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‘He was a great ambassador’: Mick Montgomery, staple of Dayton music scene, dies at 71

Mick Montgomery — a longtime staple of the Dayton music scene and former owner of the Canal Street Tavern — died Saturday morning of natural causes at Kettering Medical Center. He was 71.

SUMMER OF LOVE: Mick Montgomery: Never say he was a ‘hippie’ at heart

Montgomery’s 225-seat venue opened in late 1981 and hosted everything from folk, blues and country rock to bluegrass, indie rock and punk. Canal Street also drew well known acts, such as Mary Chapin Carpenter, Los Lobos, The Del McCoury Band, Leo Kottke and Bela Fleck & the Flecktones.

Dayton commissioners in 2014 named a portion of East First Street from North Patterson Boulevard to Sears Street as “Mick Montgomery Way, near his business at 308 E. First St. 

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“He still, even last Saturday, said, ‘man, can you believe my name is on a street sign?’” said Shelly Hulce, a friend who organized a gathering for Montgomery a week before his death. “When he was going home, when the guys were getting him back in the car Saturday night, he said, ‘I’m going to be on a cloud for days.’”

“He was a great ambassador,” she said. “Way before the internet or MTV, he was giving us a glimpse of what was happening out in the world.”

The final show under the Canal Street Tavern name was in November 2013 after Montgomery sold the venue in 2012. Montgomery was contracted to stay on as the club’s bookkeeper, but after health issues and squabbles with the new owners, he decided to leave and take the tavern’s name with him.

More than 400 local music lovers turned out for the final show under the Canal Street Tavern name. 

“People usually only get together like this when somebody dies so I was glad I was out of the hospital in time to get out for both shows,” Montgomery said at the time. “I’ve seen so many people I haven’t seen in years. It’s been amazing and a little overwhelming.”

MORE: Canal Street Tavern fans say goodbye to venerable venue

Michael “Mick” Montgomery graduated from Fairview High School in 1964 — a diploma that came despite getting in trouble for having long hair. It was around this time he first heard the word “hippie.”

“It was the worst, dirtiest name you could think of,” Montgomery told the Dayton Daily News in 2007. “I was not a pacifist. I ended up getting in quite a few fights about being called a hippie.” 

Married with an infant, Montgomery was rejected by the draft board during the Vietnam War. He formed an electric band called Tonto’s Headband and gained a following among University of Dayton students. The band rehearsed at the East Dayton commune house where Montgomery lived. 

He crossed the country for San Francisco in an Opal station wagon with five others in 1967. Again, the long hair caused problems — this time, with police in Oklahoma. “They said we couldn’t go before the justice of the peace until we looked like Americans, so we got some drunk in the jail to cut our hair,” Montgomery later recalled. Once in California, he found “a big, three-story mansion that was just the cliche of the hippie commune house.” 

He moved to Los Angeles in 1968 after being robbed at gunpoint for the second time. 

“The Summer of Love was truly a remarkable experience,” he said. “Music and art and a lot of the cultural things were so intertwined. … There were so many things happening that made people feel like the world was becoming a better place.” 

“We had the thing of being invincible and immortal, and we got away with it for a few years. Then they shot a few kids at Kent State and a few demonstrators in L.A. The powers-that-be reasserted control,” he said. “The old rubber band stretches in one direction and then another. Maybe it’s time for it to stretch in the other direction and decide we’re not going to live in fear.” 

Montgomery’s family said a Hootenanny will be held for him at a later date.

Tom Beyerlein and Don Thrasher contributed to this story.

(CHRIS STEWART / STAFF FILE/Dayton Daily News)

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