Museums of Memphis / International Blues Challenge

Preface

It is hard to believe that even in 2015, whites in Memphis and the entire Delta area haven’t embraced the blacks for their wonderful spirit and joie de vivre.  Someone told me (I wish I could remember who) many years ago “we must embrace the differences that define us, not let them divide us.”  After attending the IBC, checking out the museums of Memphis, wandering Clarksdale and attending the First Baptist Church service, I say “vive la difference!”

International Blues Challenge

  Mike Clark (far right) with some of his new best friends jamming at IBC 2014.

Mike Clark (far right) with some of his new best friends jamming at IBC 2014.

In December 2013, a few of Mikey’s Juke Joint groupies (including myself) decided to head to Memphis for the International Blues Challenge (IBC) to support the Mike Clark Band and Tim Williams, both of who would be representing southern Alberta at the January 2014 competition.  It was a truly amazing experience, not only did Williams win the competition as the best single/solo act and best guitarist, but I developed a whole new appreciation for the history of the blues and the culture of the south that produced it.

This year’s Challenge happens January 20 – 24 with Calgary’s Mike Clark Band and Tim Williams again representing southern Alberta.

The Museums

One of the great things about visiting Memphis is their trio of music museums – Stax Museum, Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and Sun Records.

The STAX Museum blew both Brenda (not so much a blues or music keener) and I away with its campus that includes not only the museum, but a charter school and extensive collection.  For anyone interested in the history of 20th century music in North America, this is the place to go. You will learn about the evolution and connections between numerous genres of music – blues, soul, jazz, Bebop, country, gospel, hillbilly, R&B, rock and Pop music.  What I particularly loved about the museum is there is its air of authenticity as much of the history actually happened in Memphis or in the immediate area.  

  STAX museum is located in an older neighbourhood, with a mix of both new and somewhat seedy buildings.

STAX museum is located in an older neighbourhood, with a mix of both new and somewhat seedy buildings.

The museum starts with a wonderful 20-minute film, after which you wander at your own pace through hundreds of displays that tell the story of the music with lots of memorabilia.  The highlight was when I complemented an elderly, distinguished-looking man on his great tie.  He thanked me and we got chatting about the museum and how he was visiting with his grandchildren who “wanted to see where their grandfather was” in the museum.  Turns out I was talking to Harold “Scotty” Scott of the Temprees, whose gold record for “Dedicated to the one I love” and other band artifacts we on exhibit.

One take away message I got from this museum was how the pain and hardship deeply penetrated the African American culture of the south and how they sought comfort and solace in their music.

I would recommend anyone visiting the museum, also take an explore a few around the museum, it will reinforced the link between poverty, sense of place and blues music.  The predominately black neighbourhood of empty lots, abandon homes, homes with what looked like religious shrines on the porches and numerous churches looked like many of the images we saw in the museum.

In chatting with Andrew Mosker, CEO, National Music Centre (NMC), who is currently construction a new museum in Calgary, I was told they would be incorporating some of the lessons learned from STAX on how to engage, entertain and educate the public about music.  Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if the NMC could match STAX museum’s authenticity as most of NMC’s artifacts will be imported from elsewhere. Also a big shiny new museum located in a glitzy new master planned urban community seems diametrically opposed to places that are the catalyst for artistic creativity. Time will tell.

  One of the things that make Memphis' museums great is their authenticity, as they are telling stories that are both local and global. 

One of the things that make Memphis' museums great is their authenticity, as they are telling stories that are both local and global. 

  Harold "Scotty" Scott. 

Harold "Scotty" Scott. 

The Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, created by the Smithsonian Institute and located downtown next to the arena provides an excellent overview of the history of Memphis area music from the 1930s to the city’s musical heyday of the ‘70s.  The museum’s digital audio guide offers up over 300 minutes of information including 100 songs that you can listen to while surrounded by artifacts of the time.  It is a total music immersion program not to be missed.

Sun Records, located just outside of the downtown, is easily accessible via the tram and a short walk to the historic building. Like the STAX museum, I think you get a better appreciation for the history and the environment that produced the music when you walk the streets around it.

The lobby of Sun Studio looks like a '50s diner.

What is great and unique about Sun Records is that you get a personal tour led by a local musician.  Sun Records, an American independent record label was founded in Memphis in 1952, by Sam Phillips and financed by Jim Bulliet.  It was here that Phillips discovered and first recorded Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Phillips loved the music of African-Americans and wanted to bring that genre to a mass audience, which changed the world of music, but meant Sun Records struggled to be viable. 

The museum is full of artifacts and your tour guide has amazing stories to tell.  But the highlight of the tour is to stand on in the recording studio where Elvis, Carl, Jerry Lee and Johnny belted out your favourite songs. The building just oozes history - I am sure I heard Roy singing.

The modest entrance to Sun Studio.

One of  the many artifacts from the early days of Sun Studio.

The recording studio is still used today. It looks like a rec room from the '50s. It is hard to imagine that this is place where the legends of '50s and '60s music created their hits here.

