It’s not like the Vancouver East Cultural Centre has been completely overlooked as a live-music venue since opening its doors in the '70s.
On the ancient-history front, in the '90s the iconic East Van performance space hosted acts ranging from Texas troubadour Jimmie Dale Gilmore to queercore agitators Tribe 8.
The 2000s saw occasional shows by like the likes of alt-folkie Hayden. More recently, this past January Vancouver music-scene vet Bruce Wilson chose the Cultch for the launching of his new Sunday Morning musical project. Highly respected local singer-songwriter Rodney DeCroo will play the room for his new album Old Tenement Man at the end of the month.
But there’s still a valid case to be made that the Cultch has been traditionally underutilized as a live-music room.
Meghan Robinson, the Cultch’s rental and sales manager, is now out to change that. This Sunday she’ll stage a four-band showcase called East Side Live, featuring Vancouver acts Louise Burns, Old Man Canyon, Leisure Club, and David Vertesi. Her hope is that will help get the word out that the Cultch is there for up-and-comers in the city's music scene.
“I started working at the Cultch about six months ago,” Robinson said in a phone interview, "and since then I’ve noticed that we have an older population that knows the Cultch as a staple in the community. However, for a younger generation, the Cultch is really not that well-known at all. I want to change that. I think it’s an incredible venue, and one thing that Vancouver really lacks is venues for music, especially for emerging artists.”
She's excited by a change in the Cultch’s liquor licensing that took place in January. Adults are now able to bring a drink into the theatre when minors are present. That means being able to have a beer at an all-ages show if you’re of legal drinking age, something that’s been allowed pretty much everywhere else in the civilized world since, well, forever. There are few other rooms in the city where that's possible.
Robinson says that she’s chosen to produce East Side Live herself, paying the band in the hopes that people will show up to support live original music.
“I’ve had a huge amount of support from a lot of emerging artists who are really excited about the idea and want to continue this as a series,” she says.
She notes that—despite all the interest—getting people to actually buy tickets for the show can be a challenge. But she hopes that East Side Live is the start of positioning the Cultch is as a viable live venue. That’s increasingly important at a time when many long-running rooms such as the Media Club and Funky Winkerbeans have moved away from booking bands.
Robinson hopes that East Side Live will encourage local acts and promoters to start considering the Cultch as an option for shows.
“I’d like bands to come to me to ask about renting out the theatre,” she says. “The dream would be to have East Side Live as a series to be able to support local bands. But I wouldn’t be able to do that for every band.”
She adds that she’s been looking at changing the rental rate for artists for the Cultch. The Historic Theatre part of the space—which holds 285 people—has typically rented out for $2,000. The room is usually booked for use 15 days of a 30-day period. Robinson wants to offer the space at $1,200 all-in, including technical support and front-of-house staff.
“Even if we aren’t getting the same rates that we were hoping to get, at least we’re getting people in the door and providing a community space,” she says. “And that’s the thing that the Cultch is really well-known for: for being a supporter of the community. We want to be a space where people are able to fulfill their dreams while doing things that are creative and beautiful.”
Tickets for East Side Live are $20 and can be found here.