Cities like Vancouver and Toronto often get credited for having the most vibrant music communities in Canada, but Calgary is quickly evolving its scene into one that rivals those mega culture hubs thanks to the work of individuals like Nicola Lefevre, BJ Downey, and Graham Mackenzie.
Their work has had a direct impact in the community, from helping youth develop skills and confidence to play music, to simply getting bands together to build a close knit “family” of musicians.
Nicola Lefevre, founder of Girls Rock Camp Calgary
Music, especially rock music, has predominantly been a boy’s game since its inception many years ago. But that doesn’t mean girls can’t get together and rock out just as well, or even better, than the guys.
Nicola Lefevre, founder and operator of Girls Rock Camp Calgary, is one such person giving young women the chance to pick up instruments and express themselves with each other and in front of an audience.
“I was doing a lot of volunteer work at The New Black and I asked Darren [Ollinger, owner of The New Black] if we could use the space for the camp and he jumped on board,” says Lefevre.
The first two camps were held in 2013 before The New Black closed its doors the same year. Currently, Lefevre and co-founder Miesha Louie hold the camp at the University of Calgary which happens usually for one week in the summer. Tuition for last years camp costed $245.
Lefevre utilizes her experiences and connections as a prominent member in the Calgary music scene, being in bands like The Night Committee, Chick Magnets and Sequicons, to help educate her “campers” more about the business of being in a band as well as creating the music itself.
“Through the week of camp, the girls form a band as well as write and record a song. But we also threw in workshops about how to book shows and how to create a press kit to show to promoters so that they will actually book you,” says Lefevre.
“We also have to load in all the gear into the rehearsal space [at the University of Calgary] each day, so they do have to get used to their fair share of roadie work.”
BJ Downey, host of Rockin’ 4 Dollar$
“The best Wednesday night of your life” is how Rockin’ 4 Dollars Calgary host and co-founder BJ Downey describes open mic night at Broken City. Every week, eight to 10 bands ranging from every musical style sign up to play a 15-minute set. At the end of the night, they spin a wheel for a chance to win some cold hard cash — up to $1,000.
However, Downey, who hosts under the pseudonym “BJ Killer,” believes winning money is not the incentive for playing or watching Rockin’ 4 Dollars every week, but rather about creating a supportive music community. Downey is a veteran of the Calgary music scene, playing in punk groups like Chixdiggit and The Ativans.
“There is a circuit of people that are all growing their bands together and everyone wants to see the next guy succeed in some way,” says Downey, “It has become a family that everyone can join. To me, that’s a really beautiful thing.” Bands like Sellout, The Detractions, Shiloh and Cheap Beer have become regular staples of the event.
Downey decks out the prize wheel every week with gifts from sponsors like Big Rock Brewery’s tasting tour certificates, CDs from local bands and even stuff he finds at thrift stores or is left behind by other bands, like used guitar picks.
“Nobody is here just for the money,” says Downey. “We all know each other and love each other and at the end of the night, it really is about having a good time and listening to the best music Calgary has to offer.”
ounder of the Major Minor Music ProjectGraham Mackenzie, f
If you talk to anyone that was performing rock, punk or metal music in the past decade, many of them can recount to you the “New Black days.” The New Black Centre For Music & Art still rings in the memory of Calgary’s music scene as the last true all-ages venue in the city before its closure in 2013.
About a year and a half ago, Graham Mackenzie started the Major Minor Music Project, an effort to reignite interest in the all-ages music scene and an all-ages creative space.
The Major Minor Music Project is a non-profit organization that aims to bring support and awareness into the development of an all-ages music culture. Like any sport or after-school program, Mackenzie believes young people need to have access to a facility that allows them to work on their art and to network with other like-minded people.
Mackenzie has been hosting his shows at different venues around the city, often co-promoting them with different activities like axe-throwing, bowling and pinball, but Mackenzie is looking to move in a different direction.
“What I want there to be is a space where someone can go and have all the tools there for them so that they can [perform shows], make posters, make t-shirts, make whatever they need so that they can express themselves,” says Mackenzie.
However, Mackenzie is not just focused on Calgary’s young musicians; he is focused on promoting cultures from all walks of life.
“I work with a lot of minority groups and the hardest thing for them when coming to a new country is finding something to do in a city that is new to them,” says Mackenzie.
“I know musicians, talented people from around the planet, and all they want to do is play but they have nowhere, no hubs where they can go and meet people and try to get out into the music scene, and that’s what I want this place to help with.”
- By Will Cowan