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Calgary's Sonic Boom

Thanks to some rocking venues and a new band of indie musicians, the Alberta city is hitting a high note.

Scott Ross and Dan Vacon of Calgary band the Dudes.Take two: Scott Ross (left) and Dan Vacon (right) of Calgary band the Dudes.

Where everybody knows your name

Dan Vacon’s ironic T-shirt reads, “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble,” but the lead singer of beloved Calgary band the Dudes is as low-key as it gets. The line is from a Mac Davis song and a nod to the local country music scene that the Dudes grew up around. No wonder these guys make dude rock, pure and simple – gut-wrenchingly guitared, melodiously sung toe tappers. Drummer Scott Ross tends bar at the Drum and Monkey/Bamboo Tiki Room, a friendly watering hole that’s divided into two halves: the former, a brightly lit pub with big windows looking onto 12th Avenue; the latter, a dark space whose main focus is the stage. “Drum and Monkey is kind of like our Cheers, where you know everyone and they’re all going to give you a high-five,” explains Vacon. “The stage is only big enough for the drummer, so the musicians are all right out on the floor with the audience – totally in your face. It really takes down that fourth wall.”

1201 1st St. S.W., 403-261-6674,


A British pub on steroids

The Ship & Anchor is a neighbourhood hangout spread over three storefronts on hopping 17th Avenue that’s so popular, you’ll have to haggle your way in during shows. Tonight is no exception, thanks to the front man of Mr. Free and the Satellite Freakout! – a mad mix of Salvador Dalí and a scruffier version of Dave Navarro – who is running, jumping and writhing around while belting out songs. “Novelty is the price of admission in Calgary,” says Terry Rock, president and CEO of Calgary Arts Development. His organization supports countless local events and was instrumental in the campaign to make Calgary this year’s Cultural Capital of Canada. “There’s so much new talent here that artists have to constantly keep things fresh,” explains Rock.

534 17th Ave. S.W., 403-245-3333,


Festival city

Never have the words “I hate everyone and absolutely everything” been sung so sweetly. The tunefully dark duo Ghost Factory is onstage at Broken City, a moody show bar decorated with red pleather banquettes and rickety chandeliers from which someone will no doubt later be swinging as the lineup stretches into the wee hours. In the bustling swarm is Lindsay Shedden, a band booker for the bar and the director of the increasingly famous Sled Island Music and Arts Festival -– an annual celebration of all things cool and musically weird that’s become a reason in itself to visit the city every June. The festival takes over two dozen stages downtown, and Broken City is one of its main venues. “Calgary has the most altruistic scene I’ve ever been a part of,” says Shedden. “It’s like the hugest rock ’n’ roll group hug.”

613 11th Ave. S.W., 403-262-9976,


(Lindsay: Dress: Clover Canyon; Necklace and Ring: Pamela Love (all from Primitive Culture); Boots: Vic Matie (from Gravity Pope). Spencer: Jacket: Bespoken (from Leo); Jeans: A.P.C. (from Understudy); Shoes: Paul Smith (from Gravity Pope). Camie: Jacket and Tunic: Yoek; Ring: Alex Fraga (all from Toni +). Stylist: Lindsay Sutton; Makeup: Alicja Wilkosz.)Left to right: Scott Ross, Dan Vacon, Lindsay Shedden, Fred Konopaki, Spencer Brown and Camie Leard - a.k.a. the movers and shakers behind Calgary’s happening music community - dance to their own beat.

The next-gen venue

When communications manager Camie Leard isn’t busy lending her mellifluous voice to R&B classics at clubs around town, she can be found at the Cantos Music Foundation. The cultural centre is a go-to performance space during the festivals, like when the organization set up a satellite site during the Calgary Folk Music Festival. As Leard describes it, “There was a band playing. Then some random guy walks by carrying a trumpet and, suddenly, he’s joined in. Jamming is big here.” In 2015, Cantos is set to inaugurate the National Music Centre, which will be built around the historic King Edward Hotel and house the most important instrument bank in the country, along with a 350-seat performance hall and recording studios. “It’ll be all about the acoustics,” says Leard.

134 11th Ave. S.E., 403-543-5115,


The Palomino show bar The Palomino show bar is in tune with the city’s music fans.

The rock dungeon

Fred Konopaki started his career in restaurants by buying a Subway franchise in 1990 that quickly became known as Calgary’s Punk Rock Subway. “I had skaters and music guys working for me, so we’d play the Replacements and crazy stuff on the stereo all day long,” he says. Seven years ago, Konopaki opened the Palomino, a Texan-style smokehouse with soaring ceilings, wood everything and a melt-your-heart pulled pork that’s so good, they go through 120 kilos a night. But that’s only part of what keeps patrons coming back. “This is Canada’s best rock dungeon,” boasts Spencer Brown, the Palomino’s band booker, as he descends the stairs from the dining hall to a show bar, where you can catch live music from all over the country three to four nights a week. “The suits love our food too, so we’ve got corporate Calgary supporting local music,” adds Konopaki.

109 7th Ave. S.W., 403-532-1911,


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Travel Essentials

Calgary Travel Essentials

01 Hôtel Le Germain Calgary is a chic home away from home for those who like their spaces polished. Don’t miss the complimentary continental brunch, featuring buttery mini-croissants, perfect for restoring your strength after a night on the town.

02 For the juiciest burger in town, post-show diners should look out for the Charcut food truck – but get there early: lineups can hit 200 people.
Check Twitter @AlleyBurger  
Photo: Todd Korol

03 For the impatient, there’s always the hot dog emporium Tubby Dog, where you can order the famous Cap’ns Dog, a frank slathered with peanut butter, jam and Cap’n Crunch cereal.

Hotel Arts

In addition to giving special deals to travelling musicians, Hotel Arts has been known to let guests turn their room into a recording studio, thanks to Fraser Abbott (director of development and serious bagpipe player) and Frank Torrealba (bellman and Crystal Kid band member). We exhibited a different kind of rock ’n’ roll behaviour: sleeping in till 10 a.m. on our suite’s cloudlike bed.

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Flight planner to Calgary
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