How much does Calgary love long-term music venue the Ironwood Stage and Grill? Well, judging from a GoFundMe page that raised $24,000 in four days, and by 15 sets of artists — be they solo or collective — who are donating performances to three separate now sold-out fundraising shows called BANDing Together, and by offers from so many more musicians that a second fundraising weekend, September 18 and 19, is in the works, a lot, actually. Calgary loves the Ironwood a lot.
That’s great news for the little venue that could, which originally opened in a derelict but then lovingly refurbished building in Inglewood in 2003 at the site of what is now The Blues Can. The original Ironwood was founded by Lynne Thorimbert and Soren Borch, who brought you another beloved music venue, Marda Loop’s Karma Local Arts House.
That first Ironwood was crowd-funded before there was such a term, with Calgarians showing that love nearly 18 years back by putting their money where their ears were to get it off the ground. This writer and her husband — who built the bar and wine rack that still serve up customers today — threw in as well, not to make millions, but to have a non-smoking venue where our daughter could hear live music after the demise of Karma and the late, great Mecca Café.
But in just over a year the venue experienced its first crash, closed, changed hands, and then crashed again. By then it was 2006, when current owner, Patrick MacIntyre, stepped in — heart, soul and pocketbook. The Ironwood survived to move to its current location in The Garry Theatre in 2010 and MacIntyre never looked back. Until now.
As he says, “The gratitude I have about the outpouring is humbling, because you know, I worked about 12 hours a day, at least, seven days a week, so, I’ve got my head in the sand here, and I just do it. It’s sort of second nature to me to come down here and work and put on a show and people like it and leave, and go and repeat every day.
“So I don’t really have a perspective of the Ironwood and its reputation. This has been an eye opener to how much the place means to people and how much responsibility I have with regard to being a venue in this city and country.”
While the federal rent subsidies to commercial landlords that eased MacIntyre’s costs end at the end of the month, MacIntrye hopes to remain economical with the funds raised. That’s challenging as social distancing means the venue went from 150 patrons to a maximum of 50 – and that, not even guaranteed, as the Ironwood tradition of making strangers into friends by seating different groups together cannot continue due to the pandemic. One of his goals is to help out the musicians who, due to his staunch principles, have always been paid until this fundraiser.
“It’s not really up to me, but if we’re gonna do something like that again it would spread the love around a bit and help out some of the poor musicians who have lost all their gigs this summer.”
While the venue has been running music only on Fridays and Saturdays, MacIntyre hopes to go back to having a full roster of music sometime in the next month or so in spite of the limited capacity.
Calgary-born musician Jory Kinjo, who played the Ironwood since the early days with The Mocking Shadows and continues to play it in other incarnations, got the ball rolling on the fundraiser when he learned the venue was threatened by economic realities. When Kinjo approached a few musicians to play the fundraiser, he suddenly had so many others lined up to do the same that he started to consider the September repeat, to give all a chance.
This weekend will feature The Mocking Shadows, Tom Phillips, Liz Stevens, T. Buckley, The Polyjesters and more. For those who missed getting those rare, social distanced tickets, the concert will stream online as well.
“The first idea we had was to throw a fundraising weekend,” Kinjo says. “There’s a silent auction that’s been happening in the front, and the donations are amazing. Everything has really picked up momentum and it’s going really well.” People who did not get tickets before they sold out can still bid on the silent auction items that will be in the Ironwood’s lobby.
As Kinjo states, “The intention behind the Ironwood is very sincere and amazing in itself. It’s been wonderful to have been a part of that progression.
“Pat hosts music seven nights a week and sometimes during the days as well and he puts money into the pockets of musicians,” says Kinjo, expanding on that vision. “He creates a platform for us to perform our music and connect with audience,s and he’s vital to making our scene happen and making the Ironwood a place that everyone can go and share the experience.”
As for the outcomes, MacIntyre remains optimistic. “I’ve dealt with floods, blizzards and other challenges, but I didn’t have a worldwide pandemic in my business plan,” he laughs. “I just wanted to work with as much local and Canadian music as I could. It’s been a good ride.” A pause, then, “I am not getting off this ride for a while.”
BANDing Together for the Ironwood takes place August 21 and 22. For information, go to http://ironwoodstage.ca/
Mary-Lynn Wardle is a Bragg Creek writer.