Osborne Village jammed with musicians, spotlighted by Idiots
River Heights East, which includes Osborne Village, is most populous neighbourhood for music creators
It's mostly muted by thick walls of brick, reinforced concrete and stone, but music still spills out through windows and penetrates the hardwood floors of the red-painted Roslyn Square apartments in Winnipeg's Osborne Village.
It's another night of the hugely popular Live at The Roslyn, a living room concert series featuring Winnipeg musicians that is broadcast via Facebook Live every Wednesday at 8 p.m.
"I can't believe they're allowed to do this," said Marcia Hanson, the drummer for punk rock duo Mobina Galore. "They went knocking on every apartment's door, asking for permission."
Her performance on April 11 with bandmate and guitarist Jenna Priestner marked the 25th consecutive week of the concert series, which will take a break after April 25. This is the second year for Live at The Roslyn, which launched its inaugural season in November 2016.
All 50 videos from both years can be found on the Facebook page for The Village Idiots.
The Idiots are primarily Rylie Saunders and Kevin Repay, who started the Facebook Live shows and brought aboard a crew of friends to help produce them.
They adopted the name because "we're like the fringe [of society], the people that are a little different," explained Saunders, adding that many of his Roslyn neighbours are musicians — a trumpet player, a drummer, and one guy who creates his own beats — so they tolerate the temporary ruckus.
Truth is, Saunders and his cohorts are actually a lot like a sizable chunk of the population in Osborne Village and its adjoining neighbourhoods.
What's going on inside the Roslyn is representative of what's happening around the Village as a whole, according to a study by the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada.
In 2016, SOCAN matched its 150,000 members to postal codes and Statistics Canada data to determine where the largest densities of songwriters, composers and music publishers resided in the country.
In Manitoba, the area of River Heights East — McMillan, Lord Roberts, Riverview, and Osborne Village — is the most populous in terms of music creators, with 84 living within those boundaries, SOCAN found.
"Where music is being played, we also see it being created," said Andrew Berthoff, SOCAN's chief communications and marketing officer, referring to the live music venues in the neighbourhood.
"That area has traditionally been a hotbed of music creation and we see that by a number of SOCAN members over the years [who] have come from River Heights East, including groups like the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive."
According to Saunders, one of the former tenants of the Roslyn was Guess Who lead singer Burton Cummings.
Berthoff said the reason SOCAN conducted the study was to remind people that musicians are significant contributors to the economy "but also, where music is created and played, it's the cool part of town. It's where people want to live."
In 2012, the Village was named Canada's greatest neighbourhood by the Canadian Institute of Planners. With 8,000 people living within 231 acres, Osborne Village has the densest urban setting in Winnipeg and one of the most dense in Western Canada.
"Everything I need in life is right here," said Saunders, noting all of the music venues as well as grocery stores and the short distance to walk to downtown, the Exchange District, or The Forks.
The area, including the Roslyn, is filled primarily with young people who "want to be close to where the action is," he said.
"Within a few blocks, some of the best musicians in Winnipeg are all right here. My three favourite singers, like two are right over there, one block away, and one is two blocks in the other direction."
Roslyn Square — previously known as Roslyn Court and more casually as the Roslyn over its 119-year history — is an iconic five-storey building at the corner of Osborne and Roslyn Road.
Once a luxury residence before the wealthy segment of the city fled for newer suburbs developed in the post-war era, the Roslyn's design still flaunts its affluent past — an interior courtyard with covered walkways, verandas, ornate wood trim and large suites.
Some suites, like that occupied by Saunders and Repay and a handful of roommates, encompass 2,000 square feet with 10-foot ceilings and long hallways. That means plenty of space for concerts.
The idea for Live at The Roslyn surfaced during one of many social gatherings hosted by Saunders and Repay. The duo, who describe themselves as music lovers who like to jam but don't aspire to be musicians, had befriended several bands over the years.
"One night, it turned into us realizing, 'Wow, we have really talented friends. And then we realized the world needs to see what we're seeing," Saunders said.
While many of their musician friends perform in venues in the city, they often play to small crowds, Repay said. He blames that partly on the fact that shows are scheduled between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. when people can't make it due to kids, jobs and other "circumstances of life."
