It's 10 p.m. in a secluded hallway in the Epcor Centre. In an hour, the Consonant C will perform an epic collaborative set with local act the Summerlad under the stellar name The Concubines of the Cosmos. This performance, at the High Performance Rodeo Grandstand Concert, will feature the two bands wearing Christmas lights and painter's suits. The hipsters' minds will be blown. Right now, though, the band stands around in a circle joking around with one another and trying to explain the almost absurd-seeming proposition of having a pop band in cowboy hat capital of Canada.
"People have this impression of Calgary as a really square cowboy town," laughs harp-playing, mouth-trumpeting Jennifer Crighton. "So people are working even harder to prove 'hey, we're not like that!' That's what the [High Performance] Rodeo is about: we're going to prove we've got all this crazy stuff going on and put it in your face."
Thank goodness for that. The common thought for people not well-versed in the arcane intricacies of the Calgary musical scene is to just throw their hands up and say that it's dominated by three-chord pop-punk and long-haired ultra-metalheads. But when you mine the clubs and bars along 10th, 11th, and 17th Avenues downtown, there's a deeper community hidden underneath the stereotypical steer-wrasslin', country-loving, Pilsner-drinkin' veneer.
"It's really awesome; people put a lot of heart into it," explains Laura Leif, one of the earliest members of the Consonant C. "Calgary is a pretty tough place to be an artist--especially an emerging artist. It's so spread out. There are these little pockets of really awesome things happening, but it's hard to find each other. Maybe it's because there are all these wicked people here that really care."
One of the most important facets of the deeper musical community in Calgary is something that the Consonant C are intimately involved in: the Summerwood Warren Collective. With monthly shows at Emmedia mixing equal parts art and music, as well as events like the High Performance Rodeo Grandstand event, there's a real sense of togetherness behind the amorphous "scene" concept--quite a socialist move in such a supposedly Ã¼ber-capitalist city.
"So many musicians in the community aren't just playing shows and trying to get their name out there," explains Leif. "Instead, they're trying to build up a community and make it better for anyone making music in Calgary. It isn't just to advance themselves."
Just because they're so involved in the local music scene, doesn't mean the band isn't afraid to explore new places--like the U.S. During the summer, the band was finally able to hit the road in their (mom's) minivan and bring music to the west coast. But before being able to even go on the trip, the band needed some funds, which led to playing some more "unusual" shows--like rocking Bermuda Shorts Day.
Yes, a pop band with a ukulele and glockenspiel played BSD. A laugh ripples through the group as they recall the show.
"We got paid for that and right before touring you need to get paid for shows," laughs Clea Foofat, glockenspielist. "It wasn't a complete write-off for us."
"It was a beautiful day and it was really warm outside," adds Mark Connolly, one of the talented multi-instrumentalists in the group. "No matter what the circumstance, when we're on stage, we're trying to connect with people and be genuine about it."
The tour, a 28-day jaunt through the west coast, enabled the group to feel more like a "real" group. Of course, being a group of independent artists from Calgary, it wasn't exactly what someone would consider the most glamorous methods of touring.
"We went on tour to California this summer," says Foofat. "It was the six of us, including [band videographer] Duncan [Kenworthy] in my parent's minivan with our entire gear. The PA, the bass, the guitars, the drums, the glockenspiel--"
"It was very squished," interjects Crighton, laughing. "It made us take ourselves more seriously. We'd taken ourselves seriously before, but the tour was a 'this is it' kind of moment for us."
Because the band isn't the latest chart-busting musical zeitgeist of the century, the shows were often in untraditional venues. Even though it's not the orthodox rawk-star life, the Consonant C managed to do something that every band wants to do: be able to eat, and play their music for audiences--no matter their age.
"We mostly played house shows and parks," explains Leif.
"We even played an old folks home for a meal," says Foofat. "That was such a good decision."
The group obviously loves playing together. Jokes are tossed around light-heartedly and everyone smiles. There are no grim faces on-stage at their shows. Just like the music, the band manages to keep it fun for the audience even when singing about death and doom. That energy comes from something that's emblematic of the Calgary community.
"There's so much love within the band. It's hard being in a band, but we love each other so much," says Foofat. "It's a privilege to get together and make music. We get to make this sound and feeling and then get to pass it on to people who watch us."
Bassist Danny Vascerelli walks over to Jamie Fooks and the other members of Jane Vain and the Dark Matter, who've just entered from a +15 walkway, and chats with the band. It's at this point that it becomes very evident--in a bustling and booming city derided for suburban sprawl and a fractioning sense of community, there's something bubbling up in the small venues and local clubs: a group of people who genuinely like each other and care about each other--and the music they make.
The Consonant C play a show Thu., Jan. 24 at the Jane Vain and the Dark Matter release party at Broken City. Their LP, Capes and Crowns, is also available in your local record emporium.