Me during the broadcast of "Much On Demand" outside in front of the Muchmusic building in Toronto, ON on September 25, 2003.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Evolution of Winnipeg's Bar Circuit From the Late '70s to Today

I had a phone conversation recently with a friend of mine who's in a cover band. The conversation went typically. We've covered this ground before. He just doesn't understand how the music business in Winnipeg has changed since the late '70s/early '80s in the area of bars and clubs and what they offer for live music nowadays, and how it got to this point. He still thinks the bands in this city of note that are waiting to be discovered by record companies are the cover bands that play at places like Mirrors, The Palomino Club, and Silverado's. He is clueless of the bands that play at the Pyramid, the Albert, or The Zoo. The bands that exhibit today's current "DIY" (Do-It-Yourself") approach. He just dismisses that scene as "alternative music that appeals to very few people." He can't figure out why the days don't exist anymore when a cover band that plays a few of their own originals can go into a bar for a week, and, like the band Click, "pack the place on a Tuesday night." Well, lack of money due to the economy, more things to spend money on nowadays, like computers and DVDs, and more need for a college education that requires homework and more sleep the night before instead of going to bars would be reasons for a starter. I don't know if this guy lives under a rock during the day when he's not performing or what, but I can't figure out how he can know nothing about his current music business surroundings. He's single. Does he simply not exist when he's not on stage? Does he just sit there and stare at blank walls all day? Doesn't he read the papers, Uptown, or watch TV? Doesn't he check out the bar listings? Doesn't he TALK to people?

Anyway, here's an e-mail I sent him after our conversation that covers a few more things. I thought that after writing all this, I would like to do something more about it. So I put it here on The Beau Zone. It's slightly edited. The subject matter of how the bar circuit has changed from, say, 1978 to now is actually quite fascinating, and it's something you never read about in Winnipeg media. You always read about Burton Cummings' and Randy Bachman's era in the '60s, but what about after that? What about the '70s, the '80s, and the '90s? It's a subject that never gets discussed. And I can't even fully discuss it. I've never worked for the booking agencies or the bars involved. Maybe I'll alert Winnipeg club writers about this blog, and they can be inspired to write about this subject. That would be great. So here's the e-mail I sent my friend. Hope you enjoy it.

"Another slant on what we were talking about on the phone:

"What started as the DIY approach for all-original bands has evolved into the next level, and I think initially the dividing lines between music genres is what allowed DIY to grow, but nowadays, with generation changes, it pretty much applies to all genres. Especially when party rock or straight ahead rock isn't being done anymore except by country bands or rare bands like Nickelback that are evolving from their former status as being post-grunge bands.

"Winnipeg's best-known hard rock bands are Dreadnaut and Xplicit. What someone like Dreadnaut does, is that, since it is an all-original band, and when they were in their infancy they were probably the first or second band on a night of unknown bands maybe once a month or something, is that they take their now-headlining gigs and make something special out of them. Independent bands all have their own CDs out that they sell at their merch table with t-shirts, as well as Music Trader and Into The Music, and online via CD Baby using Paypal. They put up MySpace pages with their music that fans can hear for free on their computers but not download. They poster their gig everywhere, and it becomes an event, because it's just one date. Today's fans of metal, punk, folk, or singer-songwriters, who seek out gigs they're interested in at venues (they're more called venues now, not even bars) would probably think of the old "bar circuit" of the late '70s as something very odd, and perhaps boring, too. They might wonder, 'What kind of excitement does an artist offer when they're playing every day, all week, three sets a night, at a bar, then all over again next week at a different bar, and with 70% covers, 30% originals?' These people, like the band members, probably have day jobs that are DIY, too, like running their own businesses, maybe using the internet, or if they are employees, then it's something seasonal, so that they can easily procure time to tour (because a lot of these artists tour to other cities, too). Personally, having lived as a fan with both systems, I find neither one better than the other. They're just different, that's all. I will say that the old '70s bar circuit is more geared towards the 'employee' mentality; If you're an employee at a factory or something, then you've got plenty of opportunities to see someone. Similarly, a band member feels like an employee himself, doing nightly music shifts and perhaps making a living at doing covers.

"That bar circuit scene was kind of over by the early '80s, although it sort of wasn't, because the notable strong exceptions were Night Moves & The Diamond Club, along with Norma Jeans. This era produced Jenerator, The Shivers, Playground X, Howling Now, etc., who all did originals. However, the independent music scene had started and was alive and well with Monuments Galore, etc., and grew from there. There had always been a distrust towards CITI FM, too, as CITI wanted to be the self-appointed gatekeepers of what was good rock/hard rock and what wasn't. Either you were frustrated at the bands and albums they didn't play, or you were sheep who dismissed those bands and albums as not being any good "because CITI doesn't play them."