One night, it turned into us realizing, 'Wow, we have really talented friends.' And then we realized the world needs to see what we're seeing.- Rylie Saunders
In many cases, it's a catch-22: people don't go see bands they don't know, yet they don't know them if they don't go see them.
For example, Mobina Galore has toured Europe four times but is less known in their own city, Saunders said.
"We started to realize this [Roslyn] can be the venue and we can just use Facebook Live. That was an opportunity we had and we just ran with it," he said.
The live-streamed shows help level the playing field, so bands don't have to be getting major radio play to be known, Repay said.
Many Winnipeg musicians are as good as any others out there "and it's important for that to be known," he said, hoping Live at The Roslyn introduces the bands to people who will then buy tickets to future shows at mainstream venues.
Live shows get big views
The exposure goal has scored for pretty much every single show. According to Saunders, live-streamed shows pull in viewers around the world.
This is the first time we have done anything like this. It's super cool.- Jenna Priestner, Mobina Galore
The highest count was 25,800 when Red Moon Road was spotlighted, while Attica Riots drew 22,000.
The low end, around 6,000, is still far beyond what most of the bands were playing to at any club.
And those numbers are from when the shows are performed live. Once uploaded, they can be rewatched over and over by anyone.
"This is the first time we have done anything like this. It's super cool," said Mobina Galore's Priestner, who lives a short walk from the Roslyn, off Corydon Avenue.
"We've done all sorts of interesting shows at skate parks, in skate shops, all sorts of weird places — tattoo shops — but never have we played something that's live on Facebook. I think it's important and it's amazing that Rylie and his crew are promoting the Village and promoting Osborne."
Saunders said there have been no complaints about the concerts. According to Repay, though, that's really a matter of semantics.
"We prefer to look at them as noise compliments," he said but acknowledged there haven't been many because the concerts wrap up by 9:15 p.m.
Keeping the peace is also about being respectful and simply "good people," Saunders said.
"We're nice people, we're good neighbours. We say hello when we walk by," he said.
Central and affordable — for now
Another bonus of the Roslyn's vast spaces is that a few roommates can share them, making it affordable.
"It's a wow place, where you can live for cheap," Saunders said.
That's important for artists, who aren't typically teeming with money, said David Landreth, the bass player and business manager for roots-rockers the Bros. Landreth.
He and his wife have lived in the Village since 2011, in a multi-suite house, which is common.
Because you're close to the hub of the city, you can tap into it. You feel tapped into everything.- David Landreth
"It's accessible and inexpensive, which is a big magnet for artists living on a shoestring," he said.
The convenience of the central location makes it easy for walking, biking or busing. The only vehicle he and his wife have is the band's van "and it's horrendous on gas," so they use it as little as possible.
But he also likes the Village for the same reason noted by Saunders.
"Because you're close to the hub of the city, you can tap into it. You feel tapped into everything," Landreth said.
His brother — and bandmate — recently moved back from Toronto and is in another apartment building in the Village. That building is also home to the band's manager, one of the band's agents, and the artistic director of the Winnipeg Jazz Festival.
"It's this really pretty seriously artist-centric building," Landreth said.
Landreth does worry, though, that the area's affordability could change. A lot of newer condos are sprouting up on spaces once occupied by older, large homes with rental suites.
That's the unfortunate flip side of areas initially made popular by artists, said SOCAN's Berthoff.
"As the popularity of those places grow, we're also seeing rents and housing prices goes up, and that sometime forces musicians out," he said. "So it's an ironic situation where we want to live in the cool area but when that happens, prices go up and it makes it kind of impossible to live in that area.
"If it's a live music venue, those too, we are seeing across the country are struggling to stay afloat sometimes because rents and taxes become too expensive. And then they have to look elsewhere or just shut down altogether."
SOCAN would like to see governments offer incentives for businesses that play music, or for music creators to rent or own homes, in order to "help foster that population and the vibrancy of music in certain areas across the country," Berthoff said.
"It's important to keep that live music strong because it feeds into the economy."
Urban Myths is a CBC series that explores Manitoba communities and their sometimes surprising stories.
With files from Robin Summerfield