Beale Street

Beale Street, truly one of North America’s iconic streets, is home to the International Blues Competition (IBC). The event utilizes 17 different venues along the street for the 250+ entries from around the world.  The street is hopping with music from noon to the wee hours of the morning. 

For me, the highlight of the Challenge were the midnight jams at the Daisy Theatre (every night various musicians from the competition and past winners put on an impromptu concert, the energy was electrifying).   There are certain art experiences that stand out in my life - seeing Baryshnikov dance from the front row of the Lincoln Centre (1984) and the Hermitage Show at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (1977) - and the IBC jams on Beale Street.

  Beale Street is animated by buskers and bands who provide great street entertainment. 

Beale Street is animated by buskers and bands who provide great street entertainment. 

  The International Blues Challenge midnight jam. 

The International Blues Challenge midnight jam. 

Clarksdale

No trip to Memphis for a blues lover is complete without a road trip to Clarksdale, Mississippi (90 minute drive), considered by some as “ground zero” for the blues. The entire city is a living museum complete with numerous historical plaques and a self-guided map. 

Clarksdale is home to the crossroads of highways 61 and 49 where legend has it iconic blues guitarist Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil.   You can also visit the McKinley Morganfield’s (aka Muddy Waters) cabin on Stovall Road. There are lots of tiny cabins still inhabited that serve as a reminder of the poverty that begat the blues.  

When in Clarksdale check out The Delta Blues Museum, WROX radio station on Main Street and all of the other historic sites around town, it will give you a whole new appreciation of how the blues was germinated.

Ground Zero Blues Club opened in 2001 in an old warehouse building with “manufactured authenticity” complements of an old couch and other bric-a-brac on the porch and the tradition of graffiti-like visitors writing of their names anywhere they can find space. names of people who have been there on the walls.  We arrived mid day (nothing was happening), but we did manage to get on stage and pretend we were performing.

In chatting with Holger Petersen (veteran CBC and CKUA blues broadcaster), after his talk about the history of the blues at NMC a few years back he told me Ground Zero was one of his favourite places to listen to the blues. You could easily spend an afternoon wandering the streets of Clarksdale, checking out the museum, eating dinner and listening to an act Ground Zero and maybe even book yourself a room at the Riverside Hotel, established in 1944, where the the likes of Robert Nighthawk, Sonny Boy Williams and Ike Turner had been guests.

It truly is a sacred place.

  Ground Zero Blues Club looks like it was part of Clarksdale's heyday, but in reality it didn't open until 2001. It has established itself as the premier place for blues performers to play when in the area.

Ground Zero Blues Club looks like it was part of Clarksdale's heyday, but in reality it didn't open until 2001. It has established itself as the premier place for blues performers to play when in the area.

Panels like these are located throughout the city, creating an informative self-guided walking tour. 

WROX radio
  Clarksdale has numerous music related stores that are fun to explore.  It is a great place to flaneur - you will find everything from the charming Greyhound bus depot to the  Tennessee Williams historic district  of mega-mansions from the early 20th century. Tennessee Williams grew up in Clarksdale.

Clarksdale has numerous music related stores that are fun to explore.  It is a great place to flaneur - you will find everything from the charming Greyhound bus depot to the Tennessee Williams historic district of mega-mansions from the early 20th century. Tennessee Williams grew up in Clarksdale.

Barry (another Mikey's groupie) and I on stage at Ground Zero Blues Club. 

Gospel Revelation

No trip to Memphis is complete without attending a Sunday morning Gospel Church service. While many trek to the well-publicized Al Green church service near Graceland, we were fortunate to notice during our wanderings that at the end of Beale Street is the First Baptist Church (built in 1880, it is believed to be the first brick-constructed, multi-story church built by African Americans).  We like authenticity so this seemed like the perfect choice.

So on Sunday morning, when many IBC revellers were still recovering from their Saturday night festivities, we headed to church.   Wanting to be respectful, we tried toquietly walk in and sit at the back, but that was not to be.  We were immediately welcomed like long lost family, hands were shaken, we were given a program, and by the end hugs were shared and we were part of “the family.”  I have never experienced a more friendly welcoming. 

At the beginning of the service, all-newcomers were welcomed by name and where they were visiting from.  We were asked to stand to be recognized and invited to say a few words. Then amateur singers and preachers started to perform building to a crescendo with a large female choir and professional passionate preacher that made both your body and soul shiver. I don’t think I have ever heard so many AMENs in my life. 

Initially planning to only stay for 30 minutes or so, we were mesmerized we stayed for the entire two-hour service.  We were even invited to join them for lunch afterwards.  It was a magical experience. Amen!

insidechurch

Inglewood: Calgary's most unique community?

By Richard White, May 29, 2014 (an edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours section, May 29, 2014, titled "Cool Inglewood perfect for life, work and play).

