The Carleton: Celebrating 5 Years of Love & Support of The Local Music Scene

(photo from

Everyone around wants to give you their thanks.
Everyone around wants to give you their hand.
We want to thank you so much. We want to thank you so much.
A Thousand Suns, Hey Rosetta!

These words, while not  written for The Carleton Music Bar & Grill, reflect the sentiments of many  musicians (both local and visiting) toward the now legendary venue, which celebrates its 5th anniversary this month. 

In five short years, The Carleton “has become the singer-songwriters dream listening room to play in Halifax.” says East Coast Music Award winner Christina Martin.  Martin’s words are echoed by San Diego based singer Steve Poltz, who has played The Carleton about 25 times.  Poltz calls The Carleton “the club to play when travelling to Halifax”.

The History

The Carleton opened in the spring of 2008.  Although owned by seven people, the faces of the business are Mike Campbell and Mike Rhodes (who you may remember from the late 80’s/early 90’s MuchMusic show Mike & Mike’s Excellent X-Canada Adventures).

Mike Rhodes looks after the day-to-day operations of the club. Mike Campbell handles the bookings and the music.  In order to set The Carleton apart from everyone else at the time, they decided to make The Carleton an intimate live music venue – a listening room.  Using the philosophy that “it is a ticket-buying audience’s right to hear what it paid for without interference from individuals that would talk through a show”, The Carleton promotes an “atmosphere for quiet shows”.

This attitude that “any artist booked into The Carleton is deserving of an audience’s attention” is appreciated by the musicians that take the stage.  “Mike [Campbell] always sets the stage by asking the audience to ‘shut up’ and ‘listen’.” says Martin.  “I was always grateful for that. Audiences go to The Carleton because they know they will have a great meal in a warm setting, and be able to hear some of the best music from around the world.”

The Love

The Carleton has been recognized as the best live music venue in Atlantic Canada, winning the East Coast Music Associations award for Venue of the Year  in 2012 and 2013.  They have also received the Music Nova Scotia Award for Venue of the Year in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Juno Award winner, and Halifax native, Joel Plaskett calls it “a real pleasure to get to play a true listening room that’s well curated”, saying “I’ve never had a bad show in the club. It can certainly handle rock and roll too but it has really provided a venue that the music scene needed for years”.  Plaskett further comments that “The Carleton and its excellent staff have made Halifax a better town for performing songwriters and acoustic acts.”

Poltz adds that “The Carleton has a certain wonderful vibe about it. Mike Campbell is a curator, a docent, a sommelier, a musical archiver, and a tireless promoter of performers and bands he believes in. I love this man and so do many others. He’s made The Carleton the club to play when travelling to Halifax.”

Mike Campbell (from Twitter)

English singer, Michael Weston King had a “long-standing wish…to come to Halifax”, saying it “sounds so windswept and romantic”.  Thanks to Campbell, King has now been to Halifax twice and says “I love the place. It is even better than I imagined, and that was due to Mike, The Carleton, those bloody lovely lobsters, a very cool boat trip, a ‘mild’ hurricane, and that damn fine tiki bar of his!”.  About The Carleton, King says “[it] is such a great listening room, you can tell it was deigned by, and is run by music lovers. Such a shame my dear friend Jackie Leven never got to play there – he would have loved it, and the Carleton crowd would have loved him.”

Martin, who calls The Carleton, “the singer songwriters dream listening room” tells a funny story about her first show at The Carleton:

“I remember my first show at The Carleton. I asked Mike if the musicians had a drink limit at the bar. Various staff told me there was NO limit, so I am happy to say I had a wonderful time at the expense of the bar that night. I soon after found out that there in fact WAS a drink limit, and the limit was much less than the large bill I had accumulated. Mike never asked me to pay it, but I want to believe that I stopped by soon after to pay my large bar tab.”

The love, affection and respect for Campbell and The Carleton, makes it a special place for musicians, and they recall it fondly.  Campbell mentioned that “Barney Bentall was on the CBC on Sunday night doing a radio show and mentioned me, the bar and hanging out in my garage with Ron Sexsmith after his show at The Carleton last spring.”  It is clear that special memories are made at The Carleton.  

