This post was inspired by three tweets I read recently. The first was by well-known Toronto music scene supporter Lonely Vagabond, the second by Halifax music journalist/musicology student Ryan McNutt (in reference to ticket prices for Leonard Cohen at a large venue) and the third by respected Halifax radio personality Stephanie Domet (while attending the recent Blue Rodeo concert at the Halifax Metro Centre):
“Imagine a world without your favourite bands. They were once part of someone’s local scene. Don’t miss out and support your own.” – Lonely Vagabond
“Also: if you’re paying more than $250 to see a single artist, I kind of feel as if you’re doing concert going wrong…” – Ryan McNutt
“At Metro Centre to see
@BlueRodeo for maybe the 50th time. Confident it’ll be as exciting as first time, 25 years ago.” – Stephanie Domet
The Lonely Vagabond’s quote really resonated with me as I feel there is as much musical talent on the East Coast of Canada as anywhere in the world. On any given night in Halifax (or St. John’s for that matter), you can see a top-notch local artist, in a small intimate venue, for a very reasonable price. Ryan McNutt’s quote got me thinking that one time, someone must have seen Cohen in a small venue for next to nothing. Imagine the stories they tell today. Stepahine Domet’s tweet (and some replies to it) confirmed for me that the memories that one has of seeing a band early in their career last forever.
Let me start by saying that this post is not a diatribe against high ticket prices. I think musicians deserve every dollar they make. If an artist can sell out The Halifax Metro Centre at $100-$200 per ticket, I applaud them. It takes a lot of hard work and talent to be so successful. Great Big Sea, Leonard Cohen, The Tragically Hip and Blue Rodeo are excellent examples of such hard-working talented successful Canadian bands.
This post is intended to remind the fans that bands like GBS, The Hip and Blue Rodeo were, as the Lonely Vagabond so eloquently put it “once part of someone’s local scene”. They played at small venues. They laboured, they toiled, they succeeded. People fortunate enough to have seen them in their early days now have some great stories to tell.
Fond Memories of early Great Big Sea
(I will have to scan some of my old photos to add to this section)
I have very fond memories of watching GBS at some small venues in Newfoundland and watching them grow in popularity (and venue size) over their 20 years. Since the early 1990’s, I have seen GBS in bars in St. John’s and Corner Brook; and at many music festivals in Newfoundland. I saw them perform at the 1998 Guinness Fleadh festival in London and at a London pub. I have also seen them perform sold out shows at the Delta St. John’s, Rebecca Cohn and at the Halifax Metro Centre.
Every time they perform now, someone will relay a story of their 1st GBS experience (some in Newfoundland; some at The Lower Deck or other small venue). The stories are always told with a smile and reminiscence of days gone by. Details are sometimes (understandably) fuzzy, but the emotions are never forgotten. In my many years of concert-going, I have never heard anyone tell a negative story of attending a GBS concert.
Some other memories of seeing bands early in their career
Between 1988 – 2000, I attended concerts in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia on a regular basis. Here are just a few of my favourite memories of artists that went on to bigger things (or on still on the rise):
* Spirit of the West at Peace-A-Chord festival (1989), Bannerman Park, St. John’s – fantastic small outdoor festival where the Vancouver band headlined around the time of their Labour Day album. Due to my love of their music, I was asked to interview SOTW for the campus radio station. I was too shy/panicked to do so, so I declined. I think this may be why I have enjoyed the music scene from the shadows since.
* Andrew Cash with The Skydiggers as opening act at the Diamond in Toronto (1989) – when Cash was still staring out and before the Skydiggers hit big
* One I’d Trouser (now The Trews) in Halifax (late 1990’s) – These guys rocked the house to a small crowd (I don’t remember the name of the bar). John Allen played the guitar with a beer bottle. My wife and I have seen the Trews dozens of times since then and still talk about that performance.
* Matt Mays, Gordie Samson, Jay Smith, Steve MacDougall song circle at Smooth Hermans (Sydney) (mid 2000’s)- look at the names. Small intimate venue.
* Joel Plaskett at Chandlers (Sydney) (early 2000s) – up close and personal with super musician.