Inglewood has the distinction of not only being Calgary’s oldest community (established in 1875), but also one of the most desirable urban communities in the City. And, while there are many fine historical buildings and relics from the past -including two old barns and an old brewery - still in the community, what makes its future particularly exciting are the many new private investments.

Two of the biggest additions to the community are George Brookman’s West Canadian Digital Imaging headquarter building at the east end of 9th (Atlantic) Avenue and Jim Hill’s Atlantic Art Block at the west end (the very modern 4-storey red brick building with the wavy roof).  These commercial anchors, combined with the existing shops, restaurants, cafes, clubs and pubs are critical to making Inglewood a perfect “live, work, play” community.

Live

Inglewood offers a diversity of housing options - from early 20th century cottages and Bow River mansions, to new infill homes  and low-rise condos.  At the far east end of Inglewood along 17th Avenue, almost at Deerfoot Trail, lies the 15-acre SoBow (south of downtown) condo development by Calgary’s M2i Development.   While Bridgeland, Beltline and East Village tend to get all the attention SoBow offers arguably the best amenities and accessibility of any new urban village Calgary. 

In minutes, you can be on the Deerfoot, Blackfoot or Barlow Trails, or an easy cycle or walk into downtown if you live in SoBow.  From an amenities perspective, the Zoo, Pearce Estate Park, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and the shops on 9th Avenue are basically in your backyard.

This large development has six phases and when complete, will consist of approximately 700 units, effectively creating a new “village” of 2,000+ people. (Click here for aerial views).

Heritage apartment blocks like this one make for great artists' live work spaces. 

Work

The Atlantic Art Block not only offers office space, but at street level there are retail shops, a restaurant and the uber cool 15,000 square foot Esker Foundation Art Gallery in the penthouse. At street level, the building is home to the popular Gravity Café and Bite Groceteria - both have been an instant hit with foodies. It is a great example of a mixed-use building. 

West Canadian Digital Imaging 60,000 square foot building is a more tradition office only space. It employs not only his  250 workers, but another 90 Travel Alberta employees.  

Creating a “live, work, play” community is more than just about densification by building more condos and adding grocery stores, restaurants and shops.  It is just as critical that business owners like Brookman and Hill decide to locate their businesses in Calgary's established communities and not just downtown or suburban office parks.  Workers are critical to the survival of the shops, cafes and restaurants as they provide weekday customers, while the residential spaces fill the “customer” role evenings and weekends.

The Atlantic Art Block combines both contemporary architectural design (wave roof and glass walls at the corner) with more traditional brick three storey warehouse massing mid-block to create an exciting architectural statement as you enter Inglewood from the west. 

West Canadian Digital Building is a  more traditional modern interpretation of early 20th century warehouse architecture. 

Play

Inglewood could be branded as Calgary’s music district as it is not only home to Recordland, Festival Hall, Ironwood and Blues Can, but also many of its old cottage houses and walk-up apartments are home to local musicians. 

If you haven’t been to Recordland, you should go. It is one of the largest privately owned record stores in Canada with over two million records.  The Festival Hall is the new year round home of the Calgary Folk Festival, as well as concert space for local and touring musicians. Ironwood and Blues Can offer live music seven days a week.  

Tim Williams at the Blues Can jamming with friends from around the world.

Recordland is just one of many local shops in Inglewood that makes it a fun place to flaneur.

Inglewood is a great place for window licking with lots of unique window installations. 

Rouge combines history and contemporary dining for a unique experience. 

  Nerd is just one of many hipster hangouts in Inglewood. 

Nerd is just one of many hipster hangouts in Inglewood. 

Did You Know?

In 2004, EnRoute Magazine identified Inglewood as one of the Canada’s top 10 “coolest neighbourhoods.”  Over the past 10 years, it has gotten even cooler. 

The Inglewood Lawn Bowling Club (established in 1936) has become a tony place for Calgary hipsters.  The Club is so popular they have just completed a shiny new clubhouse.

In 2006, Inglewood’s Rouge restaurant placed 60th on the S. Pellegrino World’s 100 Best Restaurants list. Rouge, is located in the A.E.Cross house, built in 1891.  (Back Story: Cross was one of the “Big Four” investors in the Calgary Stampede).  The restaurant boasts its own vegetable garden that covers six city lots. How cool is that?

Every Saturday afternoon, Calgary’s own “cool cat” Tim Williams hosts a Blues Jam at the Blues Can in Inglewood.  Williams is the winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition in two categories: best solo and duo artist and best guitarist. 

Inglewood’s boundaries are the Bow River (north) to the CPR Yard (south) and the Bow River (east) to Elbow River (west).

Last Word

With everything from lawn bowling to Saturday jams; from the sounds of the Zoo animals to the sounds of trains and planes; from one of the world's best restaurants, to Canada's best used record store; Inglewood is definitely, Calgary’s most unique community. 

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Don't be too quick to judge

Yes, Inglewood does still have two barns. I believe the red barn serves as storage for Calgary's own Canadian Pickers.

