had snuck into a Velour/Shrug show. Shrug was just a 3 piece at the time, but I instantly was a fan. I liked the music, but the lyrics were pure poetry. Such playful use of language used to paint Hemmngway-esque verbal pictures. On my way out, an old hippy approached me. I figured I was busted, but instead he asked me if I liked what I heard. I of course said “yes”. The man then told me if I liked that, then I should tell my parents to bring me back the next week to see a “Songwriters in the Round”. I found a friend who was going the next weekend ( a member of Velour named Patrick Himes) who’s Dad would claim me as his own. The next Sunday I entered the club legit for the first time in my life. The first set of 3 songwriters wasn’t bad. One guy wrote joke songs that were mildly funny, the other two were country guys….not my cup of tea. At that point, I felt like the old hippy had steered me wrong. Then set 2 happened.
The old hippy, now known to me as owner Mick Montgomery, introduced possibly the best set of music I have seen to date….and this includes Radiohead shows. A possible giant named Tod Weidner was to play first. I recognized him from the previous weekend. A quite petite lady sat next to him. Her name was Jayne Sachs. Next to her was a pretty exotic looking lady named Phyllis Turner.
The sounds and words I was exposed to for the next hour rival the thrill of a skydive. Tod played a song called “Drowsy” that instantly forced me to buy his album. Jayne followed with a song called “Waiting”. A beautiful melody and heartbreaking song that forced me to ask to buy her album as well. She gave me both of her CDs for the price of 1 instead. Phyllis lacked song titles that evening, but her voice cut through the other two like ginsu. “Disposable Soul”, “My Problem, “Special Neurotic Boy”, “On the Edge” and more followed. I talked with Tod, possibly the most intimidating experience of my life the same night. He and Mick told me about their musicians co-op on Tuesday nights if I liked what I heard that night. In the years to come I would play a hundred or so times on that stage. Some big shows, some for just a few people, some shows with bands, a ton of shows solo including a few dozen times getting to play a Songwriters in the Round, but like anything else in life, nothing burns brighter than the first time. Thanks to Mick realizing that the 16 year old kid that just snuck into his bar was there for the love of music and not to get drunk, he made a fan for life.
Thank you sir. The universe owes you at least three.
You hear about those places… Magical musical venues where magical musical things happened – CBGB’s, The Fillmore, The Ritz, The Whisky A Go Go, The Troubador, First Avenue, The Bluebird Cafe, The 40 Watt Club and so many more – some still presenting music several nights a week – many fallen to history. Dayton, Ohio has Canal Street Tavern.
My first time stepping inside that building was around 1992 and I’ve played that wonderful little stage many times and whether the crowd was spilling over onto the stage and into the street or if we just played to a half dozen other singer songwriters at a Musician’s Co-Op, there has always been magic in that room. The historical location is likely beholden to some sort of energetic power spot or maybe it’s just the apparent amount of true love poured into that old wood through the years by Mick Montgomery and the myriad of musical spirits that have drifted up those steps and onto that stage.
There’s something about Canal Street that very few people understand – I had the awakening while attending a show at the Ryman in Nashville – all that old wood and organic material is, nightly, vibrated with the sounds that are pushed through the air and it retains an impression of that energy. Those old church pews and hard wood floor really are haunted by the songs that have been played there. If everything that exists is made of the same subatomic space stuff and the illusion of solidity is really just particles and waves acting and reacting at different frequencies then you have to imagine the intricate patterning inside that structure that we’ve come to know as Canal Street Tavern. Just like the graffiti and stickers that wallpapers the tiny backstage area, the sounds and spirit and love that has been shared and received at that particular longitude and latitude will be forever there. Whether the bank papers state the same name or even if that building eventually falls to the ages and some new, strange creature erupts from that corner… You will always be able to hear – or feel – the music that has been concentrated into that piece of ground. Thank you to Mick Montgomery and the countless staff members who made the room feel like home and kept the music playing.
