Chris Walter is one of many Vancouver punks expressing his dismay online about Funky Winker Beans’ decision to cease putting on live shows.
"I acknowledge that rock isn't the draw it once was," he writes on Facebook, "and that Granville Street on Friday night proves that kids would rather listen to some dumb shit playing his iPod than support live music, but I hope Wendy can find another venue to keep this town rocking."
Chris is talking about Funky's booker wendythirteen, who is not a party to the decision to shut'er down. Walter’s book launch for Randy Rampage’s memoir, I Survived DOA—which Walter co-authored and is publishing—was originally scheduled for November 11, at Funky’s. It’s one of more than a dozen shows that has had to be moved, and is now happening at Pat’s Pub.
Still, Wendy has announced that it's official: barring the occasional “pay to play” scenario—which she appears to want no part of—the last live music show at Funky Winker Beans will be Legion of Goons, on November 5.
Under the circumstances, Wendy is pretty civil about the owners' decision.
“I don’t blame them,” she tells the Straight, on the phone from East Van. “They’ve been holding our ass up for a while now, given how finicky Vancouver turnouts have been. There are so many venues and promoters with their hands in a similar pie, genre-wise, that I’m always going up against two or three shows, every night. It really spreads the crowds out. And we’re not the only venue dealing with this; we’re just the one packin’ it in first, y’know?”
Part of understanding stems from her time on the other side of the fence, when she ran the Cobalt—the heartbreaking history of which is documented in the film No Fun City.
“I’ve been left holding the bag, when I ran the Cobes," Wendy says, "and you had to pay for everything: all the staff, the taxes, the licenses, rent, utilities, cleaners, toilet paper, lightbulbs, and sound infrastructure, y’know? It’s costly. It’s a thousand dollars to rent a bare bones PA—two speakers on stands—for a month!"
Plus, as she puts it, “local stuff just doesn’t draw anymore.” Unless you’re a “super popular band who only plays every six months,” there is a fair chance the show will lose money.
“I don’t know if anyone doesn’t have any friends anymore, or what’s going on," she says. "Generations come and go—you’ve got these former little punks who are hipsters now. And I don’t know what millenials are into these days."
I can't speak for others, but my own excuse for not having gone to a show at Funkys since December 2014—when I caught the Wett Stilettos and Death Sentence—is that I now live in Burnaby; to catch the last Skytrain home means leaving in the middle of the headliner’s set, while staying to finish the night means being on a packed drunk bus up Main Street, replete with barfing, fighting, and obnoxious fellow passengers.
The cost of renting in Vancouver will inevitably mean more people relocating to the suburbs, thinning out crowds even further. Wendy is pretty understanding about that, too.
"It's hard!" she says. "It seems like the only surefire way to get a packed house is to book twenty bands in a night, because at least you’re guaranteed a crowd of a hundred—even if most of them are in the bands or on the guestlist, at least they’re drinking. The last couple of years have seen a lot of that: six bands on the bill. Ten bands, twenty bands. It’s great for the audience, because there’s already a built-in-buffer of it lookin’ like a happening event, right? But production-wise, it’s not making the money to keep the venues alive.”
So what will wendythirteen do next?
“I have a million plansies,” she says, with a little sigh, “but my desire to immerse myself in a booze-soaked atmosphere is low, these days; I’ve been sober almost three years. I don’t know, the way things are, and with how difficult it is, it’s like pulling teeth trying to get people out. It doesn’t matter how many posters you put up. We had ads in papers, we did online promo, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… The ads that had the most responses had the weakest turnouts! So I don’t know know what the answer is these days.”
The good news is that Wendy has tentatively started a Facebook Thrashers page, for those who want to follow whatever her next endeavor will be. It is hard to imagine a Vancouver punk scene without her, and we wish her well in her search for a venue.
The bad news is that, she admits to the Straight, she has contemplated retirement—and if that should come to pass, who, really, could blame her?
A full list of gig re-locations and cancellations can be found on booker wendythirteen’s Facebook page.