This is the historic Stewart Livery constructed in 1909 at 806 14th St. SE. Livery stables were integral to the daily life of frontier cities. They served many functions - hire of horse and vehicles, sale of horses and vehicles as storage of hay, coal and wood.  

Flaneuring the Fringe: Sunalta / 11th Street SW

By Richard White, April 15, 2014

For Calgarians and tourists alike, exploring Calgary’s urban “street life” means all too often we head to the same places – 17th Avenue, Inglewood, 4th Street or Kensington, or maybe even the Design District or Stephen Avenue. This is the third of a three-part look at “street life” on the fringe of Calgary’s city centre.  Sunalta and 11th Street SW are hidden gems for people interested in urban exploring.

Sunalta

Sunalta is the community west of 14th Street SW, south of the CPR Tracks, east of Crowchild Trail and north of 17th Avenue SW. With the recent arrival of the LRT and their own station (10th Avenue and 16th Street) Sunalta has the potential to extend the boundaries of Calgary’s south side City Centre all the way to Crowchild Trail. The community is dominated by small walk-up apartments, condos and small businesses making it a good candidate to become Calgary's next urban village. It won’t be long before someone proposes a major high-rise development near the station.

Mikey’s Juke Joint & Eatery (1901 10th Ave SW)

You wouldn’t expect to find an authentic juke joint (a place for workers to relax, drink, dance and socialize in a ramshackle building at the outskirts of town) in Cowtown, but there it is, tucked hidden away next to the railway tracks and under the LRT skytrain and Crowchild / Bow Trail bridges.  The wooden floors have a rich spilled beer patina, the food is good (they make a great burger and the pulled pork sandwich is straight from the Delta) and the music is amazing.  The Saturday Jam with the Mike Clark Band should be on every blues lover’s “must do” list.  Tuesday night features Tim Williams who recently won the International Blues Competition for best “solo/duo” artist and best guitarist; he is also a great storyteller. Music is seven days a week here, twice on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Sentry Box (1835 - 10th Ave SW)

Across the street from Mikey’s the Sentry Box is over 13,000 square feet filled with over 46,000 different items - from military games to science fiction.  Their events calendar is packed with activities from Blood Bowl League to Dungeons & Dragon Encounters. I am always amazed at the constant stream of people in and out of this destination retailer.

Rubaiyat: Stained Glass Studio (1913 - 10th Street SW)

Did you know Rubaiyat has had a stained glass studio on 10th Ave SW since 1973? The studio is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, selling glass to professional and hobby artists and meeting clients commissioning a custom architectural, religious and residential stained glass piece. When I checked it out one Saturday (before the Mikey’s Saturday afternoon jam), I was immediately astounded by the selection of hand-rolled, mouth-blown and machine sheet glass on display.  I was quickly welcomed and invited to wander around and take photos.  I love wandering artists’ studios and this is one of the biggest studios I have seen in a long time, and the cleanest!

Heritage Posters & Music (1502 - 11th Ave SW)

It’s been aptly described by one fan as a hippy, trippy bastion of pop culture history housed in a psychedelic garage.  The rustic store is brimming with vintage vinyl, new and out of print music, rare concert tour and gig posters, music photos, movie posters, and much more.  It's a groovy store with pop culture memorabilia galore. I dug it, man.”  Need I say more?

  The new West LRT transit station in Sunalta.

The new West LRT transit station in Sunalta.

Mikey's one of several blues bars in Calgary's City Centre.

Sentry Box is Canada's largest adventure gaming and science fiction and fantasy bookstore.

  Heritage Posters & Music's home is in fact in a heritage i.e. old wood warehouse building.  

Heritage Posters & Music's home is in fact in a heritage i.e. old wood warehouse building.  

  Entrance to Rubaiyat Stained Glass Studio.

Entrance to Rubaiyat Stained Glass Studio.

  Rubiayat studio.

Rubiayat studio.

Sunalta is full of surprises like Kingdom Hall and a huge Western Veterinary Emergency Center. 

11th Street Strip  

The 11th Street Strip extends just two blocks - from 15th Avenue north to 13th.  Unlike the areas, 11th Street is more hidden than fringe find.  The street is not only surrounded by high-rise condos that are very walkable to downtown, but it is inside the City’s south City Center boundaries. It also has urban elements other than just shops and cafes - a plaza on the southeast corner of 11th Street and 14th Avenue and the historic St. Stephen’s Anglican Church a half block east on 14th Ave Street make for an oasis in the middle of what is quickly becoming a sea of high-rise condos. 

Kalamata Grocery Store (1421 - 11th Street SW)

A great neighbourhood market specializing in Mediterranean/Middle Eastern groceries. How do they cram so much character into one little store? You have to taste the baklava! Best selection of olives in the city with over 30 varieties including the namesake, kalamata olives. 

Epiphanie Chocolate (1417B  -11th St SW)

Though Calgary has numerous chocolate shops, none is as quaint and authentic as Epiphanie, included as one of the best places to buy chocolate in Canada by Huffington Post in 2013.  It is like walking into a mini art gallery in a European village. You will definitely leave here with a smile on your face - and likely some chocolate too!

