Dive bar showcases eclectic musical performers

A steep flight of stairs greets you as you enter the musky bar. As you approach the bottom, you will encounter an assortment of personalities mingling and indulging in seemingly never-ending draft beers. The tavern’s notorious cymbal wall, covered in dull, broken metal, draws your attention as you find a place at the crowded bar in anticipation for the show.

Vern’s Tavern resides among an array of high-end restaurants and businesses on 8th Ave. S.W. The not-so trendy, dimly-lit local secret houses a breadth of musical talent and a loyal cliental.

Clint Pike, the tavern’s owner, says that presenting an eclectic mix of musical performers is his way of establishing diversity within the Calgary music scene.

Variety of Music Styles

A wide-variety of entertainment has been hosted at Vern’s. The business has moved several times over its 20-year history, but seems to have finally settled in after six years at the current location. Diverse performances have included a burlesque number, and a horror-inspired death-metal concert. The unpredictability of any given show gives the bar a line up catered to no one genre of music.

Keith Morrison (left) and Jim Martin playing at Vern’s Tavern prior to headlining act Black Earth on Saturday Sept. 22.

Photo by Haley Anderson
“The people often create their own totally different atmosphere,” Pike says. “Because it’s live arts, it’s hard to predict what any one live event is going to be like.”

“You could come in here and do spoken word sometimes and there’d be candles on the tables, then be in here the next night and there might be some goat heads hanging from the ceiling,” Pike adds. “The atmosphere can change from night to night depending on who’s playing, and who’s here.”

Vern’s is known for its open-minded music selection, or lack there of. First-timers and seasoned veterans alike are welcome to play, as long as they are willing to help out the operation when they aren’t performing. Notorious for assuming his role as the doorman, bartender and soundman at every performance, Pike is no exception.

“It’s like a low budget movie,” Pike says. “Everyone here has to over lap, the bands often watch their own door. The first band will help the second band get their drums set up so we can have three or four bands play comfortably,”

Who Comes to Verns?

Clennon Aranha is among many young adults to frequent the underground music scene and good company at Vern’s Tavern.

“Vern’s is one of my favorite spots to go to downtown,” Aranha says, “It’s low-light atmosphere, fair-priced drinks and Clint, along with the rest of the staff, are so hospitable and welcoming.”

Vern’s Tavern owner Clint Pike setting up audio equipment

Photo illustration by Haley Anderson
Having also played at the venue with his band Sub-Atomic Chaos, Aranha describes the bar as a good way to network with other musicians, collaborate and be exposed to a variety of musical talents.

“One of my first bar shows was here at Vern’s,” Aranha says. “I’ve spent so many days just coming here, having a beer and finding all of the best bands. From there we’ve met up with other bands and toured together.”

He considers himself a supporter of Vern’s Tavern, and the abundance of local musicians that have taken prominence in the Calgary music scene as a result of a performance at Vern’s.

Among said musicians are the members of Jenny, a Calgary punk-folk band, who found their humble beginnings at Vern’s.

“Clint was like our hockey coach, as we began as a novice band,” says Sean Hamilton, the lead singer of Jenny. “He is tough, but has a good heart and a good ear.”

Hamilton has played at a number of Calgary venues; however, he describes Pike’s valuable input to be what sets Vern’s apart from other live music venues.

“Vern’s is the hub of Calgary’s young musical community,” notes Hamilton, “fostering the next generation of whomever the scene becomes.”

Upcoming shows at Vern’s – Rebuild/Repair on Nov. 7.

Haley Anderson
handerson@cjournal.ca