West End Cultural Centre celebrates 30 years of music and community

For three decades the West End Cultural Centre has drawn music lovers to the corner of Sherbrook Street and Ellice Avenue.

Long-standing Winnipeg music venue plans series of concert events to recognize past and present

The West End Cultural Centre is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a series of concert events. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

For three decades the West End Cultural Centre has drawn music lovers to the corner of Sherbrook Street and Ellice Avenue in Winnipeg.

That's a long time for any institution, let alone a music venue, said artistic director Jason Hooper.

"The last few years, we've seen a lot of music venues across the country and even around the world starting to close, and we've seen really huge changes in the entire music ecosystem," he said in an interview Saturday with CBC's Weekend Morning Show.

"I think it's really quite remarkable and a testament to all the people and volunteers who work at the West End Cultural Centre."

This weekend and next, the centre has planned a series of concert events to mark its 30th birthday.

Spirit of the West tribute, musical families

Saturday, Oct. 21 features a tribute to Spirit of the West, the first band to headline a show at the centre. Several local singers, including Sierra Noble, Nathan Rogers and Dave Quanbury will perform the band's songs. They'll pass the hat around to collect donations for Spirit of the West singer John Mann, who has early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

Next Saturday, Oct. 28, a concert called "Not By Bread Alone" event will connect the centre's past with its present. People who were part of the the centre in the early years will perform with their children, who are now in the music business themselves.

Founder Mitch Podolak will recite the poem Not By Bread Alone, accompanied by his son, Leonard Podolak, who plays banjo in local band The Duhks. The poem served as inspiration for Mitch and his wife Ava, when they spearheaded the project of converting the former church at Sherbrook and Ellice into an arts and culture centre.  

There will also be performances by family musical acts including Roger Roger, Wally and David Landreth, and more.

"It's going to be a real family and community night, and I think it's pretty indicative of what the West End Cultural Centre is, what it's about, and what we strive to be," Hooper said.

Although the centre has its roots in the Winnipeg folk music scene, the venue has nurtured many local artists and music scenes. Hooper recalls going to punk shows in the 1990s and seeing acts like Jawbreaker and Propagandhi.

Hooper attributes much of the centre's success to its sense of community, exemplified by the 150 to 200 volunteers who work at everything from serving drinks to finding people seats to selling tickets at the box office.

As the diversity of its audience changes, Hooper said the centre will continue to change as well.

"I think we will be evolving with the city and continue to be an institution and a place that people look to for music, entertainment, art and community."

With files from The Weekend Morning Show