This letter was submitted to the Kelowna Capital News by a local musician who wishes to remain anonymous.
To Kelowna’s music fans:
Frankly, I’m not sure how to start this. I’m sad, and angry, and disappointed, and have utterly lost hope in Kelowna’s cultural identity.
I’m sure by now that many of you may have heard that one of Kelowna’s cultural touchstones, Fernando’s Pub, has announced that it is shutting down at the end of the month. It’s another in a growing list of music venues in the city that have been struggling pre-and-post pandemic, though “post-pandemic” is yet to be seen. This served as home for art for a decade. I am deeply distressed at what is happening to our arts culture in Kelowna.
I would like to put it to you, citizens of Kelowna, that your artists and the homes for your artists are in desperate need of you right now, and although they may not say as much – they – WE – need you right now.
I’ll keep this as short as I can.
In the ten short years that I have called this town my home, I have watched the music and art scene grow in leaps and bounds, and in the last two, I have watched it shrink to something smaller than it was when I had arrived. I don’t mean the artists, for there are roughly the same amount of artists as there always have been. The Okanagan has been a landing pad for artists from all over the world. That’s not the point of this – the point is that we’re watching beautiful, important and courageous venues fall through the cracks, thus erasing the places for these artists to perform and deliver their craft.
Yes, there are “venues” – but the art is always a second thought in these venues. Yes, as artists, we’re grateful that these venues exist, but they are not for the performance. The performance is secondary to the food or beer that is on offer, which is fine. That is a model that works in the low-profit-margin world of hospitality, and it is one way to do it. But it is not where many of these world-class artists belong, nor do they actively search to bring touring artists off the road and into our community.
I ask you – why are we losing all the courageous venues that boldly wave the artists’ banner, take chances on touring artists, highlight alternative music styles, and do it all unflinchingly in the face of a myriad of difficulties? Where have they gone in the last 3 or 4 years?
Last year there was a group of artists, managers, promoters and big-wigs in the Kelowna scene that got together to discuss the Okanagan Music Industry. A consulting firm was hired to survey music fans, artists and pros alike – and eventually results were presented. It showed a number of things, equally surprising and unsurprising. One of the things it showed was you, as a populace, “want to see more live shows,” “would go to more live shows in the future,” “wish there were more venues in Kelowna,” and “would attend more shows if the parking wasn’t so bad.” All of this, among other things. Great information, great research – it’s actually really good stuff, and anyone who’s keen on making a meaningful impact in the local community should read it.
But it all came to a head with discussions and meetings about these things, with industry professionals and experts telling big stories about how they will “change” the industry, how they will “revitalize” the scene, and “inject” culture into this town.
Not once did I hear about what we can do to support our existing scene – artists and venues alike. Not once was there meaningful discussion on how we can support our existing venues.
You and I, dear reader, have watched venue after venue shut down in the downtown core that meant more to me than most will understand. And no one has batted an eye. These were those courageous venues that put original art at the forefront of their business plan, and have suffered as a result. No help from the city or arts groups to help keep them afloat, or in many cases – no willingness to collaborate.
The Grateful Fed was a cultural touchstone that served as an integral space for bands, artists and all types of troubadour types to hone their skills, collaborate, and commiserate. It’s gone.
Muninn’s Post was a cultural touchstone that hosted touring artists and live music ranging from free jazz to black metal. They were a safe space that served great grub at reasonable prices. It’s gone.
Milkcrate Records was a cultural touchstone that worked tirelessly hosting indoor & outdoor shows, selling records, providing rehearsal & rentable space, and providing a safe space for people from all walks of life. It’s gone.
The NAC (New Arts Collective) was a cultural touchstone that served as part artist-collective, part studio space, and part showroom for small shows. Their leading principle was always “meaningful experiences.” It’s gone.
The Habitat. A cultural touchstone that provided a much-needed all-ages space for amateurs to professionals, employed sound techs, musicians, lighting techs, and was a hub for Music BC. It’s gone.
Doc Willoughby’s used to serve up a home for punk rock, hard rock, and music that doesn’t always have a home in the Okanagan. They have put shows on hold for an indeterminate amount of time, and this author is skeptical that they’re going to be providing the home for bands like DOA in the future.
And Fernando’s Pub. The glue that held it all together. The place that this author believes was the fearless-banner-bearer of the proud Kelowna Music Scene. The home that brought touring artists off of Highway 1 and into our region, that brought well-known artists like William Prince, Terra Lightfoot and We Hunt Buffalo in. It was part of what caught the eye of BreakOut West. It provided early homes and jump-off gigs for our exports like The Wild, Yukon Blonde, and Tiger Moon, among others. Well Kelowna, as of the end of the month it’s gone.
And all we can do is talk about “New Venues,” and make empty promises about going to shows in the future? It’s a shame. This is a loss felt by the entire music community, and our love goes to all of the passion-players that were with all of these venues, especially Fernando’s.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Before I sign off, I put this to you. There are a pair of courageous music venues that are providing a home for meaningful experiences. If you want to see more shows, then this is the time to do it – and they provide a safe environment for you to do so in our currently Covid reality.
Red Bird Brewing. Shows Thursdays and Saturdays. Wanna know what shows are gonna be up there? Follow them on their socials, or follow EiKelowna.
The Curious. Wednesday to Friday they host dinner shows. Follow them on their socials for show updates, or follow EiKelowna.
There are talks about other venues doing live music, and there are other venues hosting cover bands all the time. But if you want artists to thrive in this region, and if you want venues to continue to exist, then it’s time now to go to a real venue that waves that banner of courage. Pay cover. Book a ticket, and heck, buy another one for a friend. Go for the show, primarily. Support someone you don’t even know. Eat the food, enjoy the drinks, take photos and take in the whole experience.
Because if you don’t – no one else will, and our artists are going to move.