* Hey Rosetta at the Port Hawkesbury Granville Green free Concert Series – the show was moved inside due to weather. It was a small crowd for a Hey Rosetta! show. Were were in the front row. The band was fantastic (as usual).
I’m sure each person has their own story of the joys of seeing a band “before they were big”. I expect those from Halifax have their own Sloan or Thrush Hermit/Joel Plaskett stories and some from Cape Breton have Gordie Samson or The Rankins stories.
Recent Memorable Performances
In the past year, I have had the opportunity to get out and see some upcoming local artists again. It is not possible to mention all of them here, but here are a few:
* Molly Thomason, Mo Kenney, Carleton Stone, at the Hydrostone (2012) – Free outdoor concert which I attended with my 2 kids. A memorable day for all of us. We were already fans of Molly Thomason, and became fans of Carleton Stone and Mo Kenney that day.
* Company House Shows (Dana Beeler, The Dardenelles, Grassmarket) – a great intimate venue where the artists actually know the audience. [Note: I am looking forward to seeing Ben Caplan there]
* Carleton Shows (Rose Cousins, with Jennah Barry, Jenn Grant, Daniel Ledwell, Stewart Legere and Don Brownrigg – awesome!; Carleton Stone, Molly Thomason & Breagh MacKinnon song circle; and The Novaks with Andrew James O’Brien). The Carleton is a fantastic place to see live music. Such a respectful atmosphere…and those frites!
* New Glasgow Riverfront Jubilee (2011) – a 3 day festival featuring some of my favourite acts (including Matt Mays, Hey Rosetta!, David Myles, Christina Martin, Dave Gunning, The Stanfields, The Trews). I was looking for a musical getaway and hit a home-run with this one. Met some wonderful people and were woken up at 3:00 a.m by … The Trews out for a late night post-concert party.
* Outdoor show on Argyle: songcircle (Christina Martin, Steve MacDougall, Andrew James O’Brien, Dylan Guthro, Jon MacPhee), then Slowcoaster and Gloryhound – my 6-year-old son and I had a memorable afternoon. He is a huge fan of Slowcoaster and Gloryhound.
Tim Chaisson with Poor Young Things and Matthew Pickup at The Seahorse – Awesome night of music. The Other Side is one of my favourite albums of 2012 and the live show was incredible. Was also my first time hearing and meeting Matthew Pickup.
* Wintersleep (and Elliot Brood) at Halifax Pop Explosion – my first time seeing Wintersleep. Will not be my last.
* House Concerts (Dave Gunning; Christina Martin with Dale Murray) – perhaps the best way to get to know an artist.
* Jenny MacDonald at the Economy Shoe Shop (December 2012) – Jenny MacDonald is a tireless worker and avid social media user. I liked her before I had even heard her music. Luckily, I thoroughly enjoyed her music. This was my first opportunity to see her live and The Shoe Shop, despite its flaws as a live music venue, provides an intimate atmosphere for a few.. It was a lovely acoustic performance. I plan to see her with her band in 2013.
Get Out and Support Your Local Scene
There is a ton of great local music out there. It is second to none. You just need to find it listen. CBC Atlantic Airwaves, hosted by Stepanie Domet, and the East Coast Countdown, hosted by Jimmie Inch, are two great radio programs promoting East Coast artists. These would be great places to start.
Why wait until your local musicians “make it big” to go see them. From January 24-26, Halifax plays host to the In The Dead of Winter music festival and East Coast Music Week is March 6-10. Ben Caplan plays January 31 – February 2. There’s “Take It to The Tiki” and “New Music Fridays” at the Casino. I also post a complete list of concerts in the Halifax area on this blog (click HERE). Just pick a show and go. Musicians, like everyone, have to start somewhere.
Twitter is also great place to look for musicians. Since joining the twitterverse, I have learned of many east coasts artists that I have now added to my regular music playlist.
Still not sure what shows to attend? Find out who is playing and then go to their website and check out a few songs. Then go watch them play. You’ll be glad you did. And who knows, maybe 20 years down the road, you will have a great story to tell…about the time you saw (____) at that great small venue (___) with your friends (___) and (___) and the guitar player did (_____). It was awesome!!!!
Here are a few videos of local artists to help you get started: