Richard Rafton, owner of Milkcrate Records can be described in three words, ultimate music fan.
“Not being a musician myself, I have to live vicariously through their music. I am one of the guys playing air guitar in my basement late at night,” said Rafton.
“Music becomes the soundtrack of our lives. It’s so important, you can be out in a mall and hear a song and be instantly transported back in time to the memory that is attached to that song. You remember the relationship you were in, the house you were living in, everything floods back to you. Songs are intertwined into our lives.”
Rafton grew up to the sounds of Nat King Cole and Tony Bennett and said he could never imagine a life without music. For the past six years, Milkcrate Records has been more than just a store in Kelowna. He has solidified his place in the community and musician’s hearts.
“To be able to be in the position that I am now, and provide a platform for musicians, and know that the audience is there for the right reason, they are there to hear a voice, and to listen to that voice. I am doing it all for that reason,” said Rafton.
Before the beginning of each show at Milkcrate, Rafton addresses the audience and asks them to respect the artist and to respect the music. The audience then enters a trance like state and becomes lost in the musician’s music as they lay their soul and their art bare on his stage that has held more than 300 artists before them.
Dylan Ranney, musician and co-owner of The New Arts Collective (The NAC) has preformed several times on their stage, said that Rafton and Milkcrate Records are an integral thread of Kelowna’s cultural tapestry. Ranney said that records are a vital life-line for both up-and-coming musicians and established because they can make a living off of it.
“The heart and soul that Richard puts into that place, he really cares,” said Ranney.
“It’s so important to support small venues because that is really the arteries of our cultural scene. Without the studio’s like ours (The NAC) and creative atmospheres and places for artists to express themselves to a listening audience, that encourages cultural growth in our community. Without community audiences and spaces we just have a bunch of bars to get hammered in.”
Local musician, Megan Freedman performed at Milkcrate in October and said that the experience gave her a unique opportunity.
“It’s different than what I am used to when I am performing somewhere like Fernando’s Pub or in a coffee shop. It gave me the opportunity to tell more stories, the audience was more engaged, whereas people at pubs just want to dance, drink and eat,” said Freedman.
“He (Rafton) is just really involved in keeping the music alive and even just by having his venue alive when so many venues are closing down in town.”
The closure of the Grateful Fed and The Habitat has put pressure on Kelowna’s musicians, many of whom rallied together in March to provide feedback to the City of Kelowna Cultural Plan 2020-2025 in hopes of finding funding for existing venues, as well as a city funded centre for artists.
Added pressure from the opening of Sunrise Records two years ago in Orchard Park Mall has also put pressure on Milkcrate Records, Rafton said that sales have fallen by 40 per cent since the giant moved in town. Rafton prides himself on not only selling records and hosting shows but also by giving back to the community, recently raising $900 during the A Night Out for Music Heals event March 2. An anonymous donor matched their earnings and $1,800 was donated to music therapy.
“I think Milkcrate embodies the love of music in general,” said Tega Ovie, front man of Kelowna band Post Modern Connection.
“They have tons of artists coming through, there are not a lot of venues that embrace artists the way that Richard does. He is always willing to help, no matter how big or small you are. He doesn’t care about your status as an artist or how long you have been playing for. That is very rare and that is why he is important.”
Every musician that sings on Rafton’s stage gets to sign the old stage from their first location on Ellis Street. It dropped down from the wall and musicians would play to a tightly packed audience. Now the stage is propped up on the wall of their current home on Lawrence Avenue and every artist who performs gets to squeeze their signature next to the hundreds that came before them.
For many artists, Rafton said his stage is their first show outside of their basement jam sessions where they are able to take their art into the public sphere and begin their musical journey.
“We like to think that here at Milkcrate we can help customers change the world one record at a time, just the way musicians think that they can change the world one song at a time. If I can be part of that and get that song out to people who want to hear it, that is just everything.”
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