Galaxie Diner (1413 - 11th St SW)

Established in 1996, Galaxie was on the leading edge of Calgary’s retro diner mania.  It is frequented by locals for its authentic Montreal Smoked Meat hash and Calgary Sandwich.  Come hungry!

Good Earth Café  (1502 - 11th St SW)

The Good Earth Café has grown from this original flagship store into a western Canada franchise with 42 locations.  It is a popular meeting place especially for larger groups, as this is a large café with lots of comfy seating.   The name “café” is a bit misleading as it is more bistro than café with its many food options.  I have always loved their white chocolate scones.  

With The Times (1504 – 11th St SW)

Next door to Good Earth is “With the Times,” a magazine/newspaper shop that you can access directly from the café or the street.  How sweet is that! You can grab your New York Sunday Times, your favourite hot beverage and scone, and then settle in for a few hours reading and thinking.  It doesn’t get much better.  

11th Streets pocket park/plaza next to St. Stephen's Church and downtown offices in the background. 

  "Bird of Spring" by Abraham Etungat, 1975, replica of a soapstone carving 14cm tall. 

"Bird of Spring" by Abraham Etungat, 1975, replica of a soapstone carving 14cm tall. 

  Kalamata Grocery anchors the 11th Street Strip. 

Kalamata Grocery anchors the 11th Street Strip. 

  Of course Kalmata has olives. 

Of course Kalmata has olives. 

 1 1th Street's charming and colourful shop fronts. 

11th Street's charming and colourful shop fronts. 

  Galaxie Diner continues the vintage charm of the block. 

Galaxie Diner continues the vintage charm of the block. 

  Good Earth and With The Times are new kids on the block. 

Good Earth and With The Times are new kids on the block. 

Last Word

Urban living is characterized by communities with a diversity of housing options – single family, duplexes, townhouses and small and large condos. It is also defined by the diversity of transportation options i.e. you might walk to the café or yoga studio, cycle to the urban grocery store or recreation center, as well as walk, cycle or take transit to work. 

As Calgary expands outwards, so does its City Centre. No longer is it just Hillhurst/Sunnyside, downtown and the Beltline that offers urban living. This is the final chapter of three blogs that looked at flaneuring the fringes of Calgary's Center City see below for chapters one and two. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Flaneuring the Fringe: 16th Avenue North   

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YYC: Flaneuring the fringes - TransCanada Highway

By Richard White, February, 26, 2014

For Calgarians and tourists alike, exploring Calgary’s urban street life means all too often we head to the same places – 17th Avenue, Inglewood, 4th Street or Kensington, or maybe the Design District or Stephen Avenue.

Nothing against any of them, but I thought it would be fun to flaneur the fringes of urban city centre, beyond the Downtown core, beyond the streets of the Beltline, Mission, Kensington/Sunnyside and Inglewood.  To flaneur where no flaneur has gone before, to off-off-the-beaten path places in YYC’s urban fringes.   

Part One (this blog) will take us along the TransCanada Highway (16th Ave. N), while Part Two will explore 19th Street NW (south and north of the 16th Ave. N) and Part Three will wander the west of the Beltline. 

16th Ave N aka TransCanada Highway

When was the last time you explored 16th Avenue North? Ever wonder why it isn’t like 17th Avenue South in terms of shops, restaurants and cafes?  While the “urban picking” is sparse, there are some hidden gems along the Trans Canada Highway.  If you take transit, grab the LRT and get off at the SAIT/ACAD stop, wander the campus, as there are lots of interesting new buildings and then head to the north side of 16th Avenue at 10th Street and walk east.

Phoenix Comics (1010 16th Ave NW)

Since opening this location in 1994 (it also has a southwest store), Phoenix Comics has evolved into one of the top comic bookstores in Western Canada.  Their goal is to have every in-print volume of every title in stock every day.  They also carry out-of-print comics, graphic novels of all genres, Manga and games like Dungeons and Dragons. Every Friday they host two free “Magic: The Gathering” tournaments.  Selling over 1,000,000 magic cards a year, it’s no wonder Phoenix Comics has been dubbed by some as Calgary’s “Magic Place.”

Don't judge a story by its street presence. Inside this unassuming store is the motherlode of comics and magic cards.  

Phoenix Comics is three floors of nerdy, geeky fun. 

Aquila Books is the opposite of Phoenix Comics. It appeals to the intellectual geeks who love history.  Perhaps we should call 16th Ave N Geek Street!

Aquila not only has lots of hard to find books but also artifacts like two vessels hanging from the ceiling, the furthest one being an Inuit kayak. 