Memories of Canal Street: Can’t choose. Won’t choose. Here are some, though. Meeting and becoming good friends with Peter Mulvey. Iodine, any time they played there. Christopher Corn’s co-op set after Tim Taylor died. The 93 and 95 Playoffs. The Monster Hops. Bill Frisell. Opening for the Aquarium Rescue Unit. Meeting Sharon A. Lane within minutes of walking in there for the first time. Opening for Richard Lloyd and listening to him reminisce about roller skating with Cheetah Chrome to a star-struck me and Jamy Holliday. Bill Kirchen. Opening for Ronnie Dawson. James McMurtry. Filling in as a janitor for a week for Will Dalgard. Going to the Century Bar and helping put in the bench seats along the walls. Hammel On Trial. Brian Cates. Settling up with Mick Montgomery and having him call me an “old rounder” (the highest compliment one can get from him). Songwriters In The Round. Gregg Spence. Hosting Co-op. Flying by the seat of my pants onstage more times than I can count. Being so pissed off at my performance one night that I punched a hole in the dressing room wall (it’s still there- I can show you). Hell, THE DRESSING ROOM WALL (and trying to remember where the perfectly-camouflaged electrical outlet is on it). Meeting girls. Meeting my wife. Weddings. Wakes. Learning how to be a musician and person over the course of 22 years and literally thousands of gigs on that stage.
Gladgirl Shelly Hulce
I invented myself there, many times over. And I witnessed the same of others.
It was my life in my early 20’s, then I dropped out of the scene to do the pregnancy/parenting thing. When I was released from “baby jail,” I started revisiting my old identity to see if it was in tact. Not long after re-entry, a band I was in entered the band playoffs. One night after a playoff session, Mick pulled me in the office saying, “Good to see you back, kid. You look happy.” I said “Yeah, I guess I’ve come full circle Mick.” Mick, as usual, put things in perspective with one sentence “ Life isn’t one big circle Shell, it’s lots and lots of circles. You have lot’s of circles ahead.” Mick is one of a few “gurus’ in my life. He and the late Greg Savage (Dingleberries founder) have big notches on the timeline of my life.
CST is home base for me. I was there watching the birth of GBV. I was there watching the birth of The Breeders. Had we only known what that would mean to the rest of the world….!
That room was everyone’s living room. The transition is like having your parents move out of your childhood home. I always went there for comfort. I always felt safe, and there was never any trouble. It was my home. Not a lot of people have that luxury in their towns, a safe place you can go and be with your “family”. A very forgiving place where, if you fail, people help you back up. When you succeed, they lift you on their shoulders. This is where we got our news, and where we “made” our news.
Canal Street is a state of mind, a culture. It’s in Dayton’s DNA. (And most of Dayton’s DNA is in there as well.) I witnessed many couple meet there for the first time. I’ve attended weddings there, and witnessed some break-ups and the awkward re-entry after those break-ups. That goes for bands too, not just couples.
From the outside, the place might not look like much, but for those who live and breath Dayton music, it’s romantic and gritty and real. It’s to Dayton what CBGB was to New York. I have many heroes locally, and in my mind they will always be bathed in the red glow of the CST stage. Some have aged and dropped out, others moved on to international fame, some are from the more current circle. I watched my heroes grow up there too: Tod Weidner, Jesse Remnant, Eric Cassidy, Dan Stahl. We, as a family, celebrated the birth of many new voices, and clung to one another as some of our favorites fell silent.
If you’ve ever seen CST in the day time, or with all the lights on, it’s a real shocker. It’s like seeing your favorite performers at the pool or something. It messes with my perception. I like the dreamy mind set it created for me. I got most of my hug therapy there! For me, the most beautiful and iconic piece of Dayton art is the dressing room of CST. The saying “If these walls could talk…” is fitting to say the least.
One personal favorite memory of mine is being in the Playoffs in 2003 ( I could be wrong on the year) .The band I was in, Ruetschley, advanced a few rounds and it was fun. We decided that I would transfer over to synth, and I was scared to death, having never played keys in a band before. So I took clear tape and wrote the chord on the keys and had a cheat sheet for which patch numbers to dial in for which songs. We had in ear monitors too (looking back, that was insane for that stage). So the first night I am to play keys in this band, during Playoffs, I put the monitors in my ears and I could hear my heart racing and every breath I took. This made me even more nervous, like I was ready to walk on the moon or something. Knowing I had all these notes and keys written was my safety net and my only source of comfort…..THEN they turned the house down and the red stage lights on. I couldn’t read a damn thing. I was terrified, but I faked my way through the first song. When it hit me that all the people in front of me were on my side, I was okay.
