by Sheldon Birnie
If you’re looking for a good time on a Wednesday night in Winnipeg, book your ass down to the Standard Tavern on Sherbrook.
On Wednesday evenings, provided they’re not out on the Highway, Andrew Neville & The Poor Choices serve up three hot sets of greasy country goodness. Drawing inspiration from Canadian country greats like Stompin’ Tom Connors and Fred Eaglesmith, Neville & Co consistently deliver solid country music for folks who are looking to whoop it up big time, or cry blubbery tears into their beers.
Formed back in 2003, the Poor Choices have traveled high and wide the breadth of the Hillbilly Highway, making appearances at Dauphin Country Fest, Trout Forest Music Festival, the Brandon Folk Fest, and plenty of stops at the Times Change(d) to boot. Leader of the gang, Andrew Neville, can generally be spotted front row and centre whenever a serious act is passing through town, with his rowdy associates not far behind. They’ve put out two discs to date on Dollartone Records — 2005’s eponymous debut and Let’R Buck (2007) — and word on the street is another is currently in the works and about fit to drop in the new year.
I first come upon the Poor Choices when first I moved to Winnipeg, in spring of 2006. I was drunk, and meeting friends at the Cavern. I’d just started writing country songs of my own, but was still playing in a punk rock band at the time. I was big into Merle Haggard at the time, having just seen him play with Dylan in Seattle earlier that year. Hag’s band blew my mind, they were so incredibly tight. I’d spent many hours learning the chords and the words to his hits and digging up the buried gold in his back catalogue.
About the second tune the Poor Choices started into that night was “Mama Tried.” Whatever I was doing, whomever I was talking to at the time, I dropped immediately and have no memory of to this day. But what sticks in my mind is stumbling right up to the front of that dingy basement’s stage and singing along. I was pumped. One of my first nights living in Winnipeg, and I’d already found the sort of band I’d only dreamed of back in B.C.
I’ve seen the Poor Choices plenty of times since, but the best time was at a backwoods wedding about five years or so back. They were the entertainment for the evening, and I’ve never been to a bacchanal quite like that, before or since. The Poor Choices kept playing as the night got wilder and wilder and somehow even wilder still. People were stumbling about in the mud, trying to two-step. Wine, rum and chocolate zoomers were being gobbled with reckless abandon. A forty foot bonfire was lit up, and the party went on well past dawn.
Andrew Neville & The Poor Choices are playing tonight at the Standard Tavern. I haven’t hit up a Wednesday night in quite some time, so I guess I’m about due. I hope I’ll see you there.