Commodore legend Drew Burns dies in Vancouver

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      Vancouver entertainment legend Drew Burns has died.

      While there are no details beyond his passing suddenly Saturday in his apartment, the former Commodore owner’s Facebook page has been flooded with messages and tributes.

      Burns bought the Commodore in the fall of 1968 and then spent the next 28 years turning it into one of the world’s premiere concert venues. Bands that made their North American debuts at the Commodore included the Clash, U2, and the Police. Under Burns’s tenure, the room hosted such future legends as the Dead Kennedys, X, Talking Heads, Pantera, Ice Cube, Kiss, Joan Jett, and too many others to list here.

      But what the Commodore might have been best known for during his tenure was the person in charge of it. Burns, who put the Commodore licence up for sale in 1996 (the room is now run by Live Nation), was known as one of the nicest and most generous people on the Vancouver music scene.

      That’s reflected in Facebook postings such as the following from local blues musician Harpdog Brown: “Drew Burns... one of a kind! I am happy we got the chance to hang out a lot these past few years, you were always honest with me, you showed me a lot as well as shared a lot. I was fortunate to have debuted not once, but twice at The Commodore Ballroom, the first time under guise as Elweed Blues with the Wired band, and then as myself, Harpdog Brown. All I can say is praise in your name Drew, Thank you for all that you did for me, and everyone in the music community. Rest in Peace my good man!”

      Added Tony Pantages: “We loved you Burnsie! And we always will. You sir, were a class act. You were the real headliner. You made us all feel welcome with those sparkling eyes and that great voice and you brought the world to Vancouver....I salute you, pal. The legend will never die.”

      Former Straight managing editor Charles Campell got to know Burns well during the '80 and '90s. Of Burns's passing, Campbell said: "Drew Burns always had an open door. He saw the Commodore as a community resource that he had the good fortune to manage, and he would partner with almost anyone in their crazy idea to put on a show. When the Straight faced hard times, he was our friend. He helped those who needed it. He was the definition of a generous man. When he lost control of the Commodore he did not look back with regret. He was there before concerts became a corporate business, when things were simpler. He once told me that he was gratified that his 28 years at the Commodore "were the right 28 years." Drew knew what really mattered."

      D.O.A.'s Joe Keithley echoed that sentiment, noting that Burns booked underground punk rock acts when no one else in the city would. "He gave D.O.A. a chance to play when almost no else would," Keithley said. "He had a sense of adventure."

      Burns also had a great sense of humour. On Halloween in 1993, Shannon Hoon of the band Blind Melon caused a city-wide furore when he stripped naked at the Pacific Coliseum and then peed onto the crowd from the stage. That same night, David Yow of the Jesus Lizard spent much of his band's set at the Commodore completely naked, which attracted no media attention. 

      When reached by the Straight for a comment on Yow the next day, Burns quipped: “It was no big deal. Now coming onstage and peeing on someone is a horse of a different colour.”

      More details to come.

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      44 Comments

      Steve Newton

      Sep 29, 2014 at 11:13am

      Best. Promoter. Ever.

      Cranky Mom

      Sep 29, 2014 at 11:14am

      I cannot express how vital the Commodore has been to my life in Vancouver. Is has been my Larry's Hideaway, Lee's Palace, or Horseshoe Tavern replacement ever since I came here in 1992 from Toronto. RIP Drew Burns, and thank you.

      Dave Chesney

      Sep 29, 2014 at 1:27pm

      Drew was like surrogate father/mentor for a lot of us young bucks cutting our teeth on the rock n' roll music business in the 70's & 80's. A true class act that set the standard for all others that followed. Someone better book BC Place for the Celebration of Life. Not really, it has to be at the Commodore. The lineup will stretch for blocks.

      Fiona McQuarrie

      Sep 29, 2014 at 2:21pm

      So sad to hear this news. Drew was a wonderful man who did many good things for many people, in and outside of the music business. He will be very much missed.

      Pat Riccardi President P.R.Productions

      Sep 29, 2014 at 2:49pm

      Some of the great wild parties, were because of Drew. Clean and fun. I wonder who has all the old plates they use to serve food on at the one and only one great Dance Hall... the best french fries in the county.. The Commodore.

      Brigitte

      Sep 29, 2014 at 3:26pm

      My Dad Loved Drew...RIP Drew!

      John Leighton

      Sep 29, 2014 at 3:35pm

      Drew as the concert photographers friend, there was always a pass for me and I could leave my photo bag in his office while I photo graphed. I would leave and go back to my room at the Yale and develop the film and make a couple of the shots into 8x10s and go to the back door of the Commodore and give him the shots which he really liked. He occasionally would go to lunch with myself and Jim "T"
      who was the manager of the Yale, we became good friends and I will miss him.

      Brad Saltzberg

      Sep 29, 2014 at 3:48pm

      RIP to a local music legend and a very smart businessman, Mr. Drew Burns.

      Andre Tardif

      Sep 29, 2014 at 4:34pm

      My memories with Drew Burns go back to 1995 when I produced Virtual Fantasies in November. I have nothing but praise for Drew He was real and a very sincere businessman. I owe him a lot as the show was a career launcher and it was thanks to him. RIP to a legend.

      Keith Porteous

      Sep 29, 2014 at 4:54pm

      Drew was the best of a friend, and the very best of the independent spirit in show business. He always was interested in helping and he always did more than he had to for us. Drew, and the Drew Burns era of the Commodore will be remembered as the greatest live music legacy in Vancouver history.