Calgary live music scene suffers big loss as Blind Beggar closes

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Calgary live music scene suffers big loss as Blind Beggar closes
WATCH: New statistics from Restaurant Canada reveal between April 2021 and July 2022, there were nearly 460 closures in Alberta. The organization said they were in some way forced to shut down because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Jill Croteau reports, a staple in Calgary's live music scene is among the latest to shut down – Aug 16, 2022

The venue was integral to the live music scene in Calgary. For countless artists, the Blind Beggar Smokehouse was the essence of live music, an inclusive place where emerging talents got their first break.

Owners Patrick Ballard and Doug Dumelie said together, they created a dream.

Owners Patrick Ballard and Doug Dumelie. Jill Croteau/Global Calgary

As musicians themselves, they wanted a place where anyone could access live entertainment.

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“Our idea was my mom could come and feel comfortable and my welding buddy could come and he doesn’t need to have a fancy place. We wanted everyone to come,” Ballard said.

It was the place a lot of bands got their beginning.

Blind Beggar along MacLeod Trail SW. Jill Croteau/Global Calgary

“We wanted to make the stage killer,” Ballard said. “Even if you’re new, you don’t have to play in the back of a community hall — we have an actual stage raised up. We have thousands of dollars with lights and thousands of dollars with sound and smoke and make you feel like a rockstar.

But unfortunately, after almost 17 years, the venue was forced to shut its doors.

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The bar at the Blind Beggar Smokehouse. Jill Croteau/Global Calgary

“It’s an empty, soulless building without people — without musicians — and the whole makeup of what the Blind Beggar is,” Dumelie said.

READ MORE: Calgary’s Shamrock Hotel closes its doors

During on stretch of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Blind Beggar was closed for nearly nine months. Its owners worked relentlessly to rebound.

“We don’t give up — ever,” Dumelie said. “We fought and fought, but once restrictions were lifted, our sales weren’t there.

“We are down $1.5 million in the last two-and-a-half years in revenues and we don’t see coming out of this.”

Blind Beggar had capacity for 200 in the audience. Jill Croteau/Global Calgary

“When you get to the point where it’s on life-support and you’re just about to pull the plug, then you get a little hope and the government gave us a couple bucks,” Ballard said. “But when you get to the point you can’t pay your staff, you think, ‘OK, this is dead.’

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For musicians like Phil Dais and Libby Senff of Machine Gun Rabbit, they will miss performing there and said the loss in their community is immense.

“There’s a lot of talented artists in this town,” Dais said. “It’s getting harder and harder to find places to play live music.

“It was more of a venue than a bar. It was a place to see original acts.”

“It’s heartbreaking,” Senff said. “It was one of the best stages in Calgary. They had a light show and sound systems.

“They were incredibly supportive.”

Phil Dais, Steve McQueen and Libby Senff. Jill Croteau/Global Calgary

Steve McQueen and his band played on the stage over the years and said he is sad to see the Blind Beggar close.

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“What these guys brought was a chance to build an audience — but also a chance to entertain your audience,” McQueen said. “Their legacy should be how much of a great thing they provided.

“To hear you impacted people and some dreams were realized, it’s great, because someone celebrated what you celebrated,” Ballard said.

Wall inside Blind Beggar with all the artist’s signatures. Jill Croteau/Global Calgary

The owners hope their departure from the music scene wakes people up to the potential in Calgary.

“There’s not enough people watching,” Ballard said. “We call them watchers because they’re not fans yet. But it doesn’t feel like there’s enough people watching.

“I hope this creates an opportunity to showcase the fact there is so much talent out there and they need people to watch it.”

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READ MORE: Canadians use social media to shine light on live music industry left in dark by COVID-19

Restaurants Canada released new statistics revealing how many establishments didn’t survive the pandemic. There were 459 permanent restaurant closures in Alberta between April 2021 and July 2022.

There were 542 in British Columbia and 79 in Saskatchewan.

Tianna Goguen with Restaurants Canada said although the organization does not have confirmation these businesses necessarily closed due to COVID-19, it is likely.

“We do speculate that they were in some way forced to close due to the impact the pandemic had on the industry,” Goguen said.

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