I recently went out for dinner and a concert broke out. And it was great! Let me explain.
I just got back from a vacation in British Columbia, Canada. One night in the town of Penticton we went out for dinner at a café my guide-book recommended. We had walked by earlier in the day to check it out and noticed a poster in the window advertising a blues band playing that night with a female lead singer who also played drums – in a unique style – standing up!
To be honest, we weren’t really pulled in by the poster and we’d never heard of the band, but we liked the vibe of the place and so came back looking for dinner and then, well, let’s see what happens. At the door we were offered a deal on the concert tickets if we stayed after dinner. We weren’t sold on it but the band was just completing their sound check as we settled into our table. That brief performance convinced us – we were staying. And wow are we glad we did.
Lindsay Beaver and the 24th Street Wailers rocked the house! A vibrant, frenetic, jazzy blues/soul and rockabilly show that brought the crowd to their feet. What a great surprise and treat for a night we were just out looking for dinner in an unfamiliar town.
But what is also interesting to me is the venue and the crowd. For the crowd was almost entirely middle-aged. And many of them were clearly regulars at this venue – The Dream Cafe in Penticton, BC. The place is set up for dinner and a live show, as the tables encircle the stage which runs along one of the long walls.
We had an interesting chat with the lady responsible for booking the acts, and she spoke honestly about the challenges of keeping a place dedicated to good live music open. Margins are thin and keeping an audience coming for new music is a continual struggle. Still they’ve done it for 15 years and have apparently made a name among musicians, so they’re obviously doing something right.
She spoke in particular of the difficulty attracting a new young audience – and how this is something everyone in this business is struggling with. She makes a point of seeking out and booking newer acts in hopes of keeping things fresh and of attracting that elusive younger audience. (That in itself is a surprise – many bar-owners just rely on a booking agent. She actually sought out acts she had heard and liked on the CBC’s new music radio shows – some even without an agent. Unheard of.)
But in the meantime, while she tries to book acts that will appeal to younger generations, it is the midlifers keeping this place alive and jumping. Far from the image some folks might have of them preferring a quiet evening and early to bed, these folks were out for a good time, with good rocking music played loud. It’s a shame the millennials don’t seem to know what they’re missing.
Still, some millennials are the beneficiaries of the middle-agers’ support line. Lindsay Beaver and her band – residents of Austin, Texas – were all that generation, as are so many other struggling young musicians. They seem to appreciate having a place, and an audience, that welcomes them. At one point, she asked incredulously “have none of you really never seen me before?” Nope, but we know good music and we now know that’s what you Lindsay, and your band, deliver!
It reminds me of another small place across the continent a friend introduced me to – a place that thrives on live music and a regular, middle-aged audience. Timothy’s bar on Brown’s Line in Toronto now has live music acts in seven days a week and is jammed to capacity most nights – and again it is the midlifers keeping the doors open and the bands paid. I suppose there are lots of other places across the continent where the story is the same.
Still, from all accounts it is a dwindling number of places. The local live music scene is struggling in most places. I’m not talking about the big concert halls with over-priced tickets for established artists. That exclusive group of 1-percenters are doing fine. $100+ for the cheapest tickets to Dave Matthews? Are you kidding me?
No, I’m talking about the scene where most musicians try to make a living. Your local place. With small cover charges and intimate surroundings.
So here’s to you, you middle-aged live music fans! And here’s hoping a new generation will learn to appreciate what a great thing good music, played well, live and in front of you, really is.