It’s an epidemic and it’s taking them down at an alarming rate.
The closure of live music venues in Calgary over the past few months has been swift and disheartening for bands, fans and, obviously, the club owners who want to support both.
But that hasn’t stopped the recent shutterings of the Nite Owl, Distortion, Mikey’s Juke Joint and, this weekend, Morgan’s Pub.
You can also add onto the list of losses of places to see and hear live music Kensington’s beloved Oak Tree Tavern, which, while still open, was forced to suspend those evenings due to noise complaints from neighbours (who apparently want to live in a vibrant neighbourhood close to downtown, but want to do so only if it’s convenient for them).
Then there are the festivals, including ReggaeFest and Afrikadey!, which have taken breaks in order to reassess and possibly reconfigure before, hopefully, resuming next summer.
The reasons for all of the closures and cancellations are myriad — from the economy and provincial and civic taxes to rising costs and apathy.
Those that are still open and fighting the good fight, though, are still facing those same hurdles and going about it in different ways.
Inglewood treasure The Blues Can, for example, has made a few negative cutbacks — they cancelled the contract of their longtime cleaners, taking on the job themselves, while also killing their Thursday lunch shows, the happy hour shows for Wednesday and Thursday, and shortening their Monday to Wednesday hours, opening at 4 p.m, all of which affect staff and musicians.
On a more positive side, they have also dropped the cover price for weekend marquee shows, in order to, according to Teena Wilson, “enable the live-music lovers around here to get out maybe more often and enjoy what The Blues Can has to offer … and be able to bring more patrons to the club, (which) will in turn help combat the problems we are facing in small businesses in our current times.”
But they will continue to host events seven days a week and support local music — including helping to cultivate the next generation of musicians and music lovers, with all-ages shows that their restaurant designation allows — while also bringing to town some of the best touring artists the blues has to offer.
“Our city alone is home to some of the most wonderful, talented musicians around! We are truly lucky to have so many in our vicinity and it is a privilege and an honour to work with them,” Wilson says, noting The Static Shift whom The Blues Can long supported before they made it big.
“(We) also enjoy bringing in musicians from outside the city and from all over the world; (we) love presenting them to the live-music lovers and live-music supporters here … also a privilege and honour that I am grateful for.”
As Wilson says, all of these actions are part of the club’s tenacious nature and, despite the odd rumour that has been floated, she promises, “We’re not going anywhere.”
And then there’s the Beltline arts hub and restaurant Koi who are in a “fairly dire” situation, but are going a different route in order to keep supporting the community and art lovers — by appealing to them directly. They’ve set up a GoFundMe page (www.gofundme.com/keep-koi-afloat) and will also be holding Keep Koi Afloat concert Sunday, Sept. 2 at Festival Hall featuring artists such as 36?, Windigo, The Ashley Hundred and I Am the Mountain, along with burlesque performers and a silent auction.
Owner operator Erin Penosky says that while there still is an audience for live music and, as those statistics show, eating and drinking out, the three together make for something of a challenge.
“The food industry and people being more aware of gourmet foods … and the awareness of that and the want for that has grown. There’s all of these new little, kitschy, perfect, awesome food places that people are going to and spending their money on, and when they go out to see a band they won’t spend that money.”
She continues. “The culture has changed around live music. There’s so much live music, and artists and musicians are hungry for places to perform and have a community, and people are coming out and seeing live music, which is great, but it’s not the same as it used to be where you’d plan on going and seeing a show and having five beers.
“Now people are coming and they’re not thinking of supporting the venue as much as they’re just coming out to support their friends with buying a ticket for the show or just coming and having their presence known.
“I have a full room most of the time and the sales aren’t reflecting that.”
As to those people who may cast aspersions on their fundraising efforts to keep a private business afloat and cynically citing the free market as a reason for their difficulties, Penosky isn’t worried about that. She, instead, prefers to focus on the diverse music community they serve and the outpouring of support they’ve received from them since even the suggestion of Koi’s demise was mentioned.
“As soon as that kind of leaked out into the community, it was absolutely crazy the response I got from people,” she says.
“The amount of support on the positive side has been absolutely amazing. And I knew that it would be like that because Koi means so much to so many people in the community.”
If it means something to you — if Koi, The Blues Can, Ironwood, The Palomino, Mikey’s on 12th, Broken City, Ship & Anchor, Dickens, Blind Beggar, Calgary Folk Music Festival, King Eddy, The Rec Room, Calgary International Blues Fest, Festival Hall, MacEwan Hall, Grey Eagle, The Palace or any other venue or event that supports live music means anything to you — please support them, the musicians who need them and the people who run them in any way you can.
And help end this epidemic.