The biggest surprise to me when it came to playoffs was how supportive the bands were, at least the year I was in it. When we would beat a band in a round, they would rally their fans to come support us, and we did the same when we got beat. It was then that I realized that Mick was a leader in building community.
As an events promoter, Mick taught me a lot too. I cut my teeth there by throwing shows. He knew I was there to learn. He has a lot of grace for people who care to keep learning. Must be the old school teacher in him. I appreciated his love for antiques and whimsical things too. The styles of handwritten signs, the file they are kept in, the boards of THIS WEEK and COMING UP that flank the stage…. I love those. Sharon’s piano, Rev. Cool’s big head, Woody Guthrie big as life, the crows nest with chairs that always ruined your pants, the creaky floor….. I love it all. It’s home.
I love it that I could stand inches away from a guitar player and watch every pedal being used, read every note and setlist they had on the floor and feel the breeze come out of their amps. It’s magic and church and love and sex one song at a time. I can truly say I have had a religious experience there many times over, especially with the Buffalo Killers. Those shows were every bit as Pentecostal as any alter call I experienced as a child raised in the church. The stained glass windows were no accident if you ask me!
November 30th is the last show at Canal Street Tavern. I worked there for 10 years and played onstage in 7 different bands, I grew up in that bar. It will always be a major part of who I am as a person musically and otherwise. I hope it gets a great sendoff. Thanks for everything Mick.
Angelle Haney Gullett
I knew about Canal Street as soon as I was old enough to read. The weekly ad in the newspaper seemed like a window into a rarefied and exotic world where people made lives around the most important thing in the world – music. I used to clip those ads, even though I didn’t know any of the bands, and paste them into a scrap book. It was the world I desperately wanted to be a part of.
When I was in grade school, my friend’s mom was a jazz and blues artist. I thought Sharon Lane was just about the most glamorous, amazing woman I had ever seen, and she worked at Canal Street Tavern.
When I finally got my job at Canal Street, I was neither glamorous nor amazing. I was 19, an unemployed high school drop out, and scared beyond belief because I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.
Canal Street Tavern had all my answers, even if I didn’t know it.
I watched my friends enter, lose, and eventually win the Dayton Band Playoffs. I got my high heels stuck in those hundred-year-old floorboards. I learned how to say no. I learned how to say yes. I met the man who would become my husband and the people who are my lifelong friends. I made the decision to get my GED. I started college. I waited tables, worked the day bar, remembered people by the drinks they ordered and saw hands-down the greatest live music of my entire life, night after night.
And I mean, I saw everything. Because Mick booked live, original music six nights a week, I found myself listening to everything from folk to alt-country to zydeco to Hawiaan slack-key guitar, all against the never-ending thrum of local punk, metal, and rock n’ roll. I only worked there for three years, but I kept coming back to see music, several nights a week, until I finally moved away. When I wanted to make my first movie, of course it was about Canal Street’s Musician’s Co-Op and how special it was.
Today, I live, work and see music in Los Angeles. I would like to say that I didn’t know how special Canal Street, and by extension the Dayton music scene was until I got away, but that would be a lie.
It was obvious to me that I was part of something very special the first time I stepped through those doors. I knew that bands like Iodine and Braniac and Shrug and Real Lulu and The Mystery Addicts were giving me the best nights of my life, even as it was happening.
And I owe that to Mick Montgomery, who always allowed 18 year olds in, because that’s the age when music matters to you so much you can’t survive without it. Who never let a blender, a pool table or a television screen through the door. Who always cared about the music first, the bar second, and the business third. Who made it very clear that, even though I was a cocktail waitress, I did not have to take a drunk’s disrespect, and neither did the people on stage.
Mick’s children are all grown now, and like them, I grew up in Canal Street Tavern. It made me who I am. It showed me what was possible, if people cared enough to make it happen. Whatever happens to the building and the bar, that’s a legacy that will grow and live on.
That’s Mick’s gift to all of us. And I will be forever in his debt.
Angelle Haney Gullett
Canal Street Tavern, Class of ‘94
This is for Mick, Sharon, Steven, Jamy, Amy, Heather, Rob, Cates, Stacy, Melissa, Elizabeth, Katy, Liz, Sandra, Doug, and Kimberly.