In a small bowling alley that sits on 34th Street and 17th Avenue S.E., also known as International Avenue, something unexpected happens every couple months.
Walking into the basement, one can immediately understand the appeal. It’s very retro, transporting you back to a time you may have never known, but have seen on television. The owner of Paradise Lanes, Greg Decksheimer, explained that representatives of the television series Fargo once scouted the location, but it never panned out.
It makes sense then, that one of the most unconventional non-profit groups in the city would seek out this space to host their event, Punk Rock Bowling. Major Minor Music Project, a local group that seeks to create a vibrant all-ages music scene in Calgary, has been selling out the spot.
To be precise, it’s their fifth time selling out tickets. The most recent one, Punk Rock Bowling YYC “Stampede edition”, which happened on July 15, was filled to capacity.
“They have the classic neon bowling pins and it’s a basement retro alley, and the ownership and the manager Mark … are incredible people to work with,” explains Graham Mackenzie, founder of Major Minor Music Project.
The smell of your grandparent’s attic wafts through the air, provoking a sense of nostalgia, some carnal desire to exist in this space if you can. If that’s not something that keeps people coming back, it’s at least a contributing factor. Decksheimer explains that summer is the bowling alley’s slow month, and the rest of the year is pretty fully booked. Yet money isn’t what motivated the bowling alley to work with Major Minor Music Project.
“What it does for Paradise Lanes is, when you fill the house like Graham does, you get that exposure every two to three months and it’s usually new people every time at the Punk Rock Bowling so it’s quite good,” says Decksheimer.
“We have a big bowling pin on top of the roof and we have people come downstairs and say, ‘I live around the corner and I didn’t know you were here.’ And the punk rock bowling is giving us more exposure, so our walk-in bowlers, which would be just regular people coming in, is probably up 20 per cent.”
If you’ve never visited International Avenue, you aren’t alone. It’s the 17th Avenue on the wrong side of town, or so Calgarians like to imply about the greater Forest Lawn area.
Hosting Punk Rock Bowling on International Avenue was a conscious choice for Major Minor Music Project and Mackenzie. Many of the volunteers and attendees live on that side of the city, many being newcomers to Calgary.
“What we’re doing with the project is also trying to reduce stigma associated with East Calgary as well, because lots of newcomers come and move to East Calgary, and there’s an enduring stigma in Calgary of living east of Deerfoot, about whether it’s crime, or whatever the cliches of stigma are in Calgary, the jokes and the underhanded things they say,” explains Mackenzie. “So everything is to create a positive image, and say that there is a lot of positive — because there is a lot of positive — [East Calgary is] transforming and it’s transforming fast.”
That transformation is near impossible to miss. If you were to visit today, you can see construction everywhere. Yet it’s filled with culture and a resilience that persists in the face of any challenge that’s thrown at it. Paradise Lanes is a testament to this, having been open 60 years now, changing ownership from time to time but always staying exactly where it is.
The transformative but enduring effect of 17th Avenue S.E. seems to affect Major Minor Music Project, as Mackenzie says most of their events take place in the area. Or perhaps the non-profit affects 17th Avenue S.E. Maybe a little bit of both.
If there is a stigma surrounding 17th Avenue S.E., there is certainly a stigma surrounding the all-ages music scene. Such are the stereotypes of the “music scene,” something that has often been intertwined with negativity, imagery of drugs, drinking, and general debauchery.
It’s not true, especially not to Mackenzie. He was someone who faced barriers trying to enter the scene, and understands that it’s potentially an isolating place to be when you don’t have the support you need as a young musician or fan. Major Minor Music Project is trying to change that.
“Creating access, creating opportunity for people, every genre, everything, and just trying to get everyone on side that’s it’s a necessity to have a vibrant music scene,” Mackenzie says on what the project is trying to inspire. “You have to have a place that anyone can feel that they can get access and do stuff and have a place where people can learn how to run shows, put on shows, create posters, create Internet content to promote their bands, promote their shows, and have a helping hand.”
It’s not about competition, it’s not about trying to one up each other. It’s something that seeks to create a solid foundation for the all-ages scene.
“When I was younger, when I was trying to do shows and come up, there was no help and I think that’s not an uncommon story that a lot of people do not have that help and do not have that collaborative spirit and so I was creating an entity, an organization, where the whole goal is to help you and feel that there’s people helping you and want you to succeed and that you can have a career in arts and music.”
Mackenzie says his efforts have been very successful. The project was originally founded on a survey of over a thousand Calgarians, looking to find out what was missing from the city, what they thought would make it better. They wanted people to experience all quadrants of the city, and with that goal in mind and the compiled survey data, they realized there was a real gap in all-ages venue access in Calgary.
“There’s lots of barriers and isolation, and so it’s kind of a place where people can perform, practice, and engage in the music scene here in Calgary as much as they can, it’s just increasing access, like a hub for arts and engagement,” says Mackenzie.
The project persists into the future, with Mackenzie citing the possible collaboration between other non-profits similar to Major Minor Music Project in the United States to create something bigger, something that involves even more connection and the “work together” spirit that Mackenzie tenaciously seeks out.
“I’m always looking for those people who are like, ‘Let’s try, let’s try, let’s give it a go,” Mackenzie says of both his international counterparts and Paradise Lanes. “Truly I believe anything is possible then, because if you have enough people who are just willing to try, and you get enough of those people together, then something is going to happen, and then it increases your chances that something incredible is going to happen.”
While opportunity continues to flourish and grow for Major Minor Music Project, the contribution and steadfast support of International Avenue is clearly intertwined with their roots. In the grand scheme, it’s a small part of Calgary, but it’s transformative value is beyond measurement, both for the physical part of the city and the people who exist within.
- By Amber McLinden