There’s always a beginning.
For Calgary’s Bob Chartier, retirement in 2014 and a friend’s suggestion led him to throw his guitar in the back of a rag-top convertible and head south.
He went from busking in Nashville to open mic nights in Austin, Beale Street in Memphis and finally the French Quarter in New Orleans. When he returned home some months later, he was inspired to create a music district for Calgary.
“We engaged with a lot of folks in the music world here and gave a name – the Music Mile – to our idea,” he said. “When the mayor named 2016 as the Year of Music in Calgary and mentioned ‘the Music Mile’ – we were thrilled and scared. We were in so deep and still using our personal credit cards to get it off the ground.”
Chartier and his friends today can boast that there are at least 20 live music acts every night in the city. Visitors will find music in regular venues like The Palomino, The Nite Owl, Hifi, Dickens, Broken City, Wine-ohs and Habitat. But they also can count on a surge of live music in the bars, cafes, and small spaces across the city.
“Where is the ‘Music Mile’ exactly?,” we asked Chartier.
“It’s 9th Avenue southeast from the Blues Can in Inglewood to Studio Bell in East Village, with great live music houses like Ironwood Stage & Grill, 500 Cucina, the Alexandra Centre (home of the University of Calgary’s Ballroom Dance Club and rehearsal hall for the Calgary Civic Symphony) and Fort Calgary (home to outdoor festivals and the newest live music stage on Music Mile, the Burnswest Theatre,) in between.”
“Blocks near 9th in Inglewood and East Village are bursting with more music venues than you could imagine – Folk Fest’s Festival Hall, The Nash, Cafe Gravity, the Lantern Church, Charbar, Bite Groceteria, Calgary Opera’s Opera in the Village and more.”
“The Inglewood Night Market, Calgary Fringe, SunFest, JazzYYC and East Village bring professional live music onto the street throughout the warm months,” he shared.
Chartier mused on his city’s potential for becoming Canada’s musical capital. “This is a young person’s town. They are so ready for the arts. The next step is to see Calgary as Canada’s Music City. One day one of my grand kids will say, ‘Hey. Let’s go down to the Mile,’ and that is a day I am waiting for,” he said.
Another must on Music Mile is rummaging through Recordland’s vast collection. Cool doesn’t even begin to describe this treasure that’s crammed with shelves and boxes and cases and more shelves of vinyl. Recordland is one of Canada’s largest privately owned record stores with about 2 million records and counting. One step inside and you are breathing pure music history.
Calgary’s enthusiasm for musical culture also came with the recent opening of Studio Bell, home to the National Music Centre. The centre includes a music-related museum collection and a performance center, and organizes a variety of events designed to develop and promote music in Canada.
A visit to Studio Bell is mesmerizing. The building itself, just one year old July 1, is spectacular. The centre collections (Elton John’s white piano upon which he wrote “Tiny Dancer”) and interactive exhibits (recording booths and experimental musical instruments) can entertain for hours. The sky bridge which connects the building across two city blocks has a performance art piece that reacts and makes music with sunlight. You ‘hear’ the sun! Connected by the sky bridge is the former King Eddie Hotel, home today to a popular performance space and the original mobile recording studio of the Rolling Stones.
Aficionados who mourn the loss of the free-love, ‘70s, hippie spirit might consider attending the 37th Calgary Folk Music Festival (also known as “Calgary Folk Fest”), set this year for July 27-30. Musicians and volunteers entertain each other (the audience too!) for four days at Prince’s Island Park; the festival, according to Artistic Director Kerry Clarke, “annually features over 68 icons and upstarts from 16 countries on 11 stages in over 100 distinct concert and collaborative programming performances to a 52,000-plus audience.” A genre-bending affair, she said, it’s home to “many different styles and themes are all going around; people riff on each other’s songs on multiple stages.”
“It’s a good festival for people with short attention spans,” she joked.
Some of the artists the festival has programmed in recent years include: kd lang, The Avett Brothers, Iron & Wine, Kris Kristofferson, Elvis Costello, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Rufus Wainwright, Ani DiFranco, and Bobby Bare, Jr.
While embracing the music scene of Calgary, don’t overlook the charming dinner theater musical at Jubilations. We saw “Hey Pretty Woman” and loved it. The food is quite nice, the service superb and the music fun and entertaining. These professional actors can do it all as they serve the guests and mingle with the crowd at every opportunity and often during the show.
Dining: There are so many outstanding restaurants and cafes in the city. We dined at and loved each of these: Ten Foot Henry (trendy, friendly and ‘vegetable forward’), the Alforno Bakery (fresh, pillowy baked goods and a full menu on the flower-filled patio), munching an excellent burger on the Simmons Building’s rooftop patio overlooking the beautiful Bow River, Suzette (delightfully French – crepes, wine and baguettes), lemon blueberry pancakes at the Yellow Door Bistro and seasonally inspired soup and salad at Deane House, bacon fat and truffle popcorn, among the many tantalizing treats, at Market. Highly recommended is the Calgary Food Tour – Palate to Pallet, where guests walk from one tasty morsel to the next, surrounded by incredible art, a highly entertaining food experience at Calgary Farmer’s Market Tour and a must is the Famous 5 Pink Tea at Heritage Park. A tiered tray of miniature sandwiches and desserts, with tea or lemonade, enjoyed in a historical park. These are merely the start of Calgary’s thrilling culinary scene.
Stay: Hotel Arts. Delightful! In October 2014, a $7 million renovation was completed of this luscious boutique hotel. Filled with art, two restaurants and a vibrant outdoor pool that can be viewed throughout the first floor, Hotel Arts is also right in the middle of the downtown scene. Guests enjoy a full array of amenities but the huge plus is the art, most done by Canadian artists. Calgary Food Tours begins the Palette to Palate Art and Food Appreciation Tour in the lobby, showing off the impressive collection (Tim Okamura’s “King;” Barry Fairbairn’s blown glass installation; Bruce Pashak’s “The Caution Horse,” are just three.)
One More Thing: At some point during your trip, hop into the fun with Rocky Mountain Sidecar Adventures. This charming husband-and-wife duo, Warren and Nicole Cummins, offers several touring choices in vintage motorcycle sidecars. “See the city in a different way,” Nicole said. Guests are issued a helmet with four-way communication. The Cummins take turns sharing fun and factual information. Really enjoyable is the interaction from passersby when the motorcycles come to a stop.
For information, go to visitcalgary.com.
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