Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

What are we gonna do without Le Rendez-Vous?

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If cities could place personal ads, Winnipeg's would look something like this: "MEDIUM-SIZED CITY seeks medium-sized concert venue for fun times and not-quite-romantic evenings. Must be non-smoking, tolerate drinking but open to the idea of kids. Suitable mates will be OK with punk rock, hip-hop and maybe the occasional rave. Central location a must. If interested call 697-7277."

Ever since Le Rendez-Vous closed down last month, Winnipeg has been left without a medium-sized, downtown-area concert venue to fill the gap between 300-seat clubs and 1,500-seat theatres.

Bands too big to play the Pyramid Cabaret or West End Cultural Centre -- but too small to headline a Burton Cummings Theatre or Pantages Playhouse concert -- have been forced to either skip town (i.e. Hot Hot Heat), head out to the University of Manitoba's Multi-Purpose Room (Modest Mouse, AFI) or play the CanadInn chain's Colosseum (Three Days Grace).

Now with all due respect to the well-run MPR and Colosseum, some Winnipeg concert-goers don't like to drive far into the 'burbs to see a live band.

If you drink, you're looking at a long, expensive cab ride. And even if you don't, Fort Richmond and Windsor Park aren't exactly ideal destinations for a night out. (This is no slight on the 'burbs. Live music die-hards simply have different tastes than people who go to dance clubs.)

Operated for years by Festival du Voyageur, Le Rendez-Vous was an ideal inner-city concert hall. Sure it was butt-ugly, but it was a safe, open room with clear sightlines, easy load-in access and a 725-seat capacity, perfect for medium-sized recording acts.

Festival du Voyageur couldn't make money running the hall, and put the entire building up for sale in July. The new owners -- whoever they turn out to be -- aren't expected to hold concerts there, executive director René Dufault says. As well, some residents living nearby in Old St. Boniface are happy to be rid of the noise.

That means the search is on for a replacement for the venue music-industry types affectionately called "The Voo."

While there are dozens of underused big, old buildings in downtown Winnipeg and the surrounding inner city, renovating an abandoned structure is out of the question. The costs involved would make it impossible to turn a profit, since Le Rendez-Vous was only used a couple of nights a month, at best.

Instead, concert promoters must turn to a building that's already in use and up to code. They also need to work with owners willing to get involved in such a risky, headache-inducing and potentially nerve-wracking business.

If there was an obvious choice, Hot Hot Heat would have played there already. But the people at House of Blues Concerts Canada or ClearChannel Entertainment might want to investigate the following four venues as possible successors to Le Rendez-Vous.

I've ranked them according to suitability. If readers have better ideas, contact me at the phone number above or e-mail address below.

1. EMPIRE CABARET
Location: 436 Main St.
Capacity: 600
Pro: This downtown cabaret, located just a block off Portage & Main, has already been used for some shows (i.e. De La Soul, Shaggy, John Digweed). Owner Sabino Tummillo would like to see more. "If anyone's interested just tell them to call me," he says, noting the club's regular dress code is relaxed for special events.
Con: The sightlines in the long room aren't great and the sound system needs to be improved. As well, all-ages shows can be a problem in a building licensed as a cabaret.
Overall prospects: Good, but only for adult-oriented acts. It's hard to envision punk bands or heavy rock shows -- and their irreverent audiences -- in this beautifully restored heritage building.

2. SPORTSPLEX
Location: 55 Duncan St.
Capacity: 216 (!!)
Pro: The amateur hockey venue formerly known as the Duncan Arena was used for a couple of concerts, most memorably Gwar. It sits in a great location, just northwest of Alexander Docks, near the soon-to-be-developed Waterfront Drive.
Con: Despite boasting about 10,000 square feet of open space, Sportsplex's official capacity is only 216, which is way too low for concerts. More importantly, management has no desire to apply for an increase. "Our business is hockey, hockey and nothing but hockey, and we like it that way," says owner Scott Morton.
Overall prospects: Dismal, which is too bad. However, you have to wonder how the city came up with that 216 figure, especially since the main room in Le Rendez-Vous is only 8,943 square feet and has a legal capacity of 725.

3. GALAXY SKATELAND
Location: 595 Portage Ave.
Capacity: None. This 70-year-old roller rink is exempt from limits under a grandfather clause, providing it does not serve liquor, says manager Melanie Allen.
Pro: You can put about 1,000 people in here and the venue is open to the idea of holding concerts. "We've had a couple of hip-hop shows," Allen says, adding common sense prevails in the absence of a set capacity. "We only do events if the (promoter) is reliable."
Con: There's no liquor license, which means Skateland is the opposite of Empire, in that it can only hold all-agers. As well, the sound system and other technical considerations remain question marks.
Overall prospects: Unknown.

4. BURTON CUMMINGS THEATRE (main-floor level)
Location: 364 Smith St.
Capacity: About 900, ignoring the upper decks.
Pro: It's no more expensive to run a show at The Burt than it is at a smaller room. Even better, promoters would be dealing with a known commodity, well-experienced in the business of hosting concerts.
Con: You can't take the seats out of The Burt's main floor, which makes the place unsuitable for certain kinds of acts. As well, the overall capacity of 1,640 works against the place, as band managers and agents would rather see their clients sell out a smaller venue than headline a half-empty soft-seat theatre.
Overall prospects: Decent, as some acts (i.e. Hawksley Workman) have no alternative. "We're doing more shows with general admission seating on the main floor," says manager Wayne Jackson, "because that's what promoters want."

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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