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.