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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Unlikely Victoria venues step up for lost local music scene

The Carlton Club and Phoenix Bar & Grill are filling in the gaps since Logan's Pub closed last year

By Ryan Hook
December 10, 2022
Arts
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Unlikely Victoria venues step up for lost local music scene

The Carlton Club and Phoenix Bar & Grill are filling in the gaps since Logan's Pub closed last year

By Ryan Hook
Dec 10, 2022
The Carlton Club in Esquimalt is an all-ages space with a maximum capacity of 150 people. Performers can rent the space for $75 an hour. Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily
The Carlton Club in Esquimalt is an all-ages space with a maximum capacity of 150 people. Performers can rent the space for $75 an hour. Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily
Arts
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Unlikely Victoria venues step up for lost local music scene

The Carlton Club and Phoenix Bar & Grill are filling in the gaps since Logan's Pub closed last year

By Ryan Hook
December 10, 2022
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Unlikely Victoria venues step up for lost local music scene
The Carlton Club in Esquimalt is an all-ages space with a maximum capacity of 150 people. Performers can rent the space for $75 an hour. Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily

Had the COVID-19 pandemic never occurred, co-owner Stuart Logan says Logan’s Pub would probably still be standing.

“We would have taken the money we made and put it back into the pub,” he told Capital Daily. "Maintaining the stage, the sound equipment, the lights—that’s what we were always doing."

If Logan’s still had shows, musicians like Ryan Forrest probably wouldn’t be on the hunt for another venue to call home.

“I would play [at Logan’s Pub] three to four times a year, and I hung out there basically every weekend,” Forrest told Capital Daily. “There aren’t many venues for [punk and metal] shows now.”

Small- to mid-sized venues are a critical space in the music ecosystem, and since Logan’s Pub shut down last year to become an extension of Logan’s liquor store next door, few venues have stepped up to fill in those gaps in Victoria’s music scene. Though Forrest admits a couple of spots are trying, still there aren’t many appropriate venues for punk, metal, and all-ages shows.

Over the last two years, the Phoenix Bar & Grill began regularly hosting punk shows on weekends, offering artists a venue free of charge.

The Saanich hideaway has since become a neighbourhood favourite, almost always reaching capacity on show nights, said Jennie Turner, owner and general manager.

“Eighty per cent of shows are sold out within an hour before the band goes on,” she said. “It’s such a great community.”  

During the pandemic, the family business did some small renovations, adding a drum stage and a hardwood floor area for a mosh pit. But Phoenix is a pub, Turner emphasizes, not a music venue. Due to space, logistics and staff, she had to cut down from two to only one show per weekend.

“I don’t run it as a music venue, I run it as a pub that does shows,” she said. “But there aren’t any music venues in town for these people.

“There was a huge demand for it. There’s a lot of people in that community that deserve a place to play. There should be another Logan’s [Pub] that opens up.”

Forrest says he’s grateful for Phoenix but says the space isn’t as mature or as well-established as Logan’s was. Tables are merely a few arm’s lengths from the stage space in the corner, and without a stage or lights, he says, it still feels like a restaurant. “If you’re a five-piece band, it’s a bit of a struggle to fit,” he said. “But everybody’s embracing it.”

Often—in metal and punk circuits—people will throw house shows to make up for the lack of venues. With the housing crisis, that’s not an option either. “Ten or 15 years ago, there were house shows, but housing got crazy, so that’s not a thing anymore,” Forrest said.

Newly elected Victoria councillor Matt Dell agrees, calling the lack of house shows “one of the tragedies of the affordability crisis.” Dell, who himself plays in a band and worked as a concert promoter, promised as part of his election campaign to look at ways the city can support more venues.

“Victoria prioritizes arts and we care about music,” he told Capital Daily in July. “But we haven't actually put that into action. So I'd like to see some real commitment to the Victoria music strategy.”

Victoria's Music Strategy outlines what the city is doing well and lacking in its music ecosystem, identifying areas of improvement and what can be done between 2022 and 2026 to strengthen the sector.

The City notes the lack of mid-sized venues and spaces for underrepresented groups, such as Indigenous, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and underaged folks, and identifies dormant or underutilized community spaces as an opportunity to fill in those gaps and foster young musicians too.  Dell agrees and said he hopes community centers like Fernwood or Fairfield “take a leadership role.”

On the other side of the bridge, the Carlton Club in Esquimalt transformed from a dive bar into an all-ages art and events venue last spring. 42ish Media, partnering with 365 Pro Wrestling and Geek News Now, took over the space at 900 Carlton Terrace with the understanding the building will be redeveloped in a year and a half.

In this space, they are providing a wrestling school and wrestling events, as well as an affordable venue that local musicians and artists can rent for relatively cheap.

It’s an all-ages space with a maximum capacity of 150 people. Performers can rent the space for $75 an hour and are in charge of selling tickets themselves, though they can opt for bartending services provided by the Carlton Club. In exchange, they keep the profits from ticket sales. The owner, Damon Roth, calls it the Carlton Project—and describes it as a cultural initiative meant to empower local artists.

Yet the project— with a mandate and structure intended to make shows more accessible for artists and performers—is still struggling.

Willa Simpson, the general manager at the Carlton Club, told Capital Daily that this past month their insurance company doubled its costs. Now, the Carlton Club is holding a rummage sale of musical equipment—and, fittingly, a wrestling show—on Dec. 17, to help raise funds.

“We’re one of the few all-ages venues in the city,” she said. “It's not like we're thinking we're here to save the entire music scene of Victoria. It’s just that overall this town is not that great about fostering and promoting local music outside of a few select genres. We can help.”

Artists often use small- to mid-sized venues to grow and connect with new audiences, and climb the industry ladder—going from dive bars to stages to festivals, and eventually, stadiums. Most bands start that way. Victoria was the birthplace of major punk bands like Nomeansno and Dayglo Abortions, as well as 2022 Juno-nominated heavy metal band Spiritbox. Without the lower rungs of the ladder, it’s harder for new acts to climb to that level.

It’s a harsh reality that’s even more prescient since Logan’s Pub closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Victoria’s all-ages, punk, and metal artists have been in something of a purgatory. But for now, in true DIY fashion, the punks will take what they can get—even if it’s only temporary.

While it’s true Victoria’s performing arts scene punches above its weight—and there is promise beyond the horizon—there are growing gaps in the arts and culture sector that need filling.

Article Author's Profile Picture
Ryan Hook
Food, Arts & Culture Reporter
contact@capitaldaily.ca

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