Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Trying to Rock in the Free World

My best friend and I are sitting in Riverside Park after driving aimlessly looking for fun. Sweltering and disgruntled, we groan about how badly we wished we were 19. Our favourite punk band, the Rebel Spell, is in town and we can’t do what we love most and go see a live show. We’ve gone to a few Rebel Spell shows before, but this time they couldn’t find anywhere to accommodate an all-ages audience—consisting of some of their biggest fans—and they’re not the first to have this problem.

The Kamloops scene is alive and well if you are over 19 (over 21 in The Blue Grotto’s case) or if you’ve snagged a fake ID. But what about those kids who love music more than anything and the only place their favourite bands play is where they are denied? A show-goer since she was 14, 18-year-old Jenelle Molyneux said, “[the all-ages scene] is slowly getting better. The kids are there, it’s just a matter of finding a venue, promoting, and then not trashing the venue when lots of people show up.”

Having teetered on the edge of becoming a necessary stop for touring indie bands between Vancouver and Calgary, fans and musicians alike have experienced the frustration of reviving a scene many times over because of venue inconsistency. Some migrate to other music hubs, such as Kelowna or Vancouver; however, that is not an option for the majority, most of which would rather work on improving their home scene before abandoning such a big part of their lives.

“I think it's important to have a good all-ages music scene in Kamloops because no matter what age you are, being exposed and experiencing live music is something we should all have the privilege of doing,” said musician and fan, Olivia Campbell.

Growing up in a town that fears alternative sub-cultures, there has been resistance to breaking the status quo and turning up amps to unite music fans. For many of those kids—at one point myself included—their lives have turned into mere moments between the euphoria of live music and that sense of community that emerges at these shows . “Kids are the future of music,” said Dan Hum, guitarist from Kamloops-based band Tickets to Tokyo. Not only are kids the future of music, many kids seek music as their future.

Currently in Kamloops there are two active all-ages venues: The Leisure Loft or “The Loft” and The Pavilion Theatre. After tearing through a variety of restaurants, halls, coffee shops, The Old Courthouse, the Panic City store and even private basements, these two venues are the only arteries pumping independent live music into the city for all-ages to enjoy.

“I think that The Loft is the perfect venue in Kamloops for the more laid-back genres because it has such an amazing atmosphere and such a good scene of people,” said Campbell. The intimate nature of this softly lit venue with its padded seats and classic piano is great for local singer-songwriters, but its 60 person capacity is limiting.

Founded by local musician and recording studio owner, Mike Turner, the scene is thankful to have such a venue but as Molyneux states, “It’s been good to Kamloops, but The Loft is definitely not enough.”

Bands and show promoters receive no funding apart from what they make at shows, so many of them end up spending their own money to cover expenses. When enough money can be scraped together to book The Pavilion Theatre, its accommodating size draws a bigger show, and because it’s less delicate than The Loft, heavier bands and rowdier fans can have more fun.

Is The Loft and Pavilion enough for Kamloopsians to reclaim a foothold in the B.C. scene? No. With The Loft rightfully tightening their restrictions due to vandalism and The Pavilion still out of price range for many, Kamloops is in desperate need of a niche.

“Kamloops is full of golden gem venues that aren’t being used due to owners being afraid of vandalism,” said Hum. Others interviewees agreed, suggesting The Courthouse, the IOOF Hall (attached to Lee’s Music) and the TRU Independent Centre as possible venues, if they were permitted to use them.

“It’s so important because there are kids out there that care a lot about music, so it’s really not fair when all the shows are at bars. All ages shows are a good way for kids to go out and have fun without getting in trouble,” said Molyneux.

Now on the verge of my 19th birthday, in Victoria, B.C. where they have made the all-ages scene thrive, I constantly think about my music roots at home and my friends in bands who are still struggling to bring music to the people.

When Hum was asked what the scene meant to him he said, “Life. It’s what I live for. And I am not the only one. [It’s about] culture and a family.”

This isn’t a rant about lowering the drinking age or letting kids into bars, this is a plea and a rally call to those who care about preserving an important facet of Kamloops’ culture. The all-ages scene in Kamloops, B.C. is more than entertainment, for many, it’s a way of life.

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