Aquila Books (826 16th Ave NW)

Two blocks east, Aquila Books is possibly one of the best Canadiana bookstores in Canada. Owner Cameron Treleaven is respected as one the most knowledgeable and connected booksellers in the world.  He specializes in books dealing with Polar Exploration, Western Canadiana, Mountaineering, Canadian Pacific Railway and early voyages.  Recently, he published catalogues on Mount Everest’s 60th Anniversary and bios on Robert W. Service and soon Lucy Maud Montgomery.  It is a fun place to flaneur antique maps, prints, photos, letters, postcards, scientific equipment and bookcases – and yes, books too!    

The Audio Spot (632 16th Ave NW)

Another two blocks away is The Audio Spot. Opening in April 2013 in a house on the highway (a reminder that at one time it was just a regular residential street), it’s owned by Marilyn Hall, owner of The Inner Sleeve in Marda Loop.  It’s 90 percent vintage “two channel” stereos from the ‘70s and ‘80s with a little new equipment mixed in.  There are also lots of records and three separate listening rooms, making it a great place to hear some “blasts from the past” in an authentic setting.

GuitarWorks (602 16th Ave NW)

Established in 1987, GuitarWorks opened this its first store on 16th Avenue.  It has since grown to four stores with this one being its flagship acoustic guitars store – they offer over 18 different brands of guitars.  It is not just another music retail store, as everyone who works here is passionate about music and plays the guitar. They offer free personal (one-on-one) shopping experience with one of their staff.  If you are a picker, this is a fun place to check out.

The Audio Spot offers an authentic '60 / '70s experience. 

The collection of turntables is really quite amazing.  

Guitar works is also in an unassuming building, but once inside it is full of guitars and other string instruments. 

Something for everyone?

The Movie Poster Shop (112 16th Ave NW)

Continuing eastward will get you to this unassuming shop. It is a mecca of posters from original Calgary Stampede posters to those of Star Wars and the Rat Pack movies – 6,000 posters in all.  I am told people spend a whole day here, enjoying this one-of-a-kind experience.

Don’s Hobby Shop (1515 Centre St. North)

Continuing east, veering south off 16th Ave onto Centre Street and you will soon find yourself at Don’s Hobby Shop. Here you will find everything from Superhero toques to magic and juggling equipment.  Maybe sign up for a FX Makeup Class or pick up some joke gifts for your next dinner party. Definitely worth a visit.

Peters’ Drive-In (219 16th Ave NE)

Head back to 16th Ave, continue two blocks east and reward yourself with a milkshake at Peters’ Drive In (maybe a burger and fries too). These are thick, creamy, old fashioned milkshakes (real ice cream, real fruit) that make you work for every swallow. They offer 30+ flavours of milkshakes including Toasted Marshmallow. As they can sell over 4,000 milkshakes on a hot summer day, be prepared for a line up if the weather is nice.  This Calgary icon has been serving burgers, fries and milkshakes since 1964.

You can't miss the kitchy entrance to the Movie Poster Shop. 

Don't be afraid to wander off 16th Ave., the flaneur always takes the path least travelled and is rewarded with places like Sketch.  

Just down the street from Sketch is this hippy house, how cool is this!

Across the street from Sketch in the historic Balmoral sandstone school built in 1913 on 5.4 acres.  They don't build schools like this one anymore.  There is an immediate sense of authority as soon as look at the school.  The power of architecture is evident here. 

In addition to being a popular drive-in Peters' is also a quaint picnic spot for families, construction workers and young adults in the summer.  

Last Word

Even though the 16th Ave N aka the TransCanada Highway is 6 lanes, it really doesn’t seem like a highway as it is divided and you really don’t notice the three lanes on the south side.  It is not much different than Whyte Avenue in Edmonton, which is a successful pedestrian oriented street. 

The fact that 16th Ave shops are all on the north side of the street means you are walking in the sun, even in the middle of winter.  It was -20C the day I flaneured it and I found it very pleasant.  I do think there is an advantage to walking east to west on 16th Ave N facing the west bound traffic as you can anticipate the cars going by.

 What 16th Ave N needs to make it a more attractive pedestrian destination are more condos on the neighbouring blocks to the north. More density and diversity will attract more local retailers and restaurateurs to locate there, which in turn will attract more people to want to live there. It is the old question, which comes first - the people or the shops?

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Struck out in Memphis

By Richard White, February 3, 2014

Too often we judge the success of our vacations by the quantity and quality of the “treasures” we bring home.  We love to find something unique at that off-the-beaten-path vintage or second hand shop or the out-of–the-way boutique or flea market.  We pride ourselves on being able to find an artwork/artifact we love everywhere we go.

In Vegas, we found an artwork in the trash can next to the bus stop after visiting nearby thrift store.   We expect someone purchased it at the thrift store for the frame and just threw out the artwork. One person’s junk is another person’s treasure. 

However in Memphis, no matter how hard we tried, we stuck out in our quest for that unusual souvenir.

Downtown

We scoured the streets of downtown Memphis, but there were not many shops of any kind to be found.  First, we checked along Main Street – nothing. Then, we headed to South Main and found few shops, mostly restaurants.  However, we did find Memphis’ historic Central train station, which was fun yet sad to explore.  It was a vivid reminder of how the world has changed - what was once a vibrant meeting place and an economic engine for the city has been reduced to two Amtrak trains a day and a lone staff person keen to chat with us about the past.      

