Hootenanny @ The Wheel

With its unique look and simple setting, The Wheel located on the corner of Cavendish and Sherbrooke is a one of a kind marvel for music aficionados- especially those in love with the 40’s, 50’s & 60’s. There are long extended tables & chairs filled with a baby boomer to gold aged filled audience. There are also curiosity seeking teenagers in attendance, especially Lex Gil, a Concordia political science student that was brought a year ago by a friend and has been there ‘frequently’ ever since. ‘The music rocks’ Gil says as she listens to a man belt out Johnny Cash’s Ring Of Fire with an expert band that knows their country repertoire quite deeply.

There is a lap steel guitar, upright bass, acoustic guitar & violin- They play every song given to them and kick start the show with a hell of a rendition of Eck Robertson’s Ragtime Annie. Because of the instrumentation and song selection, it is clear that we are in the characteristics of country territory and in the presence of country fans from many generations. Other heartbreaking melodies played include The Tennessee Waltz & I’m so Lonesome I Could

Connie Hoffman, a mother of 10, regularly shows on Monday nights, bringing her acoustic guitar and deciding to get up on stage and sing a few country tunes. Her voice is squeaky and her rhythm guitar playing just good enough but her heart is in the right place & her love for country music very clear. It is that very dedication to music from its artists and audience that makes The Wheel a one of a kind experience. As the audience of about 50 clapped, sighed, country danced and reacted to an abundance of rich music, I couldn’t help but feel the same hootenanny and joy- even if I didn’t know half the songs.

As the dancing and drinking continues, there is a man that goes from table to table. I begin to wonder what that man can possibly be giving out to the audience and once he comes to our table I am surprised and highly amused by his treat, ‘Liquorice, Liquorice, anybody want Liquorice’, I turn to my friend and say ‘this must be the only bar in the world that gives out Liquorice’.

It only added to the fun as the country music was pouring down on us from the stage, its acoustics not very clear and not very loud from the get go, I was trying to figure out why the entire night and came to the conclusion that it must be from a lack of speakers on stage. All flaws aside, the music functioned as a mix of things; as dancing, listening &background music for all involved.

It’s that time of the night, time when ‘Hillbilly Night’ founder Bob Fuller gets up on stage –gut gushing out, cowboy hat intact- & plays a few songs for an audience he has built up for close to 44 years ago as a way to keep country music alive and well through its downward spiral because of the mainstreamed ‘Nashville sound’ that came out after Rockabilly became big in the 50’s . His finance of the event is the running motor for what is now a highly unconventional style of music for the masses, one that –judging by the crowd tonight- has its following and are highly thankful for Fuller’s dedicative efforts to keep it alive.

He arranges his cowboy hat and nods for the band to start, gently strumming his guitar, the song begins and the audience has quieted down a tiny bit- as if the man performing on stage has garnered their respect and admiration & it’s not hard to see why. He has a presence that demands attention & a presence that is very well known in this community of old school country diehards. He gets into a beautiful version of Bury me under the Weeping Willow by the Carter family, his acoustic slowly strumming and the fiddle slowly weeping away the carters’ heartbreaking chords.

The audience has quieted down and he sings with a western voice that slowly evaporates into the night- meanwhile people are slow dancing, people are drinking, people are whispering, liquorice is still being given out and middle aged men and women are weeping at the thought of this kind of music ceasing to exist. Visiting The Wheel on a Monday night might make you think otherwise, in fact for the 3 hours I was there it was only that music that mattered most in the world.