Saddle Up Toronto

This is Toronto's best country music dance party

There's nothing like the vibe of a legion hall. The slow moving friendly crowd, the club photos on the wall, the gaudy decorations from the holiday season still hanging from the ceiling. Most importantly, the music: a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n roll, all of it cozy and familiar.

That's the reason Andrew Ennals throws Saddle Up!, his monthly classic country music dance party at the Owl's Club on Dovercourt just north of Bloor.

"The event feels like it has to be in a legion hall," says Ennals. He doesn't want to hold this niche dance party in a regular bar. "There's something special about those spaces and we have fewer and fewer of them in this town.

"They're such a small town staple. The local legion hall is sometimes the only bar in town, and it's a place where - especially in small towns - it's not age exclusive. You've got your 20 and 50 year olds all in the same place. There's just something about the space, the flag is up somewhere, and there's probably bowling trophies on the wall."

Ennals started Saddle Up! in 2007, but stopped the party three years in when the legion he then hosted it in closed down. Since there was nothing else like it in the city, he decided to start it back up.

"It's classic country night, so there's a lot of Dolly, Willie, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, stuff you don't get to hear very often in a dance floor setting," he says. "There's newer stuff as well, but it's not the Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, super high gloss stuff.

"There's places that play that already like Boots and Bourbon and Rockin' Horse, so it doesn't feel like I need to cover that territory. I will play Shania though because there's no way you can get away with not playing Shania."

There's a strict no bro-country policy at this honky tonk jam, where people often get right into the spirit of things and dress up in their favourite boots and plaid. There are a couple serious regulars as well.

"There's a really lovely older couple that always shows up right at the start and they almost have the dance floor to themselves for an hour," says Ennals. "That's when I play a lot of the 50s stuff like Patsy Cline. It's kind of romantic ... there's a spinning disco ball over the floor and they'll be the only ones there, and they've got their moves down."

Other than those two, the crowd is very young, despite the genre and the venue. Ennals says it sometimes take a while for the dancing to get started, but "drinks are so cheap that by 12:30 a.m., I can almost play whatever I want and people are up."

Ennals, who's also the co-founder of the city's Simpsons Trivia (the guy clearly likes for people to have fun) says the resurgence in country and Western music in Toronto is no coincidence.

"Country is coming out of the shadows in different places and waves," he says. "There's always been a real roots and country element to Toronto; the Horseshoe, the Dakota, Blue Rodeo was always big, the Sadies have always done well.

"There's always been that element because Toronto is a town that draws people from surrounding towns. Music tells a story and I think that's universal and maybe now's a time where people are appreciating that a bit more."

Photo from the last Saddle Up! by Alli Chadwick

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