Campbell figures they have presented almost 1,000 nights of music since opening in 2008.   The list of artists who have taken the stage at The Carleton is a who’s who of the East Coast music scene, including Amelia Curran, Andy Brown, Ashley MacIsaac, Ben Caplan, Bruce Guthro, The Carletones, Catherine MacLellan, Charlie A’Court, Christina Martin, Dave Gunning, David Myles, Dylan Guthro, Gordie Sampson, Jill Barber, Jimmy Rankin, Joel Plaskett,  Jon McPhee (Paper Lions), JP Cormier, Kim Stockwood, Lennie Gallant, Matt Anderson, Matt Mays, Matt Minglewood, Meaghan Smith, Old Man Luedecke, Madison Violet, Ria Mae, Ron Hynes, Tim Baker (Hey Rosetta!), Tim Chaisson and Wintersleep.  David Myles even recorded a live album there.

The Carleton has also presented national and international artists such as Ari Hest, Barney Bentall, Colin Hay (Men At Work), Connie Kaldor, Crash Test Dummies, Daniel Romano, Danny Michel, Deep Dark Woods, Delta Moon, Don Ross, Dustin Bentall, Elliott Murphy, Gordie Johnson (Big Sugar), James Keelaghan, Jane Siberry, Jeff Martin (The Tea Party), Jeremy Fisher, Jim Cuddy/Greg Keelor, Jon Gomm, July Talk, Kelly Joe Phelps, Lloyd Cole, The Lowest of The Low, Martyn Joseph, Matthew Barber, Michael Weston King, The Northern Pikes, Ray Bonneville, Ron Hawkins, Ron Sexsmith, Russell De Carle (Prairie Oyster), Sarah Slean, Skydiggers, Stephen Fearing, Steve Poltz, Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown and Willie Nile.

The full list of performers, which Campbell admits “does go on”, is impossible to fit in this space.

andy brownTim Baker, Matt Mays, Rose Cousins, Andy Brown, Jon McPhee (photo from Twitter) 

I have been fortunate to have attended many great shows at The Carleton over the past five years, including Andrew James O’Brien & The Novaks, Rose Cousins& Jennah Barry, Carleton Stone, Breagh MacKinnon & Molly Thomason, the Music NL Showcase during East Coast Music Week, and most recently Graydon James, Gabrielle Papillon & Morgan MacDonald.  The venue, the musicians and the staff show nothing but respect for all in attendance.  It is truly a lovely place to see a show.

5th Anniversary Shows

To celebrate its 5th anniversary,  The Carleton has scheduled two full weeks of great shows from May 5 – 19. 

Performers include Matt Mays, Matt Anderson, Jennah Barry, Charlie A’Court, Sheri Ulrich, Susan Crowe, Stephen Fearing, Erin Costelo, Matt Minglewood, Three Sheet and Laura Smith.  Full concert listing below.

This stellar line-up, of which some shows have already sold-out, highlights some of the best music this region has to offer – something Campbell can be proud of.

What does the Future Hold For The Carleton?

After five years, there doesn’t appear to be any slowing down for Campbell or The Carleton.  Campbell has said that he wants “The Carleton to become an institution in this town”. And the well-wishes from musicians indicate that they see more good times ahead.

“Kudos to The Carleton on its fifth birthday” says Plaskett.  “It is just starting school this year so it’s only going to get more interesting. “

“Rave on Mike Campbell, and all at The Carleton” says King.  “Here’s to the next 5 years……… and beyond”

So, considering the importance of The Carleton to the local music scene, and the love espoused from the many musicians who have graced its stage, I think that Campbell has already accomplished that goal of making The Carleton an institution in Halifax. 

Happy 5th Anniversary!

Carleton 5th Anniversary Shows

Sunday, May 5 – Jennah Barry
Monday, May 6 – Matt Anderson
Tuesday, May 7 – Matt Anderson
Wednesday, May 8 – Matt Mays
Thursday, May 9 – Matt Mays
 Friday, May 10 – Charlie A’Court & Friends
 Saturday, May 11 – The Carletones & Special Guests
Sunday, May 12 – Sheri Ulrich + Susan Crowe

Tuesday, May 14 – Stephen Fearing & Erin Costelo with Jerry Leger

Wednesday, May 15 – Aiden Knight + Folly & The Hunter + Ariana Gillis

Thursday, may 16 – Matt Minglewood + David Celia
Friday, May 17 – Three Sheet & Anna Ludlow
Saturday, May 18 – The Carletones & Special Guests
Sunday, May 19 – Laura Smith CD Release

(Author’s Note: special thanks to Joel Plaskett, Christina Martin, Steve Poltz, Michael Weston King, Jon Cornwall, Mike Campbell and especially Matt Charlton for your contributions and support with this piece)


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