We did check out A. Schwab which is a Beale Street institution, but it seemed too touristy for us.  However, it is a great place to wander, with lots of artifacts from the golden years of Memphis and Beale St. especially if your time is limited.

South Main the area near the Civil Rights Museum and the Lorraine Hotel is Memphis' hipster district. 

The interior of Central Station is a sad reminder of days past. 

Flaneuring the side streets around South Main, we did find an alley with some very attractive architectural concrete figurines, but they were way too heavy even for me to carry. Alley “shopping” can be lucrative, like when in we found a weathered corbel from an old building in Washtucna, Washington – a great salvage find.  What we also found was a number of interesting warehouse loft conversions happening in the area – a healthy sign for future vitality.

This is the figurine we would have loved to have brought back for our garden. 

Vintage Trolley Experience

Deciding we had to head further afield and having read about a new hipster area called Cooper/Young, we took the $1 a ride Madison Ave trolley east as far as we could and then hoofed it the rest of the way.  Riding Memphis’ vintage trolley is a “must do” experience as they creak and grind their way along the tracks through the downtown.  I expect their maximum speed is no more than 10 miles an hour – it seemed I could walk almost as fast.  An interesting note is that they are not originally from Memphis, but are reconditioned ‘30s and ‘40s streetcars from Porto, Portugal, Melbourne, Australia and Rio de Janerio, Brazil that have been adding charm to the streets of Memphis for the past 20+ years.

The streetcars are the cutest I have ever encountered with their original wooden benches and seats, brass fittings and old weathered straps, some being little more than a very worn strip of leather. We were surprised- an impressed - to discover that at the end of the line, as the driver moved to the other end of the trolley he/she reversed the backs of the single seats so riders always face forward. How brilliant is that?

While the trolley cars are cute they aren't too practical when it come to large groups of people wanting a ride after a basketball or baseball game or when there is something on at the convention centre. 

Inside the trolley are long wooden benches or small single seats.

One of the better straps for hanging on. 

Finally, a Thrift Store!

Though we had done some research before coming to Memphis to see if there might be any thrift stores just outside of the downtown (and found nothing), we were nicely surprised, just five minutes into walking, to encounter a thrift store.  They could probably see the smile on Brenda’s face all the way back to Beale Street. 

Inside, we did find an interesting child’s artwork of a primitively rendered cowboy in a blue metal frame that had potential.  We should have bought it, but it was early in our trip - and day - and given it was on the large size, we both agreed to take a pass, sure that we’d find something else.  That was our fatal flaw!

Central Avenue  

We eventually discovered Centre Avenue (from S Cooper Street to East Parkway) which showed promise with a few antique shops, Flashback (a great vintage store), a junk dealer and a couple of used music/book stores.  Lots of interesting things, but nothing grabbed us.  Hunting for artifacts is an intuitive thing; you don’t know what you are looking for until you see it.

OtherLand cafe was our first sign of bohemia. Interesting place to hang out, but nothing much in the way of exotic finds - keep on walking. 

At Central Ave we found an Urban Outfitter's shop which seemed to be in a strange location with the antique stores. 

This fire hydrant was tempting but again too big and too heavy. Palladio is a huge furniture antique store with cafe/bistro on Central Ave., with a huge warehouse out back filled with architectural artifacts, fountains and fun objects like this one.    

Flashback vintage store was packed with mid-century artifacts, but nothing said "buy me, buy me."

Xanadu looked promising as it is used bookstore, record store and music store.  

I was tempted by the cigar-box guitars, but since I don't play the guitar is seemed silly. 

Our last stop on Central was Paul's Garage (I think that was the name). As you can see it was packed with junk...perfect for Brenda to do a little urban archeology.  No matter how hard she tried - nothing!

Cooper/Young District

Some hours later, after finally making it to the Cooper/Young corner, we found some quirky cafes and restaurants and a great bookstore but no shops, no artifacts. 

Burke's Books established in 1875 had great potential.  Brenda would have loved one of these typewriters, but they were not for sale. 

It seemed just too easy to buy some blues records in Memphis. 

Cabana Cafe offered a quiet place to rest before our journey back. 

Strike three and you're out!

Yes, with tails between our legs, we are ashamed to admit it we struck out in Memphis.  The upside? We saw some off the beaten path places that most tourists don’t. And, we’re darn heck committed to making this “strike out” a one-time wonder!

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Readers' Comments:

CW writes:  "Very interesting idea for a blog, what it means to be a pack rat but come up empty-handed.  As we live more and more digitally, collecting any object is bound to be more and more challenging. We pack rats are a dying breed. I pick up lps, cds and dvds, and occasionally books, all very plentiful now. But I'm open to anything. I think the challenge of being a pack rat is to appreciate the quality within an object - its quality today and, much more difficult, how it will be perceived in the future. It's all about predicting the future - yours and everyone else's, isn't it? Was your difficulty in finding stuff in Memphis about your present? Or about your future? My suggestion for you two when you travel: collect mugs of local businesses, often sold in the smallest thrift stores. Great souvenirs. Forever useful. I've never been unable to find at least one good one." 