"'70s rock had morphed into '80s hair-band rock. Then the bottom fell out entirely around '93 when grunge and alternative took hold and Night Moves/Diamond Club became country music clubs. (People say grunge and alternative started earlier, like around '91, but things took longer to catch on in Canada, and record companies here were still signing regular rock bands like Big House and Dead Beat Honeymooners, which certainly fueled my TV show Hard Rock Heroes.) CITI FM ultimately couldn't deal with this and went classic rock. So-called 'regular hard rock' was dead and all forms of music that were left went DIY. Then came computers, Windows, Microsoft Word, and the internet, which took DIY to a whole new level. Meanwhile, in the late '90s, pop came back, and in a very, very SEXY, and female, way. Rap and hip-hop had been brewing slowly since the '80s, really. The dance clubs became a zenith. That's where we are today, with envelope-pushing girl pop, rap and hip-hop dominating the charts, along with the occasional rock band thrown in here and there for contrast. All songs are full of swearing now, and have to have the offending words and phrases removed for radio and video. And don't forget all those artists that came from American Idol! In this environment, for whatever does remain for a 'bar circuit,' which probably only still exists due to MLCC regulations concerning cabarets, is now strictly a 'cover band bar circuit' (you tell ME when/if bar owners and/or the agencies told you 'no originals at all') in which the songs a cover band plays must be hits that complement the DJ in the places that have cover bands and that keep people dancing. Nostalgia for old hits has helped today's cover bands, too.

"I said on the phone that if a band could sneak in an original that fits in with what you just read there would be no market for it. I'm going to go back on that a bit. It's just something that has been untapped here in Winnipeg. Pop music out of Winnipeg? (And that's basically what it would be - Pop music.) Not much of a precedent there. The Shivers were pop-rock and they made a decent headway, but that band existed when we were still in the Diamond Club/Night Moves/Norma Jeans era, and they imploded when Randy Reibling, who arguably WAS The Shivers, left. (I'm talking about the original Shivers from the early '90s, not the cover-band version with Randy and a bunch of guys from later in the decade - by then, FOR SURE Randy himself was The Shivers.) I was reading about Enjoy Your Pumas, a name I've seen gigging around town, this weekend in Stylus, and they are apparently a pop-dance act. And I had forgotten to talk about Ash Koley! I LOVE Ash Koley. She's a Winnipeg pop artist who just moved to Toronto not so long ago. Her music is like '80s new wave meets Abba meets Disney. Very catchy, and Hot 103 has played it. One of her current songs is now a Manitoba Lotteries commercial! Check out her music and You Tube embedded videos at

"This doesn't fit anywhere in this, but I feel it's worth mentioning: The rise of DJ culture. DJs like to feel that their scratching and mixing and mashups are an art form now so this gives to the rise of DJs as artists. Look at the listings for the Pyramid, the Albert, and the Academy, and you'll see they are half DJ nights now. Even The Zoo is trying DJs on occasional nights. And certainly Ozzy's has had great success with the Ready Mix DJs on Thursday nights ever since The Collective/Die Maschine closed and became American Apparel/Hifi Club.

"Certainly, the changes have been jarring for any musician used to making a living weekly in the bars, who might have gotten into it originally in order to make original music, but who got lured in, as they got older, by the easy lifestyle playing covers brings when compared to the uncertain DIY ethic, particularly if you like to play a style of music that DIY doesn't jibe with, although in 2010, that may have changed, too. If you can find some way to pay the bills, would you consider doing a CD of original music with a band and looking for DIY gigs to promote it? Actually, at The Zoo, I don't know what it used to be, but now it's partially a pay-to-play deal: You pay The Zoo $500.00, and the night is yours. You charge whatever you want for cover and you keep 100% of it. The Zoo keeps 100% of beverage sales. Any money made or lost is yours. You are responsible for your own publicity (postering, advertising, etc.). Full pay-to-play, like in L.A., means if only 10 people show up, no one's buying drinks and the bar somehow charges you a hefty sum and you never get to play there again. I don't know how that compares with The Zoo's situation. That's where you get L.A. band members passing out flyers on the Strip themselves, pleading people walking down the street to go to their gig. More info on what The Zoo does at

"Marc Labossiere's situation is puzzling. I believe he plays all '90s rock covers by bands like 3 Doors Down nowadays, and somehow he's allowed to do that. I haven't seen him in a long time, but when I did, the dance floor didn't clear for him. I don't believe he does his originals from his CDs. He probably could. He probably did the best job anyone on the bar circuit could who WASN'T willing to get off of it and go tour in other cities for peanuts without radio or video play. In other words, he became a big WINNIPEG star with his CDs, but never wanted to go to the next level. Ya gotta get off that bar circuit, Marc, dude! It takes money to make money. Maybe bands like Kick Axe got lucky with offers and Marc didn't. I have no idea. But then, Kick Axe was still years earlier than the club environments Marc has played in. I just thought I should say something special about him.

"And that's all I have for you now. I'll probably save this writeup and change around a few words and use it for The Beau Zone."

And, as you have now read, that's exactly what I have done!

Your thoughts, people?