The Maldives: Truckin’ With the Tractor

The band’s a perfect fit for this bit of Old Ballard.

The Maldives’ tenacious, aggressive country sound seems tailor-made for the Tractor Tavern. So it’s fitting that playing there was a benchmark for the band, as Maldives frontman Jason Dodson claims.

Dodson’s affinity for the venue goes back to 1997, when he saw renowned singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt, who was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, play there. “They wheeled [Chesnutt] in through the audience, and I was awestruck,” Dodson says. “I had never been to a club or seen a show where I was that close to one of my heroes. And I realized that someday I could be up on that stage too.”

Since the Maldives formed in 2005, the band has played the Tractor so many times, Dodson says, that they all blur together. And he’s seen his fair share of absurdity at the Ballard mainstay: “Fistfights on the floor, some flattering graffiti in the bathroom, drunken make-outs on the stage monitors, general sweaty debauchery, silly inappropriate hippie dancing, and sold-out sing-a-longs,” he says. “But that’s nothing to compare with what happens backstage. Oh, brother.”

This weekend Dodson and his band will honor all the insanity both on- and offstage when they kick off the venue’s 20th anniversary. “It is just as much old Ballard as Hattie’s Hat. And there isn’t much old Ballard left. To celebrate the Tractor is to celebrate history,” Dodson says. “Many bands got their foothold in the Seattle music scene there. It is a small club that produces and attracts national acts. That’s saying something too.”

Alongside its “kick-ass sound system,” Dodson says, the Tractor feels comfortable, comparing it to a cabin. While many venues try to manufacture Americana, he says, the Tractor’s feeling and aesthetic aren’t “put on”: “The Tractor has earned its leather. Those boots have been hanging from the ceiling for all 20 years.”

The tavern’s legacy lives on. Just as Chesnutt’s performance inspired Dodson that he could someday play that stage, he hopes the same for future artists. “Hopefully, the Tractor will continue to inspire bands to get out of the basement or the garage or whatever, and get up on that stage to show us what they’ve got.”

THE MALDIVES Tractor Tavern, 5213 Ballard Ave. N.W., 789-3599, $15. 9 p.m. Fri., Jan. 31.

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