What is needed for Edmonton music venues to thrive? Closure of Station on Jasper spurs conversation – Edmonton

A week after a popular mid-sized music venue shut its doors in downtown Edmonton, people who are active in the city’s arts community say there needs to be more awareness about the challenges faced by locales where concerts take place.

“I would say that the state of live music in Edmonton is grim at best,” Clint Frazier, a promoter for a downtown venue called 99ten, told Global News earlier this week, adding there “hasn’t been a lot of follow-up with the venues” since they were forced to temporarily close earlier during the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: Canadians use social media to shine light on live music industry left in dark by COVID-19

Frazier added that he believes the issue is not just about challenges facing small businesses, but about the health of the city as a whole.

“If we want to get serious about fixing the downtown, which it definitely needs, we have to look at businesses that are bringing people downtown and we have to give them the support, especially after COVID — and especially (now with)… the rising costs of touring artists,” he said.

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“It’s a real big problem and I wish the city would have addressed it sooner and I hope that this is the wake-up call they need to address it right now.”

READ MORE: City launches strategy to bring life back to Edmonton’s downtown

The “wake-up call” Frazier was referring to was the Feb. 3 announcement on social media by Station on Jasper that it would be closing its doors.

A note appears at the front of Station on Jasper, a downtown Edmonton music venue, taken on Feb. 10, 2023.

Nicole Stillger/Global News

“After five years, Station on Jasper has hung up its microphone,” reads part of a post on the venue’s Facebook page. “We have had many outstanding shows and incredible nights to remember… a lot of amazing musicians shared their talents on our stages with a lot of Edmontonians — and we are proud to have been part of that.

“We worked hard to reopen after all the COVID closures, but it was a tough ride.”

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Brian Fauteux, an associate professor at the University of Alberta’s music department, said while music venues often face an uphill challenge to stay open for a long time, he was somewhat surprised by the news the Jasper Avenue bar was closing.

READ MORE: Closed Edmonton music venue to reopen under new ownership

“I was just there for the Winterruption (YEG) festitval and it was packed, and people were having a great time,” he recalled. “It kind of felt like it had been a little bit of time after the pandemic (health measures were lifted) and people were out checking out live music again.

“At the same time, I wasn’t surprised given how many venues we saw close over the pandemic.”

Fauteux noted aside from the normal challenges faced by small businesses, small- or mid-sized music venues also cope with issues involving commercial insurance and noise bylaws. And with the financial burden placed on them by the pandemic, many music spots are likely facing issues related to debt even if they’re attracting audiences.

Click to play video: '‘The state of live music in Edmonton is grim at best’: local promoter'

‘The state of live music in Edmonton is grim at best’: local promoter

Frazier said he understands that venues are normally privately run businesses, but he still believes governments could look at offering additional financial support to help them recover, and also to let them invest in bringing more well-known performers to the city, which he believes would have positive ripple effects.

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“The more of these (venues) that we lose, the less that people come downtown, which we all know has become a big problem for Edmonton,” he said. “(Station on Jasper’s closure) means that the downtown — that’s already suffering and struggling, and become very unsafe since the pandemic — loses another asset that could bring 500 people downtown on a Wednesday or Thursday night, which also helps the restaurants and other businesses around the venue.

“It’s really about having a conversation.”

Edmonton is set to host the 2023 Juno Awards next month. Aside from the music awards show itself, which will take place inside Rogers Place, the event brings with it and attracts many performances and events held in smaller venues.

READ MORE: Actor Simu Liu to host 2023 Juno Awards in Edmonton

Frazier said Station on Jasper’s closure means some events have had to be moved and his venue is taking on more events as a result.

“Our team is working on finding homes for future shows,” reads a post on Station on Jasper’s Facebook page, addressing impacted shows more broadly. “Unfortunately, some may be cancelled in which there will be ticket refunds issued.”

While Frazier said Station on Jasper’s closure is a “shame,” he acknowledged the closure of music venues is something that has “been happening for 20 years.”

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“It’s happening everywhere,” Fauteux said. “I lived in Toronto before coming here and it was one venue after the other, and often times it would be due to new developments or places that had a hard time meeting their rent.”

READ MORE: Edmonton arts venue forced to close its doors

He added that mid-sized venues like Station on Jasper play an important role in any city’s live music ecosystem because they provide opportunities for local musicians to further their careers by opening for touring performers.

“Having a number of people with different visions for how live music is sustained in a city is important,” Fauteux said, adding that it is important to appreciate what live music venues can offer and what it may take to help them flourish.

“It can be an economic driver, but it also gives us something enjoyable to participate in, and I think you have to think about where venues are placed and what their partIcular needs are, especially when they’re dealing with sort of a volatile sector like live music… It’s a conversation that has to involve people with an understanding of live music (as well as) artists… (and) policymakers at various levels.”

A photo of the front of Station on Jasper, a downtown Edmonton music venue, taken on Feb. 10, 2023.

Nicole Stillger/Global News

Fauteux said despite Station on Jasper’s closure, he is optimistic a new locale will emerge in the city’s core.

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“I think something will,” he said. “You often see as venues close, new ones open up.”

He added that he has noticed there are once again lots of music lovers going to venues for performances and that Edmonton continues to have “lots of great bands.”

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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