The Sadies, Final Answer
20 Years Later The Ford Plant Is Still Telling Untold Stories
Tim Ford, May 05, 2022 // Brantford, OntarioThe Ford Plant which no longer stands where it once did in Brantford, Ontario. Web Image.
I’m fortunate enough to have a period in my life that was vaguely theatrical and offers me great conversational fodder. The “I used to own a music venue” card is a great one to have up my sleeve in the happenstance there’s a lull in conversation. I’ve come to find that my extensive knowledge on Illinois post-punk and all my Kate Bush fan-fiction only goes so far in keeping one interested. So, when I’m in mid-convo with someone about how Owls’s debut is an unheard Kinsella masterpiece, and I see their eyes start to glaze and twitch slowly west, I’ll toss them a “Hey, you like Blue Rodeo?” or, “You ever heard of Grizzly Bear?”
I will take advantage of any opportunity I have to mention the time we brought Cadence Weapon to karaoke night at the Rodeo Tavern. For one night only you could see Canada’s greatest hip hop artist and literal poet laureate belt everyone’s favourite '80s ballads, at Brantford’s premiere Country and Western Bar/Sex Club. Or, if I’m losing my audience, I’ll bring up the time I witnessed a supernatural phenomenon and watched the walls of the venue start to perspire during Xiu Xiu’s throbbing wail of a set. Beads of sweat pooled on the paint-chipped roof above and dripped down onto the soaking dancers below. It was equally beautiful/gross.
I find myself in conversations about that music venue, The Ford Plant, more often lately. It’s the 20th anniversary of The FP’s opening and it feels nostalgia is dusting up a memory or two around town. I repeatedly find myself walking down the 'ol’ memory alleyway’ with familiar-faced folks. We take a moment to reminisce about the all-night dance parties we used to host, or the pitchy Springtime renditions of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ sung around the out of tune piano in the foyer (I still think that song is multi-seasonal).
Former home of $1 beers in Brantford, Ontario - The Rodeo. Web Image.
I received a message the other day from an old friend I haven’t talked to in an unforgivable gap of time. They reminded me of the river show we put on which ended abruptly with a fish being violently flung at us by an outraged fisherman. He rightfully decreed we had scared the fish away with our “goddamn hipster music.” I also can’t tell you how many people in the last few years have told me that they met their spouse or partner at The FP. It’s a great feeling to know we’re a paragraph in their love story.
In conversation throughout the years, I’ve been asked many questions about my experiences at The Ford Plant, but I do catch myself answering some questions more than others:
-Yes, my ears ring.
- No, I don’t keep in touch with Arcade Fire.
-Yes, Neil Haverty talks like he sings.
- …The Stills.
-No, I didn’t name it after myself, Mark from Sourkeys named it.
He’s to blame.
-No, I didn’t light the fire.
I must say, what I’m asked most often is, “What was your favourite performance at The FP?” It’s a question I’ve asked myself a hundred times, changing my mind more than making it. If we’re going by favourite band, I think I would have to say The Constantines. Or Andre Ethier. No! Wait! Zefangus! Maybe I’ll go with Kepler. The fact that we had Julie Doiron’s voice echo against those walls is an honour I’ll keep forever close. That beautiful echo was stirringly heard throughout that building until the day they tore it down.
Ultimately, what my most consistent answer has been, and what the muck in my guts tells me, is that my favourite Ford Plant performance of all time ever is August 6th, 2006, with The Sadies. There are several reasons why this might be my final answer. Perhaps it was their absolute professionalism and how gentlemanly they carried themselves both on and behind the stage. Perhaps it was that I had previously sketched a myth in my mind about them and they lived up to every notion I imagined. Maybe it was that they were the tightest live band I had ever seen in my life. There seems to be something more mystical as to why The Sadies are at the peak of the mountain though. It’s as if their music has scored itself into my memories and I can’t reminisce about that specific time in my life without them playing along with it.
The Sadies. Web Image.
Looking back, they always seemed to be the go-to late-summer/early-autumn soundtrack for the gang and me. We blared their CDs as we “cleaned” the venue and the kids gathered on King Street before the show. It’s not rare an epic game of air-conditioner basketball would ensue while ‘Lay Down Your Arms’ played behind it (like it was ‘We Will Rock You’). ‘In Concert: Vol. 1’ consistently mumbled through our shitty P.A. over the years, betwixt sets from the likes of Ohbijou and Nathan Lawr, keeping the perfect vibe between lulls.
I think the fondest memory I have, that The Sadies’s music is attached too, is of our yearly camping trips to Brant Park. Our hours were jam packed with day-fires, a few too many bottles of Baby Duck and some of the greatest acoustic versions of ‘Up on Cripple Creek’ the raccoons in the brush had ever heard. As if an undiscussed tradition, when the other campfires around us were pissed out, we would put The Sadies on through Simon’s awesome stereo-knapsack thingy or through the speakers from one of the cars and we’d let the band play the rest of the night out. We’d stare up and watch the sparks from the fire crackle up into the night, with the forest as the backdrop and the stars looking like the cover of ‘Tremendous Efforts.’ If you handed me a pencil, I could trace the exact curves of that tree line from memory.
The late Dallas Good of The Sadies. Web Photos.
