Nelson from the Nineties – Guest Blog by Ryan Martin

Christine Hunter, Shambhala’s Talent Manager here, I have been given the task of sharing news worthy material regarding talent related stories + our local scene for the month of March. The obvious story is the headliners, but you’ll have to wait for that one – soon to come.

This week I have chosen to highlight the people/companies/venues/bars who create and maintain our vibrant kick ass music scene here in Nelson. I reached out to promoters, bars/lounges and crews to get their story, and their input on why our scene is so hype.

Spirit Bar/Hume Hotel

Nelson from the Nineties

Submitted by Ryan Martin

When I turned 19 in 1993, I was so excited to finally work at the Boiler Room Nightclub which was located in the basement of the family-owned historic hotel, the Hume.  I was actually a cocktail waiter and soon snuck a few of my first ever bartending shifts down there.  The Boiler Room was one of two Top 40 bars in Nelson back in the mid 90’s, competing against the Twilight Zone located in the Savoy Hotel.

Shortly thereafter due to fledgling sales, ‘The Boiler’ was ready for a makeover and my father and brother created Taffy Jack’s Cabaret.  “Bar Extraordinaire” it said right on the awning.  It was seemingly a museum of turn-of-the-century photos and sports memorabilia from the area.  Much of the content was either donated by locals or dug up in our museum archives.  It was originally targeted at an older crowd with the plan to play classic rock to keep them happy. They would come really early, have a bunch of drinks and then they would go home early and we’d be closed by midnight.  No more headaches! …Right?

Within the first couple months of waiting for that crowd to come in, we aborted that mission. Cue the Basement Jaxx and Ace of Base!  We reverted back to our Top 40 roots and just like that we were back in business. This place became renown for drunken speaker-dancing and Trail-Castlegar-Nelson parking lot brawls.  By this time, I had taken on my new role as General Manager of the hotel.  Taffy’s was causing a lot of stress in my life.  I wasn’t proud of what it had become. You simply could not say the words ‘Taffy Jack’s’ without someone proclaiming how much they hated it there. While it had a good run for about 6 years, the vibe in Nelson was really shifting in a new direction.

An exciting underground music scene was emerging in the mid 90’s that could be found at the Twilight Zone’s successor, The Avalon, which morphed into The Fluid Lounge some time later. Talk to any local who were here at the time, and they’ll be sure to tell you about some of the groundbreaking shows that were brought there, and the crazy nights that ensued.  It was where some guy named Lorin made his Kootenay DJ’ing debut and where the likes of Adam Freeland and groups like Fishbone, Swollen Members and De La Soul truly left their mark. It was like the Studio 54 of the Kootenays, where a person could really escape the real world outside and get so lost in the music.  A presence of bar security was rarely felt which was one of the many reasons people deemed it sacred party land.

All the while Taffy Jacks slowly died, and the sounds of Brittany Spears and Shania Twain were mere echoes in an empty room. It clearly was not what Nelson wanted to hear or experience. Today, we may very well be one of the few cities in small-town in Canada that does not have a Top 40 bar at all.

With the sudden closing of Fluid in 2006, the opportunity to give the basement of the Hume Hotel a new life was there. Backed by a vote of confidence from local promoter and longtime friend DJ Hoola Hoop and his wife Sara Spicer (The Pride), a major renovation and rebranding project was underway.

We opted to avoid staying with a heritage theme like the rest of the hotel. It had to be stylish, modern and chic – something a younger clientele would appreciate and possibly something you would see in the big city.  I was always impressed with Ginger 62 in Vancouver.  Very simple, but a timeless design that paid homage to vintage characters from our past. A bit of the old with the new. After Googling ‘who designed Ginger 62?’ I had a woman from a Calgary design firm on a plane by the end of the week, Doris Martin. She was armed only with a clipboard and tape-measure.  She embraced the project.

During construction, the Nelson Paranormal League had produced a documentary called ‘Haunt at the Hume’ in time for Halloween. Using electromagnetic radiation detectors and a famous local psychic, they revealed that the most ‘paranormal’ part of the hotel was detected in the basement.  That concept just sounds so cool. Who else can say that? This room is the foundation of a century old hotel. It just has so many stories to tell. It was then that we discovered a theme. A theme based on a more intrinsic heritage, the spirit of the hotel.

Famous deceased musicians adorned the walls and the open design was efficient not only for customers but for bartenders as well.  Then on April 17th, 2007 the doors finally opened to a new era of nighttime entertainment in Nelson.  Say hello to the Spiritbar. The Freestylers played to a packed, sold-out crowd at the grand opening and to this day marks one of the highest grossing sales in its four-year history. We have been proud to host local paranormal activity down there every weekend since!

Since opening the doors, we have aimed to be progressive, to be continually evolving and improving the experience through sound and light. We really try to listen to what the community is saying. In this day and age in the hospitality industry, you have to do your best to cater to everyone. We hope that with each schedule we post, that there is one show that stands out for you – the DJ that is making big waves in the world of dubstep, or maybe it’s the local metal band, or the legendary hip hop icon that brings you back to your youth, when you used to hang out at the Twin Trees in Gyro Park, sitting around a circular pit drinking Rockaberry Cooler with your friends.

Nelson has very savvy music tastes. The locals have proven time and time again that they are willing to pay for top quality acts, both on the electronica side and the live music scene.   I think you would be hard pressed to find another community in Canada with a population of 10,000 that attracts such a high caliber of music. While we are geographically located between Calgary and Vancouver, we aren’t conveniently located between them. It can be a tough community to reach, but ultimately, that is what makes it so special.

When these artists check into the hotel, you can tell they sometimes have low expectations about this latest pit stop. We spoil them. One of the most rewarding things about my job is seeing them instantly impressed with not only the hotel and the staff, but also the community and the crowd. The vibe. The intangible things you can’t put into a contract or even put into words. They love playing here. They keep coming back even if it is a tough white-knuckled winter drive through sleet and snow.

After two back-to-back February 2011 performances by sax legend Maceo Parker, his manager, Natasha Maddison, could not believe that he actually played for 3 hours and 15 minutes straight without taking a break, at 68 years old. “There was a magic in the room”, she said, “He could just feel it.”

Nelson’s music scene has never been more vibrant.  We need to really thank everyone who comes and supports the nightlife not only at the Hume but all of Nelson. We owe a lot of gratitude to the great work that was done by past operators of The Avalon and Fluid. You guys set the tone and we have tried to pick up where you left off.  We learned so much by watching you and your success in tapping into the heartbeat of the Koots.  We owe a lot of praise to the Shambhala Music Festival. I have said that we ride their coat tails all year long with so much of what we do in Spiritbar. We have forged a solid relationship with them and from one family business to another, looking forward to more of the same.  We’ve built solid partnerships with our local promoters like Dave Geddes at Bassbiznis Productions, Byron Whitlaw at AreaOne Events and of course, Mike and Sara from The Pride…the true pioneers and first promoters of Nelson’s music scene.


Twitter: @spiritbar


About Shambhala Music Festival

It's all about the people on the dancefloor.
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