July 7 2018 —
“All of us that have worked in the music industry, it’s a calling for a lot of people, a passion. It’s meaningful, driven by the heart. But it’s not without its challenges,” said Andrew Mosker.
Mosker is the president and CEO of the National Music Centre. These are his thoughts on the recent closure of Mikey’s Juke Joint.
Last month, the Gauntlet ran a story on Mikey’s as it launched its Feel Good Fridays initiative — a weekly showcase for local artists looking to put their art through the trial of live performance, giving them a reliable stage to sharpen their proverbial sword. As exciting as it was, the offering of further opportunity to experience live music in one of Calgary’s beloved venues was unfortunately short-lived.
On Thursday, July 28, a social media post revealed Mikey’s was terminating operations at their 10th Ave. location for “many reasons.” The eponymous Mike Clarke has been unavailable for comment. Mikey’s opened a second location on 12th Ave. last year, which remains open and seems to be prospering in a more heavily trafficked location. But in the wake of other recent closures, this victory feels more like a consolation.
Mikey’s closing its doors marks the third closure of its kind in as many weeks. Obituaries for the venue closely follow the previous week’s dour news that Nite Owl and Distortion, two of Calgary’s long-standing live-music venues, are also waving a white flag. Like Mikey’s, news of the venues’ closing was a shock — Distortion’s announcement came in the form of an ‘effective immediately’ post on the venue’s Facebook page the night of June 21, while Nite Owl hosted performances late into Sled Island before abruptly bowing out.
In its announcement, Distortion asked the crucial question at the heart of these cessations.
“We can blame the economy, taxes, rising costs of overhead especially with liquor and staff, or the fact that less people are simply going out. But in the end does it matter?” read a post on the venue’s Facebook page.
Well, it matters a lot. With the dependability of oil money petering out, many Calgarians have turned to the arts to make a living. If anything, the economic downturn that Calgary has been trudging through this past half-decade has put an emphasis on our cultural exports. But that emphasis also sheds a light on the less fortunate circumstances of the scene.
Despite Sled Island expanding yearly and events like the Folk or Blues Festivals perennially drawing crowds, many venues are suffering from a lack of engagement. Last year, Local 510 on 17 Ave. and First St.’s Drum and Monkey shutdown and the empty husks of the once-fervent dives have yet to be occupied. ReggaeFest took a year hiatus, X-Fest is no more and there are no apparent plans to continue the popular One Love Fest.
Though the silver linings may be thin, they must be acknowledged, lest these unfortunate losses become routine. There are plenty of positive signs to be seen. The King Eddy — which for 15 years sat collecting cobwebs — is in the throes of revitalization as part of the NMC. Despite losing its franchise location, Mikey’s on 12th will continue to host the wildly popular Groove Theory and the newly minted Feel Good Fridays. Commonwealth’s 10 at 10 has marquee names booked into the winter, Cafe Koi’s eclectic array of genres and talent levels is a constant draw and Dickens will never die. But the impetus can’t be a burden handled solely by the proprietors of these businesses.
“A lot of time things work out, sometimes things don’t,” Mosker said. “We believe in music. We believe it has a strong future. We’re going to work really, really hard to ensure it has a long future in our city and well beyond. That’s what you gotta do in this business. Put the music first and work really hard.”
As consumers, fans and citizens, we need to do our part and contribute to these establishments. It may be easy to stay home and stream your favourite artists but supporting a local venue is by no means tall a task. It’s certainly a lot tougher to lose them than keep them. Put the music first — it’s really not that hard.
— Thomas Johnson, Gauntlet Editorial Board