Every once and a while, a voice from around the fire would interrupt the music with passing thoughts of how Dallas from The Sadies and Dan from Wolf Parade looked like brothers. Or someone would reiterate the myth that the Good brothers never learned how to play guitar, they always just innately knew, as if some otherworldly pact had been made. There may have even been a few planned coups for the capture and execution of any who preferred Elvis Presley’s version of ‘Loved on Look’ over The Sadies's version. Mostly we would just let the band play on, fading with the fire and car batteries. They were the perfect woozy late-night lullaby to have in the background while we found our tent or a bush to rest for a few hours. Their music was like someone stroking your hair and tickling your arm until you fell asleep, even if you couldn’t feel your arms… because you were only in a t-shirt… because you didn’t bother to pack a sweater or light jacket. It felt like they put us under a spell.
The Sadies were the kind of band that didn’t let you feel embarrassed about using tired cliches like describing their sound as ‘magic.’ The Sadies really could conjure magic when they played music. It's not a coincidence that the whirr of their reverbed plucks sounded like ghosts cooing in and out of the trees beyond our campsite.
It's not a coincidence that when the sparks flew up, they synchronized with the skating double bass and skiffling drum brushes. Having such a memory attached to a band gives them an advantage when answering what my favourite performance is, I admit that, but judging on the sheer scope of artists who have hired The Sadies as their backing band proves my magic theory.
From musicians who know a thing or two about a thing or two, The Sadies really were Canada’s greatest band. Like Gretz being the Great One, you can’t argue with the stats baby. Neko Case, Jon Langford, Jon Doe, Andre Williams and Gord Downie all brought them on as their band.
It's hard to refute those numbers, and when they took the stage of The Ford Plant on August 6th, 2006, The Sadies proved their reputation yet again. From the opening to end strums of the first song that night, which I believe started on a C major and ended on an A minor, the audience stood paralyzed and in awe. It's as if all our legs had rooted into the checkerboard floor and we became like the trees that stood above Brant Park, each melody moving between us. Our branches swayed with the tremolo.
The soothing Grand River at Brant Park, Brantford, Ontario. Web Photo.
Between song one and two there were a few moments of stunning silence. Then sparks and an eruption of applause. The audience uprooted and one of the infamous Ford Plant dance-o-ramas began. Arms were strung around the shoulders of just-met friends. Lyrics were shouted and spitted back and forth as if in biblical tongues. Oh, and the air guitar… the glorious and uninhibited air guitar peppered throughout the audience. It was a sight to bare witness. You don’t have to believe me, but I swear the air outside the window behind them performing, became thick and light blue. Under the streetlamp, the one that seems to keep appearing in my stories, there materialized an opaque mist that loomed for the duration of the evening.
As their set hummed throughout the night, I knew to make sure I remembered every note and how they seemed to make the room change colours. I knew I may never see such an anomaly again. I’ve seen The Sadies many times since, and there were bands over The Ford Plant’s years that gave me the same feeling, maybe with a little less blue smoke. That was a rare moment I knew in real time, that running that venue was a gift.
I couldn’t talk to them much. I just vaguely pointed and curtsied around in their orbit. I could never risk the 100 per cent guarantee of my ‘Tim-foolery,’ and say something awkward, leaving me embarrassed in front people that were so musically important to me. I did work up the courage to buy every piece of merch and several records from them, even though I doubled up on most and even tripled up on ‘Favourite Colours.’ The Sadies made a name for themselves for being ever professional and courteous to those they encountered, and that summer night was no different. They played the mythical parts I scripted in my head perfectly.
They wiped their boots before walking in the door and tipped their caps at the end of the evening before drifting off into the night. Vanishing like a spark from the campfire into the tree line. I always loved imagining The Sadies travelling from town to town not in a tour van but in an open train car. They’d lug their gear to the train yard after every show, then ride the rails until the train squealed its breaks at the next town. They’d jump off, give their regards to the vagabonds hitching a ride in the same cab, and walk off towards the city lights so they could cast their magic on the local village folk once more.
I must say, what I’m asked most often is “What was your favourite performance at The FP?” It’s a question I’ve asked myself a hundred times, changing my mind more than making it. If we’re going by favourite band, I think I would have to say The Constantines. Or Andre Ethier. No! Wait! Zefangus! Maybe I’ll go with Kepler.
They were Canada’s Great Cosmic Highwaymen Mystics (CGCHM *TM). I wish I had told them of my admiration and catchy tagline for them, while they were at our little corner theatre. After the passing of Dallas Good recently, it's haunting to know this nation doesn’t have them travelling the land casting their glorious spells anymore. I don’t know if we’ll have such a band of true gentlemen ever again.
It’s been two decades since we opened The Ford Plant’s cornered doors. You’d think time or Baby Duck would have diluted the specifics, but I remember it all. I remember the smell of the basement. I remember how to work the light switch in the cubbyhole. I can perfectly describe the emotional and visceral response I felt the first time I saw Owen Pallett walk on our stage, all by his beautiful self. He looped what seemed to be a billion violin plucks into the air until the band room swirled in Hitchcockian chaos.
I can only hope everyone has the same feeling of camaraderie that I felt screaming the words to Chad VanGaalen’s ‘After the Afterlife’ with my friends. All the while the man himself performed the song to us in a room no bigger than a basement. When I look back on The Ford Plant, it’s The Sadies soundtracking most of my memories. To you it could be Cuff the Duke or SS Cardiacs. Sharing each other's favourite moments keeps it all so vivid. So long as we remind each other and continue to have those wonderful songs playing in the background, they could burn the place down for all we care.
We’ll never forget.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Ford is freelance hobbyist who lives in his twelfth home in Brantford, Ontario…so…yeah, he knows a thing or two about aluminum siding.