Things have looked pretty bleak for local music in recent months. Victoria was rattled by the loss of the Fort St. Cafe last year. The space had hosted a variety of art and music functions over the years, not to mention the delicious food and drink always on hand, but landlords will be landlords, and the Fort closed its doors at the end of last year to a rollicking collection of goodbye gigs. For a few straggling musicians and artists, the Castle Video Bar looked like a promising haven, but it too folded a few months into 2013.
Art and music fans have more than enough reasons to feel dispirited about venue closures. When places like the Fort or the Castle — venues that provide necessary space for local art to occur — shut down, it illustrates the lack of federal support for public art, shows the general malaise of the public to stimulate such projects and displays a city hungry for development (with little room for young people to dance).
Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, local promoters Renee Crawford and Jzero Schuurman came to the rescue. Now, standing above Paul’s Motor Inn in the space formerly occupied by Castle Video Bar, is possibly the best live music and arts venue Victoria has seen in years: Copper Owl.
As members of The Dyeing Merchants and curators of the Fifty Fifty Arts Collective, Crawford and Schuurman know how vital venues are to the growth of music and culture. I got a chance to interview Schuurman before Copper Owl’s opening night and ask him about the priorities for the new space.
“We want to encourage anybody with ideas that are going to bring some people through the door and nurture the whole arts and culture scene in Victoria,” Schuurman said. “We want to have a space that we can go to any night of the week and know it’s going to be a fun time.”
It all seems so simple. The Fort St. Cafe understood the necessity for arts, culture and fun — it’s the reason they developed the luxury of having to turn patrons away from a regularly packed space, whether it was open mic night, a pub quiz or a literary event. I asked Schuurman if he felt the Copper Owl was carrying on in a similar tradition of the multi-functional art venue.
“It’s something similar, but I wouldn’t necessarily say we “fill the void.” The Fort Street guys have been really helpful getting us started, lending us equipment. We just want to provide another space for people. There’s always room for more of that kind of thing.”
Asked just how excited he was for the bar’s first show, Shuurman responded, “Totally stoked. All the kegs are tapped and the booze is ready to be served.”
On opening night, the air buzzed with enthusiasm. A sold-out crowd of students and soul-lovers collected around the lounge-style tables, sipping high balls and collectively oozing approval for the new location. The first band, Le Rat, was a blend of post-punk and garage, something to grip people’s attention without monopolizing the excitement of the evening. They were not the smoothest transition to headliners The Chantrelles, one of Victoria’s A-grade acts, but it’s that kind of inspired musical curating that will make Copper Owl a cut above other venues in Victoria. And it’s not just the music that will be carefully curated at the new venue.
“We’re working with craft brewers. It’s important to us to maintain a roster of local beers,” said Schuurman. “We want to foster that kind of [locally brewed] drink culture that’s going on in Victoria.”
Events are already piling up at the Copper Owl, so make sure you check them out on Facebook to find out about the latest dance party or rock ‘n’ roll hoe-down.