Sounds good!

🕔Jun 04, 2009
It’s a fact of music life that if an up-and-coming musician or band wants to gain renown, they must hit the road and do a tour. Here in the north, however, popular venues and halls are not as plentiful as they are in the more populated south, so travelling minstrels sometimes have to be creative when it comes to finding places to perform. Though there is a small core of coffee shops, community halls, and a small theatre or two with a history of regular performances, many others are available only for the asking.

Mark Perry is a well-known Smithers-based musician. Having made the drive to perform along Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George many times, he knows well the challenge of finding a place to play that is both oriented to a musical show as well as popular with the public. “There’s all kinds of neat rooms,” says Perry, “but I don’t think there’s any place you can play that draws a crowd without a lot of work.”

That’s not to say that the north is entirely devoid of places to get up in front of some strangers and belt out some tunes. Rather, every happening café with obliging owners has the potential to become a one-night venue, a place to surprise patrons with a free mini-concert and a chance to gain experience in the craft of entertainment. Some places even have dedicated open-mic evenings that encourage new faces to perform. “If you see a cool little café and you’re not obtrusive when you play,” says Perry, “approach [the owners] and see if they’d do something there.”

Sall Gibson, an alt-pop-folk indie singer-songwriter currently living in Toronto, cut her touring teeth on road trips in her VW van between her former home in Prince Rupert and multiple small places along Highway 16. She agrees with Perry that it was hard to find venues that cater specifically to music performances. “I found I had to network with other musicians,” she says, admitting to scouring other performers’ websites for venue ideas. “I’ve played at a lot of coffee-shops.”

As a fledgling touring musician, Gibson found promoting upcoming shows to be a challenge, and felt that her gigs were more successful when she knew people in the town she was going to. “I really had to learn how to plan events,” she says, laying out a schedule she developed for getting the word out there: posters sent six weeks ahead of the show, table cards four weeks ahead (for café gigs), and with a couple of weeks to go, contacting radio stations and newspapers in hopes of some airtime or an article.

In terms of promotion, Mark Perry recommends the value of a decent website and some kind of recording that showcases a performer’s talents. “It doesn’t have to be that professional if you’re starting out,” he says. He also recommends playing live as often as possible. “If the room is there and you play it and it’s a good time,” says Perry, “word spreads fast in a small town.” Sall Gibson also recommends taking to the stage at every presented opportunity, having once made a resolution not to turn down a single gig: by building up a resume of past performances, she says, “it’s going to pay off in the long run because it proves to the bigger venues that you’re willing to invest in yourself.”

Although northern British Columbia isn’t exactly rife with dedicated performance venues for the emerging solo artist or small band, there is undoubtedly a strong musical pulse and an appreciation for those with the courage and the talent to get up and entertain. Mark Perry recommends not ruling out any location for a potential gig. “If you can get people out,” says Perry, “it’ll probably be a pretty good venue.” Sall Gibson also credits the people of the northwest with being defining factors of a good show: “When a night does go well,” she says, “it goes really well.”

Here’s a small sampling of what’s available in a few of our northern communities. Bear in mind, the venues listed here barely skim the surface of the options available to anyone thinking of touring the north. The possibilities are as numerous and eclectic as the places people congregate.

Haida Gwaii:
Up north, past Masset, the tiny but gorgeously stack-walled Trout House Restaurant & Bakery on Tow Hill Road has been known to generously host an open mic session or two. The food is delicious and the patrons are convivial; telephone Kelly at 250-626-9330 to make your pitch.

Prince Rupert:
International rocker girl Rachelle van Zanten has come a long way from acoustic nights at coffeehouses, but she recently played a solo set at the Tom Rooney Play House, a small performance theatre with a stage, lights, and sound system, run by the volunteers of Harbour Theatre. Seating can be configured either with tables and chairs for a cosier feeling, or just with chairs for maximum capacity. For booking information, contact Harbour Theatre at (250) 624-3626.

The spacious Northwest Community College student hangout Kiva Café is just one of several coffee-shops in Terrace with a history of hosting musical events. The Kiva boasts a permanent stage and a vibrant social atmosphere during the school year. “It’s a good place to meet up with friends and hear some live music,” says owner Elaine Sanchez; contact her at or by calling 250-638-5457.

*Smithers: *
The Bulkley Valley Folk Music Society bills itself as “a nourishing body for the musical soul of the Bulkley Valley”; in other words, an excellent resource for musicians looking for venues and opportunities to perform in the area. A monthly coffeehouse which runs October to April is a good bet: information can be obtained at

One of Mark Perry’s favourite rooms in which to do an acoustic show is the Old Driftwood School, in the hills 10 km outside Smithers—an old wood-heated one-room schoolhouse that seats approximately seventy people.

The beautifully restored Old Church, right in Smithers, is another venue available for bookings; contact the Bulkley Valley Museum at 250-847-5322 for further information.

Prince George:
Books and Company’s ArtSpace and Café Voltaire are renowned in the north for being excellent venues for live music. Friday Night Mics take place at Café Voltaire, when artists new and old are encouraged to step up and perform to the masses as they sip hot drinks and nibble tasty treats. ArtSpace, located above the bookstore, has an appealing, intimate vibe and is extremely popular with local and visiting performers. Contact the fine folks at Books and Company—250-563-6637—or through their website at