This Saturday, the Red Garnet celebrates its first anniversary. Probably the smallest venue in town, and in a location on Hunter Street that was becoming notorious for failed attempts at bars (Rusty Snail, Ossia), the Red Garnet has actually become one of the best little venues for live music in town, and not a bad place to go and hang out, either. I sat down with the venue’s co-owners, Tammy Lin Foreman and Blair Watson, to talk a bit about the past year, their vision for the venue, and about Saturday’s festivities.
The first thing I thought when I sat down for a chat with the owners of the Red Garnet on the venue’s covered back patio on a nice warm day last week, is that I want them to succeed. They are warm, passionate, and legitimately excited about what they do. They’re also fascinating people. Blair Watson, primarily trained as a carpenter, has a fierce political mind, and told me he left Trent in third year because wasn’t “skilled enough at regurgitation.” And Tammy Lin Foreman is a artist, a mother, and a singer-songwriter, responsible for a series of 49 (!) experimental music videos called “Instant Videos,” which you can check out on YouTube.
This just makes it harder to think how the odds are stacked against this little venue. Some older Peterborians may have fond memories of the location as the Orpheus Music Room, one of Peterborough’s premier music shops for about fifty years (and if you don’t, the Garnet will be presenting a live soap opera about it later this summer). But most of us remember it as an empty storefront, and a series of failed businessness (barber shop, dry cleaners, The Rusty Snail, Ossia…). It also doesn’t help that the venue is one of Peterborough’s newest music venues, and one of its smallest.
And then there’s the fact it’s a hippie cafe, which brings with it a whole other set of stigmas. Blair described to me seeing people walk by the bar, afraid to go in, thinking the place might be… (gasp!) a gay bar. And many of us have had less-than-stellar experiences with hippie venues, like the long-deceased Grassroots Cafe, where you felt like you were greatly inconveniencing the staff by taking them away from their important work saving the world, by trying to order a sandwich.
In reality, though, the Garnet is the furthest thing from that exclusionary stereotype. They proudly state that they are queer positive, but they’re also positive about pretty much everyone else too. Tammy and Blair speak with pride about people who don’t fit in anywhere, coming to the Garnet and finding they fit. In describing her vision for the bar, Tammy describes working at a bar in Bancroft that was one of the primary inspirations for the Garnet: “There were lots of people around, having interesting conversations. There was great music, great art, and exposure to things that, in a small town, I wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to. It was a really accepting place.”
This welcoming spirit also extends to the near-nightly live music, which includes a remarkable variety of acts. In addition to Karaoke Mondays with Kate LeDeuce and Sunday’s Blues In A Bottle with Dave Tough (an event that, remarkably, is mostly frequented by families with kids), the Garnet hosts a group of musicians at least as varied as The Spill; including everything from indie rock to folk acts to near-weekly hardcore nights to intriguing acts that don’t really fit in any specific genre (see our review of The Uniquet Dead, who played there a little while ago). They also make a special effort to book local acts. Michael Duguay did a residency there a little while ago, Sean Conway currently has a regular Wednesday gig, and Grainne Ryan will be hosting an upcoming series of female singer-songwriter nights.
Indeed, the acts the Garnet is attracting seem to be getting progressively better, and Tammy thinks it may actually be because the venue is so small. “When you come to see a show, it is really intimate. It’s a bit of a breath of fresh air, especially for touring acts. They don’t have to come in and put their persona on. They can come in, take a deep breath, and just play music.” Shows at the Garnet do feel intimate, personal, like you’re hanging out with some friends and one of them has just happened to pull out a guitar. Really, it would hard for a performer to avoid that kind of interaction with the audience, when most of them are within 10 feet of the stage.
But basically, what makes the Garnet different from places that have come before are the owners. Sure, Blair will tell you about Trent University’s “fascistic superbuild agenda,” but he’ll also tell you that, if you’re opening a small business, you need to be sure to get a good accountant. When I interviewed Michael Duguay a little while ago, he said he liked playing the Garnet, because the environment is friendly and the owners are accountable, and I’ve heard the same from several other performers. The Garnet is totally 100% a hippie bar, but it’s a hippie bar made by hippies who have both a unique, personal vision for what they want the place to be, and the know-how to make it work
And ultimately, as Blair told me, “We tend to operate to the beat of our own drum. Some people may like that rhythm, some people may not. If you like it, come and enjoy it, and if you don’t, there’s lots of places around that will cater to you.” Or, there’s Tammy, who smiled and put it a bit more simply: “People seem to feel really comfortable here, really relaxed… except for those who don’t, and then they leave.”
The First Anniversary Show
This Saturday, June 2nd, the Red Garnet celebrates surviving (and, it would seem, prospering) for one year. Festivities start at 1pm, and go until close. There will be barbeque, free snacks, booze, and a hell of a lot of music.
During the day, there will be a full line-up of singer-songwriters, including:
- Mercy Steelwood (Reverbnation, Facebook)
- Sean Conway, of Sean and the Shiners (Myspace, Facebook)
- Michael Duguay (CBC, Facebook)
- Graeme Kennedy, of Birthday Boys (official site, Facebook)
- Dave Tough (Bandcamp, Myspace)
- Nigel Kane
- Peter Vance
- Dan Fewings (check out our review of a show by Fewings and a few others at The Spill)
As we head into the evening (post-10pm), things get a little hardcore, but still mostly local, with:
- TV Casualties (Facebook)
- Twitchy T Tantrum (Facebook), of Hobo Banditos (official site), in his first solo show
- Chachi On Acid (official site, Facebook)
- Meat Wig (Myspace)
Photos by Scott Dancey.