Brenda responds: "I buy for the present or near future, i.e. only for my immediate use/enjoyment and/or quick turnover (i.e. largely no longer than a year I will either sell or give away)... NOT some long out future. I guess I am not a pack rat (that's good news for both of us I think... as don't think much about how it will possibly be perceived in the future (who wants to store it? Who wants to move it later on at some point?). As for collecting local mugs, interesting idea  - they are everywhere - too easy, where is the challenge. Mugs don't resonate with my fussiness about what I enjoy drinking my coffee and tea in.  Promotional-stamped mugs never seem to me to meet my high (snooty??) standards re: style and quality. I'm happy keeping the focus on artwork...just have to work harder so there are no more strike out!"

International Blues Competition 2014

By Richard White, January 23/24, 2014

Where to go? Who to see? When to see them? The schedule for the competition was finally published yesterday at noon and everyone was quickly scrambling to figure out where and when their favourites were playing.

Tim Williams plays for the judges on Day 1.  Williams successfully moves to the semi-finals. 

Sure enough, the two Calgary participants were playing within a few minutes of each other at different venues – Mike Clark Band (MCB) at 7:20 and Tim Williams at 7:30. Even though the venues are only a block away, it wasn’t really possible to see them both.  Most of the Calgary contingent went to see MCB, but when we got there early, we found the room very loud so decided to check out the single/duo acts at Jerry Lee Lewis (JLL) venue to catch Tim Williams.  Good decision. 

JLL is like a big old southern mansion, with big square rooms on the second floor that are very comfortable for intimate performances.  Good place for one scotch, one bourbon and one beer and to listen to some amazing performers.

The competition was strong and Tim’s set was very good. As one of the people at our table said, “he is unique,” which is so true. Of all the performers so, far he is perhaps the most traditional, playing songs deeply rooted in delta blues history.  However, it was strange to see Tim in a jacket and tie with his fancy saddle shoes.

The three blocks of Beale Street were hopping from late afternoon until after 1 am, with people popping in and out of venues trying to catch as many acts as possible. It was a tough call - do you just settle in someplace or do you want to frantically run around like a chicken with your head cut off?

Ghost Town Blues Band is a spiritual experience. Voodoo anyone? GTBB successfully move to semi-finals.

Pop-in / Pop-out Flaneuring

After a while it is tough to sit any longer and needed some fresh air, so I adopted the “pop-in/pop-out” technique.  I went up and down the street and dropped into a venue when I heard something interesting, stayed until the end of the set and then popped back out to flaneur down the block some more.

This worked very well as I got to see each of the venues and was able to catch a lot of good music. 

By the end of the evening the street was full of guitar cases. 

Highlights of the Night

The two bands that stood out for me were the Ghost Town Blues Band and the Randy Oxford Band.   I am a sucker for high energy and both these bands played their hearts and souls out.

The Ghost Town Blues Band, from Memphis, was a finalist in 2013 and it showed.  The six members have a synergy of the sound and visuals that includes a cigar-box guitar with trombone, sax and fun horn section that results what the program describes as “21st century blues at its best.”

The Randy Oxford Band (South Sound Blues Association) also features a trombone player i.e. Randy Oxford.  Maybe there is something about the trombone and me that I didn’t know.  Reading the program, I learned that the trombone was one of the original blues instruments featured in W.C. Handy’s band in Memphis in the early 1900s.   While Randy is the leader, all of the band members contribute equally to what was a highly entertaining performance – it makes you want to shake and smile!

The surprise performance of the night was Monica Morris and Josie Lowder (Central Illinois Blues Club) who are both from musical families. Monica is the voice and Lowder the fingers.  Together, they created great vocal harmonies.  The svelte Josie effortlessly made her guitar bend but not break and Monica sang with her heart on her sleeve. 

The After Party Jam

At about 11ish, after the competition was over, the after party jams broke out.  I headed to the New Daisy Theatre where the All-Star Jam hosted by John Richardson and Sean Carney.  It was an all-star night with three sax players and two keyboardists who were joined by an ever-rotating number of guitar players and drummers lined up back stage waiting to get on.

The evening was magical with almost everyone crowding the stage for an “up close and personal” experience that would be hard to beat anywhere anytime I expect.

Earlier in the day, we had been to Sun Studio and while no doubt it was a special time in Memphis’ history when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis were all playing and recording at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel the 2014 edition of the International Blues Competition (30th anniversary) may become another great moment in the city’s long musical history. Maybe it is just the newbie in me talking?

The crowd at the New Daisy Theatre are luvn the energy, music and comaraderie at the midnight jam.

Calgary's Mike Clark wows them at the Thursday night All-Star Jam. 

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