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Ottawa music venues ready for ‘pent-up demand’


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The opening of Red Bird Live, a new live-music club in Ottawa, is the fulfillment of a long-held dream for owner Geoff Cass. 

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“Yeah, it’s a dream come true, for sure,” said the 45-year-old Cass, who feels he’s been leading up to this moment for years. 

After spending the first part of his career developing his programming skills as director at Dovercourt Recreation Centre, running the Bluesfest School of Music and Arts and playing in the folk-rock band, Gentlemen of the Woods, on the side, he was ready to tackle his own music-focused operation. 

He didn’t foresee how long it would take or how much it would cost, but Red Bird Live is now open for business and Cass has high hopes for the hybrid music school-coffee shop-folk club on Bank Street in Old Ottawa South. 

In what is, hopefully, the final stages of the pandemic, he believes it’s the right place at the right time. 

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“To me, it feels like a really good time,” Cass said in an interview. “There’s still some hesitation, I’m finding, but for the most part, people are really ready to get out and be part of the community again, and in this case, it’s a music community that I know people wanted before the pandemic, and I think they want even more now.”

With capacity restrictions set to lift next week, live-music clubs across the Ottawa area are keen to get back to business, hoping for an influx of fans after the uncertainty and lockdowns of the past two years. In addition to the birth of Red Bird, other developments on the scene include renovations at the Rainbow Bistro and a change in ownership at 750 Gladstone Ave., where the former Pressed Cafe has turned into an oatmeal cafe and Scotch lounge.

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Let’s start at Red Bird, where transforming an axe-throwing venue into a cozy spot for music took a lot longer than anticipated, Cass said. 

“What we didn’t realize was that the mechanical infrastructure of the building was insufficient for what we wanted to do, so that took a lot of work with engineers and architects to draw and redraw and reassess all the different options,” he said, noting the new plumbing, wiring, ventilation and walls. The space was originally intended to open last fall. 

“It’s been a long haul but in hindsight, I’m glad we did it,” Cass said. “We have lots of fresh air flowing through the space, which is important at the tail end of the pandemic, and I don’t have to worry about old wires and old plumbing.” 

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Officially, the live music will start March 7 with Bluegrass Monday, a regular weekly feature, though musicians are welcome to drop by and test out the space. In the meantime, music lessons are underway and Equator Coffee is handling the cafe business.

In the ByWard Market, a major renovation has transformed the long-running Rainbow Bistro, which reopens this weekend with bluesman J.W-Jones and his band providing the entertainment. As you may recall, the Murray Street club was in danger of shutting down last fall until a group of tech executives banded together to raise money to save the place. 

The $50,000 raised was spent on improving the almost-40-year-old club, said Rainbow owner Danny Sivyer. The work included new carpets, a sleek new stage  and a state-of-the-art digital sound and light system to replace the aging analog gear. 

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“Can you imagine that?,” Sivyer said. “We’ve gone from the 1980s to the 2020s all of a sudden. It sounds really good and it looks like a real theatre stage now with lighting all the way around.”

Upcoming shows on the new stage include album-release parties with Finely Tuned Elephants (March 5), Aspects and his daughter, Iliyah Rose (March 6) and the HOROJO Trio (April 1). 

Brian Montgomery recently opened a second oatmeal cafe/Scotch lounge on Gladstone.
Brian Montgomery recently opened a second oatmeal cafe/Scotch lounge on Gladstone.  Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia

In Centretown, Brian Montgomery has taken his oatmeal cafe/Scotch lounge concept to a new neighbourhood with the recent opening of the Montgomery Scotch Lounge on Gladstone. 

During renovations, he kept the stage, upgraded the sound gear and gave the room a “cool jazz club look.”  It’s Montgomery’s second business to operate as an oatmeal cafe by day and flip to a Scotch lounge at night. (The original location is on Bank Street in Old Ottawa South)

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With chef Marta Caferra in charge of the kitchen, the Gladstone menu has been refined to offer an early dinner-and-jazz feature at 6 p.m., followed by a later set of music at 9:30 p.m. It’s open Wednesday to Sunday. 

Montgomery said they’ve been “inundated” with requests by artists who want to perform, a pent-up demand that’s also affecting live-music fans.  A ticketed show on Feb. 25, for example, featuring jazz guitarist Alex Moxon and his new Electric Band, is almost sold out.

“People are happy to be out,” Montgomery said. “Everybody says they’re done with the pandemic and they want to get back to live music. It’s a sense of normalcy they’re craving, and when the evening is over, I feel we’ve done the job if everything fell into place for them. That’s what makes us happy.”

lsaxberg@postmedia.com

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