LivingArts: Nowhere Is The Dreamer Or the Misfit So Alone

Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order
An insulated border
In-between the bright lights
And the far, unlit unknown

 - from Subdivisions by N. Peart


As you drive past the Hwy 6 exit on your way into Hamilton via the 403, you’ll see a sign telling you that there are 520,000 people who live in Hamilton (including Dundas, Ancaster, Glanbrook, Stoney Creek, Flamborough and all other nooks and/or crannies surrounding the Head of the Lake.)

520,000 people.  That’s a lot of people. When Supercrawl happens, we end up seeing a tenth of those people crawling on top of each other on James Street (unless it’s raining). The Ti-Cats ram 24,000 people into Tim Horton’s Field, just 4.6% of the city’s population.  Half of those people race to Cannon Street after each game to try to catch the first wave of cabs (2.3%).

If you add the population of Burlington, Aldershot, Waterdown, Brantford, Beamsville, Caledonia and so on, we are closing in on over 800,000 people in the area within 30 minutes of downtown Hamilton, traffic permitting.

As an artist, if you could get even just 1% of those people to come to a show, you could sell out the Great Hall at Hamilton Place four nights in a row. If 5% of that 800,000 were to buy one of your records, you’d be certified GOLD.

I often daydream about these numbers and think, ‘why do we tour this dangerous country when we have so many people surrounding us?’

It’s a good question. Why do I have to drive to Saskatoon to play to 100 people and make barely enough cash to cover gas, risk my life scanning the highway for moose and deer and then drive 14 hours to the next gig? Why don’t we just play in Stoney Creek, then Binbrook, then Beamsville, then St. Catharines, then finish it off with a beautiful late-autumn Riesling at Niagara-On-The-Lake?

Well, for starters, you need to have some sense that people are going to come out to your show, before you blindly book in Beamsville. What’s more, there are costs associated with hosting, booking and promoting a concert and most people aren’t really interested in getting into that business. You usually put in a lot of effort and get nothing in return (aside from recognition from the artist that you’re doing a good thing). 

There are occasionally some young and eager promoters who want to bring their favourite artists to their small town, but as soon as those kids grow up and can leave their parents’ house, they gravitate to the middle. They find their way downtown, nestled in the smoggy comfort of tall buildings, public transit and venue density. 

I’ve been the beneficiary of a number of young, eager promoters who brought me to their small town to perform. Some of those shows have been amazing, but no pay. 

They tend to be rather exclusive house shows with 15 to 20 friends who do their best to chip in, so maybe $50 - $100. After gas, you’re looking at around $15 each for a quartet. 

I’ve noticed, too, that local pubs do not like to host original music, either. Yes, you can head down to the Coach and Lantern and catch a set by Judy Marsales; or head on over to the Whistling Walrus to take in a set of Doobie Brothers covers. Of course you can go to the Powerhouse in Stoney Creek and take in the Mcflys (which I just may do, given the name).

Those venues are the musical hubs for Ancaster, Hamilton Mountain and Stoney Creek and none of them host original music. They might host a Blues artist on exception, because Blues lovers and fans of the Mcflys have a greater crossover than, say, the Constantines.

If you want original music, you’ve got to go downtown. Even if you Google “live music Stoney Creek” or “live music Ancaster," the first few results are venues located downtown.

Last time I checked, people who live in Ancaster don’t really like driving downtown to catch a show at This Ain’t Hollywood. Same is true for Hamilton Mountain and Stoney Creek. It’s like forcing your audience to commute to your show.

If you are Kanye, the audience will come to you wherever you are, but if you are playing to small venues, you need to come to them. There isn’t anywhere to play, so you don’t bother. 

Meanwhile, we are sitting on 800,000 people who probably like music and may even REALLY like what you’re doing. If you could just connect with a small portion of these people, you might be able to skip that drive from Wawa to Thunder Bay and stay local. You might build a solid base and push the limits out to London, Guelph, or even Buffalo.

There are over 12 million people in Southern Ontario. Imagine the possibilities….