Tractor Tavern
Tractor Tavern

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has been updated with information about a Mudhoney show Feb. 15.)


The Tractor Tavern, hub of Seattle’s alt-country scene, is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a pair of weekend shows featuring The Maldives, a local band that has made the club its hometown headquarters.

Old Ballard has changed a lot in 20 years. The neighborhood was once home to a handful of nightclubs, old taverns, hardware stores and boating-related businesses.

Now it has an upscale hotel and a slew of trendy clubs and restaurants that are packed on weekends.

The club at 5213 Ballard Ave. N.W. was once the New Melody Tavern, a traditional folk-dance venue, and then the Old Town Music Hall.

Everything began to change when co-owner Dan Cowan renamed the venerable establishment The Tractor Tavern in January 1994 and started booking alternative-rock bands, in addition to folk music acts (such as the Irish Pipers’ Club, which was host to the 13th annual West Coast Pipers’ Convention Concert in February 1994).

Tractor Tavern stage
Tractor Tavern stage

Cowan insisted at the time that there wasn’t any significance to the club’s new name, but there was, in fact, a poster of an old tractor on the wall – not a farm tractor, but the kind of big rig that pulls a semi-trailer down the highway. Cowan admitted the tavern’s new name was kind of “off the wall.”

The club’s décor includes two toy-tractor pedal cars mounted on the wall above the bar and a banner from the 1959 movie “The Big Circus” starring Victor Mature, Rhonda Fleming and Red Buttons (go figure). But what patrons notice most is the steer skull above the stage and the two red T’s. (One day, Cowan arrived at the club to find one of the T’s missing, the work of a prankster. But eventually the T was returned.)

Getting back to this weekend’s celebration, The Maldives perform Friday, Jan. 31, and Saturday, Feb. 1. The Ganges River Band and the Lonesome Shack open the first night, followed by Kithkin and Temple Echoes the second night.

The Maldives (photo: Hayley Young)
The Maldives (photo: Hayley Young)

The Maldives have been road warriors in recent years, but The Tractor feels like home to fans and band members, where they’ve been known to have snowball fights with fellow Seattle band the Moondoggies (though not this winter). The Maldives have played SXSW in Austin, Texas, as well as the Capitol Hill Block Party, Bumbershoot, Sasquatch! – even a backwoods music festival on top of a flatbed truck.

The band’s current album is “Muscle for the Wing,” a beautiful collection of moody, reflective alt-country songs. But band also rocks with the best of them.

Here’s what the Stranger had to say about a Maldives performance:

“Listening to The Maldives play their dusty, rainy-day country-rock, one might wonder if this (mostly) bearded group would be better suited to the lonely, expansive corn fields of Kansas than the crowded city streets of Seattle.

“Geographic incongruity aside, vocalist Jason Dodson, one of the best unheralded songwriters in Seattle, has a keen ear for relating his city blues with a country twang, accenting his voice with ambient pedal steel, fully electric guitars and the occasional fiddle.

“The result is Dodson’s somber songs of hope and failure, of plaintive, self-reflective stories you’d hear from a heartbroken farm hand sipping a whiskey in an empty tavern.”

To learn more about The Maldives and listen to music, visit the band’s official website here.

The Tractor’s 20th anniversary celebration continues with a sold-out Mudhoney show at 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15.

Get all the details about the anniversary shows at The Tractor’s website.

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