While there is no shortage of talented musicians in the Terrace area – thanks in part to a dedicated music community – the number of live music venues and fresh avenues to take as a local musician has been in a bit of a slump.
But those established in Terrace’s live music culture say an increase in venues, artist incentive, and more organization could change the face of music in the city. And there are indications that change is beginning to happen now.
“There are little pockets all over the place but there is really no established scene,” explained Marty Christiansen, organizer and founder of the first annual WestFest, a music festival held earlier this spring in Gossen, east of Terrace on Christiansen’s father’s acreage.
With an increase in population, local cultural offerings should be a priority, he said, adding that a strong music scene encourages the growth of a community, an increase in revenue for local bars and community halls as well as the mingling of artists of all walks of life.
“As the industry grows I think it’s important that the culture grows with it, and to keep your identity before becoming a big money pit,” Christiansen said.
Local drummer Jay Hughes has played in numerous bands covering every genre imaginable over the years. He said that this is a strange time for Terrace’s music nightlife because there is no real bar anymore.
“There are a few pubs but there is nothing too cool going on, there is no incentive. I’d rather just hang out with my friends at home—this is my bar,” he said, from his home in downtown Terrace.
By incentive, Hughes said he doesn’t just mean deals on drinks and food that attract clientele, noting that a typical night out will cost a minimum of $30, but the entertainment incentive that keeps patrons in their seats for the duration of the evening.
Back in the day, more central venues were open to hosting live music gigs, Hughes explained, including the Back Eddy and the now-defunct Gators and Jezebels and the Carpenters Hall — which was located near the medical building downtown.
“I guess that lack of venue contributed to the demise of live music here and especially the punk scene,” he said referring to Terrace’s lively punk scene that was prominent in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
The Carpenters Hall was vital to that punk scene, he said, because it was central and all ages but due to the behaviour of a couple of concert-goers the venue became reluctant to host punk shows.
“No one has ever catered that greatly to the musician side of things,” Hughes said. “Which sucks because we have a lot of people that play music here and we have a lot of talent but there is no place.”
There are a few hot spots for live music in town. George’s Pub in the Northern Motor Inn east on Hwy16, for instance, features live music every weekend, although it tends to be classic rock cover bands who play on a rotation. Other venues, Hughes said, include the Thornhill Community Centre, The Elk’s Hall and the Elephant’s Ear.
“Right now, the Elephant’s Ear, which is a [expletive deleted] coffee shop, seems to be the only place that locally you can just play,” he said.
The Thornhill Community Centre can be rented out to put on shows, Hughes said, but the cost is fairly high, especially for those new up-and-comers who don’t have cash yet. The hall rental is $260, plus a $200 deposit for booking and cleanup, which is refunded if cleanup is satisfactory. The Elk’s Hall is also bookable which means that shows are quite sporadic.
The local legion can also play host to live shows – which some, including local band King Crow and the Ladies from Hell, have taken advantage of.
Most of the locations that are open for musicians to play are located on the outskirts of town. Pubs like the Northern and Thornhill leave no choice but to drive or take a cab. The lack of central, downtown based venues, like the Elephant’s Ear, could be influencing attendance numbers and ultimately that community vibe that a strong music scene brings to cities.
However, the music scene in Terrace is still budding; “Northerners are inventive, we’ll always find a way to play,” said King Crow’s band manager Sarah Zimmerman.
Zimmerman also said she recognized the local music scene is beginning to shift.
“With the recent success of WestFest, a few singer-songwriter nights at the Elephant’s Ear organized by other musicians in Terrace, it’s exciting to see the music scene here diversifying and more people getting interested in organizing shows,” she said.
King Crow’s guitarist Jeff Chapman said he’s always felt supported by local venues.
“It seems everywhere we go, be it festivals or bar venues, the bands and promoters are very welcoming and willing to make a space for us and help us out,” he said.
It just comes down to better advertising. Ensure that potential audience members are aware that there is a show. Christiansen said he used Facebook while organizing WestFest while Hughes said he would use a few strategically placed posters around town. A combination of the two would work well, but the best method is still word of mouth, so text or call everyone you know.
Zimmerman said that the small town atmosphere is good for the band in terms of inspiration and origin of sound, but it can also be limiting.
“The one one thing we do miss out on is the ability to network with other musicians and the wider music community including promoters, sound technicians and venue owners,” she said noting that King Crow loves going on tour for that opportunity to mingle and network with other musicians.
Riverboat Days always provides an opportunity for Terrace musicians to mingle amongst themselves and with visiting artists, and this year was no exception. Concerts in the Park showcased all kinds of talent from local high school bands to import bands from the Yukon.
Speed Control, hailing from Yukon, had that entertaining factor that kept the audience captivated and involved — they had that entertainment incentive that Hughes was talking about.
The Concerts in the Park spilled out of the park into local venues when night fell. Speed Control took over Thornhill Pub on Saturday night and Hazelton band, The Racket, played the Elephant’s Ear with Split Seconds, an up-and-coming band from Smithers.
This mingling of artists within a strong musical scene is vital for Terrace’s cultural identity because musicians, poets, painters, sculptors and actors will merge and exchange ideas the creativity cycle some momentum, said Christiansen. And with the availability of venues willing to cater to live music, like the Elephant’s Ear, more musicians en route to festivals around B.C. could stop and play a gig here.
“There is a huge network of musicians and so if one guy comes through and thought it was awesome than there will be six more guys who want to come through,” Christiansen said, adding that in order to grow a solid music scene attendance and participation is also an important factor.
Variety is also key, he said.
“We don’t want one genre of music to take over and by keeping it varied than everyone is involved,” he said, adding that this was the idea behind WestFest, the festival he held in late may hosted upwards of 300 people and received a great deal of community support and sponsorship. He intends to run the festival again next spring.
The music scene in Terrace is budding, but if more people get involved in terms of organizing and advertising shows it will ensure this bud blooms.
“We haven’t really grown a music identity here yet and it’s kind of on the way to something,” Christiansen said.
And if recent events are any indication – The Elephant’s Ear hosted a show July 22 featuring Christiansen’s band Ranger Dan, and Black Spruce Bog hailing from Prince George where around 100 people got to break in their dancing shoes on a Tuesday night in Terrace. This goes to show that attendance and participation are the least of our worries. If people are aware of a show happening in the area, they go.
The live music scene in town is alive and well, but, for now, you just have to look a little harder for it.