July 14, 2020

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Pop-up music venue shows Times have Change(d)

Beer Can set to be city's first live entertainment space since pandemic struck

John Scoles is preparing to dip his toe, oh so tentatively, into the unknown waters of hosting live music during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beer Can, a pop-up beer-garden concept, is in the midst of transforming a vacant parking lot on Main Street near St. Mary Avenue, only a few strides south of Scoles' Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club, a venerable downtown honky-tonk. Scoles is advising the Beer Can group, headed by Brad Chute (one of the founders of Blank Canvas Beer Co.), and Scoles believes the space — and looser restrictions on public gatherings announced by the province — offers a chance for live music again.

Scoles says he will follow provincial pandemic regulations to show a small outdoor concert can be held safely once a week during the summer. The phrase "give it a try" — one rarely heard from brave entrepreneurs before COVID-19 — punctuates many of their plans.

John Scoles (left) and Brad Chute, Beer Can organizers, hope to generate just enough revenue to pay the acts and Scoles' staff.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

John Scoles (left) and Brad Chute, Beer Can organizers, hope to generate just enough revenue to pay the acts and Scoles' staff.

"There is a large enough space for 50 seated patrons. If there's interest for that size of a show, I'll give it a try," he says, adding there would still be room for a stage that would provide "proper spacing" for a band.

"The No. 1 thing is doing it correctly," he says. "We'd do things the way they're supposed to be, and work with the inspectors to give it a try."

Picnic tables have been quickly assembled and placed at the site, and a shipping container was trucked in and converted into a bar.

Scoles says he is working on booking some acts for the Beer Can, but no dates for the gigs have been scheduled yet.

The Beer Can — by organizers Scoles (from left), Jeremy Ritsema and Chute — will be a one-and-done proposition. Construction is expected to fill this lot by next year.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Beer Can — by organizers Scoles (from left), Jeremy Ritsema and Chute — will be a one-and-done proposition. Construction is expected to fill this lot by next year.

Whether or not Scoles' idea is a success, he warns it's a one-and-done opportunity. The space will be swallowed up by the redevelopment of the old Winnipeg Hotel building; construction delays caused by the pandemic were the only reason the Beer Can concept was possible, he says.

"This is a one-off, one summer only. They're trying to make this a temporary business that will run for four months," Scoles says. "I don't expect to make a penny from it. It's so the musicians and my staff get paid."

Winnipeg has gone almost three months without live music. On March 11, Wilco, the alternative rock group from Chicago, played the Centennial Concert Hall. The next day restrictions against public gatherings were launched across North America, including Winnipeg, forcing the cancellation of giant arena concerts, orchestra concerts and small club gigs to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The pandemic shutdown has affected clubs throughout the city, including Scoles' Times Change(d). He says its emotional effects may prove to be just as difficult to deal with.

 Ritsema (left) and Chute build the deck in the new live-music venue.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Ritsema (left) and Chute build the deck in the new live-music venue.

"I don't even understand how I feel," Scoles says, likening the past three months to stages of grief. "I've gone through a number of phases. It's like having a loved one in a coma, and you never know if they're going to come out of it."

Scoles has few, if any predictions about when indoor concerts will be allowed or if audiences will be comfortable being in close quarters with others. Whenever the city reaches the new normal of concert-going, he expects the new normal to be different.

"Reality is a shared agreement," he says. "When you change these agreements, you don't necessarily put them together the same way."

alan.small@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter:@AlanDSmall

Alan Small

Alan Small
Arts and Life Editor

Alan Small was named the editor of the Free Press Arts and Life section in January 2013 after almost 15 years at the paper in a variety of editing roles.

Read full biography

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