When I first moved to Montreal, a friend from my hometown told me I’d be a good fit to work at the Wheel Club. This was of course in reference to my appearance as I have been known to dress like a grandpa.

I was immediately fascinated by this place. A 50 year old country music bar located in one of Montreal’s anglophone neighborhoods NDG. They have hosted “Hillbilly Monday” open mic events every week during the bar’s lifespan.

NDG was a ways away from the neighborhood where I lived in East Montreal. My friends and I lived in the city for six months before finally making the hour long transit ride to get to this secret country bar.

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Tucked between high rise apartments and business plazas is the staircase that lead us down to the Wheel Club. I open the door and am immediately struck with the smell of mothballs and urinal pucks. This looks like a dark legion hall, or the recreation room of a retirement home. There are rows of folding tables adorned with gingham tablecloths and fake flowers, mounted deer heads at the bar, wagon wheels, dim Christmas lights, framed photographs of the good ol’ days and a pool table – always occupied. I feel at home. We are welcomed by old ladies with delightful names like Flo and Jeanie. There are polite old men too – many of which are named Bill. The band is setting up onstage and a crew of women are carrying giant tupperware bins of snack food to the back.

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We order drinks at the bar and find a table. Flo leaves her card game with the gals to fix us a snack at their station. She presses a napkin into a woven basket and shovels one equal scoop of BBQ chips to one scoop of plain potato chips to one scoop of cheesies to one scoop of pretzels to one scoop of microwave popcorn. She’s done this a thousand times – I can tell. I hand her a toonie and she goes back to her card game.

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I am captivated by the country band. Jeanie who is not much more than 5’ plays a comically oversized acoustic guitar. She has an incredible voice and a warm yet commanding stage presence. The band cracks inside jokes and the regulars sing along to every song. I feel joyful in this dimly lit basement.

It is after my third caesar that I am faced with a dilemma. Which bathroom should I use so as not to cause a scene in this Western institution?

I analyze how I had dressed that day and play it against the colour of my hair. What voice had I used when introducing myself to these old country singers?

In my day to day life I try to not give a fuck and pee where I want but I wanted to fit in here. I wanted to charm these old people who had so wholeheartedly let us into their home. I wanted to seamlessly integrate into this paradise of cheap drinking and snacking and wholesome entertainment.

I waited, overthinking, until in a panic of indecision I darted to the Pizza Pizza around the corner to use their washroom instead. Crisis averted. I returned to my table at the Wheel Club and let these seniors sit comfortably knowing that I was merely an effeminate young man or an overgrown tomboy. Opinions differ from person to person- they could discuss it later. But for now I would continue to drink and enjoy my snack basket and I would keep them guessing.

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I love old country songs and old R&B songs, I love old cars and old photographs, 1960s architecture, diners, old Hollywood horror movies and fashion from when my Grandparents were in their 20s. I am a sucker for tradition. Passing on stories, recipes, trades, songs, and objects from one generation to the next.

How can I separate these things from the ignorance of habit-set people? Can anyone learn to comprehend and accept queer identities? Can genuine empathy be implored if I sat down and had a heart to heart with one of these ladies? I have made great strides with my own grandparents, but leading this crusade sounds exhausting.

I really just wanted to be able to put on a bolo tie and blue jeans, listen to Johnny Cash covers, and not think about gender for a couple hours.

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The second time I went to the Wheel Club was on an evening advertised as it’s last Hillbilly night. The bar was changing owners and the fate of the Wheel Club was uncertain. Drinks were half off at the bar and the place was packed. People of all ages were crowded side by side at the long folding tables.

The long timers started off the night with their usual numbers and then the stage was opened up to anyone. I saw queer faces in the crowd that night. Youngins’ who had ventured out to NDG out of curiosity just like I had. There is safety in numbers and I felt confident enough to go to the bathroom. I knew someone would stand up for me if anything happened, but nothing did. And I had to pee a lot. I was knocking back $3 whisky sodas steadily.

Between the six of us at my table of friends, we must have eaten a snack basket each. We knew a lot of the old country songs and sang along. The night was bittersweet. I really felt for these old souls who had spent so much of their lives here performing for each other and growing friendships, now with an undetermined end to their home.

And I belonged here too. For I was also a cowboy. Surely they must see that.

Contribution by: Frankie Climenhage (he/they)

They are a musician (member of Lonely Parade and Fleetwood Mac Sauce), writer and photographer who loves to talk about gender identity, architecture and Americana from Souther Ontario and currently living in Montreal.


The Concert of Colors – now in it’s 26th year – is a festival that happens in Midtown Detroit. It also happens to be FREE. Yep. Totally and completely free. While the Concert of Colors may have some major sponsors (Meijer, Ford, Comerica) they partner with important local, Detroit-based community organizations as well –  like the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, ACCESS, The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and more.

The word community was spoken a lot during the Concert of Colors series community-building was apparent in how accessible they made the festival. Since the festival was of no cost to attend, it was made accessible for folks who might otherwise not have been able to enjoy and participate in the festivities. The assistants at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra made the building accessible to the public by providing door-people to open doors and navigate any questions. Even Grandma Techno could be seen scooting around the Concert of Colors festival inside at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra main stage as well as the outdoor Wolverine Stage where many local Detroit acts showcased their talents.

When I heard Buffy Sainte-Marie was going to be at this festival, I could barely believe it. Buffy has been an Indigenous figure in Canadian politics and history since she was in her early twenties in the 1960s. Today, at 77 years old, Buffy Sainte-Marie is still performing regularly and speaking out as an advocate for Indigenous rights, and on the importance of community.

Buffy Sainte-Marie graced the stage with a huge smile, leather jacket embroidered with roses, and an ienergy that instantly filled the room. Buffy has such a range of sounds: did you know she wrote the track “Up Where We Belong“? It was oddly satisfying to hear this all too familiar track with her unique vocals. Her banter between songs included stories about songwriting, performing on Native reserves, racism and sexism, what it was like to be performing as a woman in her early career, among other things, but always on an end note of uplifting empowerment. Buffy performed other significant anthems like her newer track “The War Racket” with a flat-toned range but a heavy punch. The beat from “You Got To Run” had people up and out of their seats dancing in front of the stage.

“Down, in a hole / You feel like two different people in your soul / Feel like a loser, until you see / That as you bend / You learn to be / Your own best friend”

These powerful songs, about standing up for your beliefs and letting yourself be afraid but acting anyway, obviously resonated with the crowd. The age range was significant; from people in their mid-twenties to over 70 – I spoke with a couple of self-declared hippies who seemed to be among the majority. There were even a few children with the noted earphones bobbing with parents along to the beats of Buffy Sainte-Marie and her trembling vocals. As Buffy mentioned during the performance, we are experiencing the same issues from 20, 30, and 50 years ago: racism, violence, war, capitalism, and greed. The blending of Indigenous folklore and sound with a modern day message is not something to be missed.

“Sometime you gotta take a stand / Just because you know you can / Ah you got to run you got to run”

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Photo by Jann MacIsaac

See Buffy Sainte-Marie live…

August 4th @ Kalso Jazz Etc. Summer Music Festival, Kalso BC

August 6th @ Canmore Folk Music Festival, Canmore AB

August 9th @ Edmonton Folk Festival, Edmonton AB

August 11th @ Stillaguamish Festival of the River, Arlington WA, USA

September 9th @ SKOOKUM Festival, Vancouver BC

October 19th @ One Heart Native Arts & Film Festival, Spokane WA, USA

November 16th @ Koemer Hall, Toronto ON