Listen to the story as you read along …
As I write this, the music community and the neighbourhood is once again rising in support of a local institution facing survival in these tough times. The iconic Ironwood Stage and Grill is a well loved and greatly respected live music venue and is facing the pandemic truth …survival. Thank you, readers, for all you have done and will continue to do to support live music now and in the future.
As many of us ponder and think about post pandemic realities and the long-term sustainability of live music, we know that three factors will need addressing. The first is to get more bums in seats … the seating itself may be different but without more live music fans, there will be no live music. The second follows on the first and it is the reality that our world may not go back to what it was …We know that full tilt innovation in the music world and the rest of the world will be critical. Finally, I would suggest that we need to greatly increase the value and important place of youth in the music world.
When I think about the long-term sustainability of live music, I truly believe that building a large fan base, supporting a renewed and innovative venue base and developing and growing a new performer base will all hinge on how we create space and a place for youth. It is interesting to check out the demographics in performance spaces from the Blues Can to the Jack Singer Hall. It would appear there is always a huge “touch of grey” as once described lyrically by Jerry Garcia.
That being said, there has been some really interesting and visionary moves on the local youth front. Let’s take a look at three local venues and three young musicians.
I have such a sharp memory of the first time I met Kate Stevens. We were hosting an engagement session for the emerging Music Mile in the newly opened Festival Hall in Inglewood. We were having a dialogue around possibilities for creating a music district in our neighbourhood.
At one point a young fourteen-year-old girls stands up and asks, excuse me, Mr. Bob, what will this Music Mile do for young musicians. “To tell the truth I replied, I have no idea, but what do you think?”
“I am not sure, she replied but I will get back to you soon.”
She did so and was soon back with a fully formed plan to create the Young Musicians of Music Mile Alliance (YO-MOMMA)
Today, as the founder and artistic director of YoMomma, she collaborates with iconic Calgary music institutions such as the Ironwood, the Blues Can, National Music Center, Gravity Espresso and Wine Bar.She explains, “What started as an organization feels more like a community at this point. I’ve met other like-minded young musicians wanting to better their craft and who I can surely call my best friends,”
I love that she continues to represent the Youth Musicians of Music Mile Alliance as a member of the Music Mile Board. She is a double feature in that she is both winning awards and kudos for her amazing performance chops and, as well, she is recognized for her leadership and community building skills. These days she is pushing further afield by studying Journalism, as she adds more nuances to an already amazing voice and talent.
Marcus Trummer was one of the early YoMomma kids and he might have been all of fourteen when I met him for the first time at one of the early YoMomma nights hosted by Teena in that old Quonset Hut called the Blues Can. I liked him right away. He was a shy kid, but his red Epiphone guitar did the initial talking for him. Soon all the youngsters wanted him to back them up and his singing voice soon followed. He now has his own band and his own residency at the Blues Can. He has performed at the Calgary International Blues Festival, played Waynestock Music Festival as well as supporting great Blues acts such as Jim Byrnes and MonkeyJunk.
Marcus has won a number of artist and performing awards including first place in the Ship and Anchor song writing contest and his work has been recognized by the fine local, emerging artist program, the Prophets of Music.
He will be releasing an EP soon.
I remember seeing Bella White at a YoMomma gig, but I never really felt I was properly introduced until I invited her as a guest to the regular Songwriter Circle that I was hosting at the Gravity Café. I am not sure if the likes of Gillian Welch ever sang in coffee shops in high school, but I wondered then and still wonder if perhaps I had the good fortune to be there when…
She has been hanging out in Nashville lately and so what…lots of young musicians do. However not a lot of young folks in Nashville get a write up in Rolling Stone like she did this summer. Rolling Stone Magazine’s Country Music Pick of the Week in July spotlighted her new single “The Hand of your Raising.”
So, the kids are all right even in these hard times for live music.
I feel grateful for the opportunity to have been there when they stepped onto the real stages and sang their lovely hearts out.
I think the right thing was done right here in Inglewood when the venues and the likes of Teena, Pat and Andy opened their stages up for youth and made sure that their venues had an inviting space for underage performers and patrons.
One of the goals of the Music Mile is to create an incubator type of situation for youth and new performers and to have local stages to begin their journey. The venues stepped up.
Marcus had some important insights into what make this neighbourhood youth friendly…the above observations of course, but he was quick to point out so many mentors like Jory Kinjo and Tim Williams and others who welcome the kids and treat them as peers.
Why are these three young people so important for live music. There is a lot of energy out there in clubs and commercial radio for pop, hip hop and such. This is a good thing, however, music today is still in an evolution that has deep roots in classical, jazz, blues, gospel, folk and indigenous traditions.
So, Kate getting her feet wet in some jazz traditions, Marcus growling out some blues and Bella knees deep in Americana and deep country harmonies, make me hopeful that there will always be a place for some of the great old traditions and folks who still want to play it and folks who still want to go out to hear it …
Break a leg kids!!