Calgary

Ironwood fans rally to keep doors open at live-music institution

The Ironwood has been a musical institution in Calgary since 2006, so when staff went behind their boss's back and told local musician Jory Kinjo that the venue was in trouble, he wasted little time.

Inglewood venue was struggling under pandemic restrictions

The Prime Time Big Band playing their regular brunch gig at the Ironwood, pre-pandemic. (Falice Chin/CBC)

The Ironwood Stage & Grill has been a musical institution in Calgary since 2006. So when staff went behind their boss's back and told local musician Jory Kinjo that the venue was in trouble, he wasted little time.

Kinjo's online fundraiser has already surpassed its goal of $65,000, and a weekend mini-festival he hastily planned in order to bring in more support was sold out both days. 

"What happened was the staff had come to me a few weeks ago and kind of informed me about the state of things down there, because Pat himself isn't one to ask for handouts or advertise that he needs help," said Kinjo, referring to owner Pat MacIntyre. 

"They knew that he wasn't really going to be the one that reached out, so they did it on his behalf."

Quick organizing

In short order, Kinjo was spreading the word to save a venue that is a critical piece of the city's musical infrastructure.

"It plays a really big role in the landscape of Canadian music, and particularly music in Calgary," said Kinjo. 

"The size of the venue and their programming is unlike any other."

Kinjo also points to the added challenge of a venue with no TV screens, no patio and no windows, trying to lure customers to come inside for live performances. 

Musicians donated time

The weekend shows featured 15 performances by bands and artists who all volunteered their time in order that all proceeds went to the Inglewood venue — something Kinjo said MacIntyre had to be talked into. 

The performances were live-streamed and viewers could donate to the cause.

Brooke Wylie was one of the performers who took to the stage over the weekend along with her band. 

"I got an email from Jory Kinjo a couple of weeks ago and he kind of just was really straightforward that the Ironwood would have perhaps three months left if we didn't try to do something," she said. 

"And I'm telling you, between me and the guys in my band, it was the easiest yes to a gig we ever said."

Wylie says it's not just a great venue, but a place where musicians gather and support one another and where music lovers can enjoy a sense of community unlike anywhere else in the city.

'Humbling'

MacIntyre calls the outpouring of support "humbling" and says it's been difficult to navigate the pandemic and related restrictions for a venue that is so focused on live music. 

He said he hopes to get back to nine shows per week, but will have six or seven for the time being with the fundraised money going to help achieve that. 

"When you're at two-thirds of your seating capacity, it's not really sustainable," said MacIntyre. 

"The landlords have been great to us, but the rent subsidy will run out at the end of August and it will basically go back to full price for me, but I still have a limited capacity. So this will help us get through." 

Kinjo, meanwhile, is already planning a second benefit concert for the venue on Sept. 18 and 19, details to come. 

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