One might think "why the heck would you drive to Bentley?" Well, I've been to Bentley before and it's a nice place, a basic small town in Alberta with a main street on which people still park their cars on angles. But yes, I did have a reason to head there. You see, every so often, I sit in with a band called Tom Olsen and The Wreckage. Sometimes their regular drummer can't make so they call me to take his place. Last Saturday, October 18, we had a gig at the Monkey Top Saloon in Bentley. So I loaded up my Ford C-Max (the 2012 version, not the one seen in the most recent episode of Amazing Race Season 25) and hit the road, south down the QE2.
I hate the QE2 with a passion. I've driven that road countless times that I know almost every curve, every dip, every turnoff. And though the prairie landscape is beautiful in the fall, I'm still bored out of my mind driving that road. It doesn't help that the amount of traffic has increased over the past decade, making it difficult to keep a steady pace. But I sucked it up and drove what needed to be driven. And the turnoff for Lacombe (the second one from the north, not the first), I headed west. Bentley's only about 30 klicks west so it's not a long drive, but it's a nice one. Since the road heads towards Gull Lake, a popular picnicking and camping spot, it's newly paved. And it has some wondering long curves that make driving more fun. It was also a fantastic fall day, the sun was shining and the temperatures was around 20 C. Amazing for a couple weeks before Halloween. While driving, I thought "if I still had my bike, I'd love to drive this road." And when I mean bike, I mean motorcycle.
Pulling into Bentley, I realized quickly that I wasn't the only one that had the idea. The highway from Lacombe bisects Bentley right in half and as I got into the centre of town, I saw a line of about 20 bikes, almost all of them Harleys, parked on a road perpendicular to the main drag. No doubt there's some kind of country road route that riders from Red Deer, Edmonton and Calgary take in this area and it seemed that the midpoint of this route is Bentley. And wouldn't you know it that the bar/restaurant that all the riders were parked next too was the Monkey Top Saloon, the place we were expected to play. A bunch of them were gathered on the outside deck, smoking, drinking, talking, while others were inside. The plan for the day was to set up my gear and then the rest of the guys would come and we'd do an short afternoon jam prior to the evening's gig.
That was the plan. However, Tom was going to be late. As would be our bassist who was coming up from Calgary. So Lloyd, the lead guitarist, and I set up our respective gear, regardless. We were also supposed to set up a PA but there were no speakers. There were mics, cords, a mixing board and a stand for the speakers, but no speakers. That's not good because while guitars and bass can get by with their amps, people need to hear the vocals. So Lloyd asked about it? He was told, and this is true, that they did have speakers the night before but they sold them in the meantime. Both Lloyd and I were shocked. We've both played a lot of places over the past several decades and have heard a lot of band/club/road stories, but never have we heard that one. Why would a live music venue sell its speakers on a Friday night knowing that there's a band coming for a gig on Saturday? Especially since they are planning to have even more gigs in the future. "Maybe we might have some speakers in the basement," the manager told Lloyd. So while I finished setting up my kit, Lloyd went down into the basement. And fortunately he found a couple of old speakers, behind some empty kegs. We set them up and after a bit of niggling, they worked. Phew.
Unfortunately, the Monkey Top was expecting a jam, and a guitarist and a drummer just don't make it. If a bassist was in the room, we could do something. But there was really no one to jam with so Lloyd stepped up and did a solo set. I took the time to visit with my sister, who had driven up from Calgary, and also took in the Monkey Top.
Although it's the most popular bar in town, the Monkey Top isn't the typical small town tavern. It has a few features of a small-town bar such as a major Western/cowboy vibe, servers who call you "hon" or "dear' and touch you on the shoulder as they walk by, a rotating group of regulars (depending on the time of day/night), the limited selection of beer, no draft and a kind of grunginess that is homey without being threatening, but it's different. First off, it's not located in the local hotel. Second, there's a huge window at the front so welcoming light from the sun and the streetlights at night, shines in. As the drummer playing behind the other players in the band, it was nice to turn slightly and get a look of the outside while playing.
And third, it serves hot food. And it's pretty decent food. I mean, it's not haute cuisine but if you're looking for a solid burger, some decent chicken wings, or good small town pizza then it's the right place. It's hot, it's salty and makes you want to drink beer. What more can you want after a long ride on your Harley, or while watching an alt-country band playing some songs on a Saturday night.
As for the gig, the boys finally showed up later and Todd, the bassist, brought along the guitarist from his other band. So instead of a four piece, we played as a five piece. Made things a little easier for me cause they could do two guitar solos in each song. All I had to do was to keep a steady beat and heck, that's what I'm known for round these parts. The crowd rotated in and out as the night wore on, an older crowd earlier, including the bikers, who then went home to bed or back on the road before it got too dark. And then a more younger and rowdier crowd for the last couple of sets. That dynamic allowed to played some songs from the first set in the third because the crowd had missed them earlier.
There was a call for an encore after we finished but since we had come from Edmonton and Calgary (and had to go back again that same night), we thanked the folks and passed on it. I loaded up my drums, helped by a couple of nice drunks from bar, and then hit the road. No doubt, we'll be back in Bentley to play again, but I might just head down there without the band, maybe in the summer, to take in the pleasures of Gull Lake and get a pizza or something to go from the Monkey Top.