Calgary: North America's Newest Music City?

By Richard White, November 26, 2013 

Recently I read in the Calgary Herald that our city is “the unofficial folk club capital of the planet!”  The quote was attributed to Suze Casey the Artistic Director of the Calgary Folk Club one of seven such clubs in the city.  Casey might be a bit bias, but hey I am all for putting the statement out there and challenging other cities to dispute it. 

The statement was made in the context of the Canadian Folk Music Awards coming to Calgary for the first time, which Casey thought was an injustice given our status as the “folk club capital of the planet.”  Unfortunately, it turned out no Calgarians (no Albertans for that matter) won any of the awards - a good host never hogs the awards! 

Amy Thiessen and Russel Broom at Lolita's a tiny intimate room in trendy Inglewood, home to several music venues including the Calgary Folk Festival's new Festival Hall. 

Prince's Island is the best

Not only does Calgary have a strong folk club culture, but we have one of the best folk festivals on the planet that takes place each year on Prince’s Island an oasis in the middle of the Bow River (best fly fishing river on the planet).  Recently, Calgary also became home to intimate Festival Hall, which is operated by the Calgary Folk Festival to provide year-round music programming.

One of several weekend jam session in Calgary's downtown.  This is an all ages jam. There is a teenage brother and sister on stage in this photo.  

GABEsters

For me Casey’s statement was another piece of evidence that Calgary is more than just a collection of conservative corporate towers, but one of North America’s vibrant urban playgrounds – a statement I have been championing for 15 years.

Recently, I wrote a blog about Calgary’s Beltline community as being one of the most attractive hipster communities in North America, certainly on par with those I have recently visited in Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Toronto, Ottawa or Vancouver.  I even suggested we create a Calgary based term “GABEster” to reflect that our hipsters are unique in that they are highly paid geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers who love to work hard and play hard, not the typical bohemians.    

Calgary's International Blues Festival at Shaw Millennium Park. 

WAMJAMs

Over the past few years, I have come to appreciate Calgary has an incredible weekend afternoon music jam culture (WAMJAM).  In the downtown, there are jams at Blues Can, Ironwood, Mikey’s Juke Joint (yes we have a juke joint) and Ship & Anchor on both Saturday and Sundays. 

Add in places like Broken City, HiFi Club, The Palomino, The RePublic,  Wine-Ohs and the numerous open mic nights as many of the independent coffee houses and you have a very vibrant indie music scene in Calgary’s downtown that is hard to match. 

It doesn't stop there most of the downtown churches have active music programs from classical to folk. Any night of the week, I can find a place that offers great local music.  

Over the past few years I have visited Chicago, Portland, Ottawa, Vancouver and San Francisco and asked about WAMJAMs and it was hard to find anything to match scope and strength of Calgary’s downtown jams. 

 Mikey's Juke Joint is located next to the railway tracks under a busy over pass, has just the right sense of place and ambience you want for blues bar. 

Hexters to National Music Centre 

Outside of the downtown there are numerous live music spots.  Hexters in Bowness has a great Sunday afternoon jam. Recently, I attended for the first time and was shocked to find 150 people there a “football Sunday” dancing up a storm – how cool is that.  You can even go to very edge of the city and find live music.  Bee’s Knees is a coffee house in an estate community (big homes on big lots) on the southern edge of the city offers live music twice a week – a jam session and an open mic night. FFWD our weekly art and entertainment newspaper list 64 venues across the city 

Calgary is also home to the National Music Centre which hosts one of the largest collection of keyboard instruments on the planet. With the opening of their mega 150 million dollar new home in 2015, Calgary will certainly be not only a major music city, but also urban playground destination.

And then there is Sled Island which was quickly becoming one of North America's premier music festivals until it was flooded out last June.  I expect it will come back stronger than ever in 2014.  The festival offers over 250 bands, plus film, comedy and art exhibitions at 30+ venues.  

Even in March, the Ship & Anchor's patio is full of GABEsters. 

Sir Elton John likes Calgary 

I haven’t even mentioned Alberta Ballet’s successful collaborations with the likes of Sir Elton John, Joni Mitchell and Sara McLachlan to create original ballets. Or Calgary Opera's commissioning of new contemporary operas.  And there is the Calgary Stampede, includes an amazing 10-day music program that includes major headliners as well as local musicians, and it is not all county and western music.

For most people, Austin, Memphis and Nashville are top-of-mind when you think of North American music cities.  My plans are to visit Memphis in January for the International Blues Challenge January 21st to 25th where Calgary’s Mike Clarke Band (owner of Mikey’s Juke Joint) and Tim Williams will be competing.  I am curious to see how Calgary competes with the big boys of the bayou.

Guitar Club

A grassroots affair modeled after successful shows in Edmonton and Vancouver, the Calgary Guitar Show will be a one day/all ages event focused on bringing together anyone who loves music. It will provide a venue for retail music stores and collectors alike to sell their guitars, amplifiers and accessories and an opportunity for the public to meet collectors, talk to technicians and builders, and hang with local musicians. A much anticipated event that will evolve and expand in years to come.

The Calgary Guitar Show will take place at The Golden Age Club in the heart of Calgary’s East Village. In addition to the 20+ vendors expected to sell their goods, homegrown talent will be showcased on the Club’s magnificent stage and 50/50 raffles held to support the community. Following the show, an exclusive “After Party” for vendors, sponsors and friends will be held at the National Music Centre to wind down the day. Tickets will be limited to 150 for an evening of food, drink, entertainment and an exclusive tour of the National Music Centre collections – a fascinating journey for all!

For more information go to calgaryguitarshow.com.

 

 

Tim Williams and Mike Clark (owner of Mikey's) have fun on stage.