Musicians and clubs quick to help their fellow Albertans through fundraising and donations

In the wake of tragedy, Alberta can at least celebrate the spirit of camaraderie fostered as the province comes together to support those affected by the Fort McMurray wildfires.

Many Calgarians have taken it upon themselves to offer assistance in any way they can, and the local music community is no exception. From fundraising concerts to supply drops and emotional support, local musicians, venue owners and fans have been stepping up to the plate for their fellow northern Albertans.

 “It’s real human lives on the line, and a lot of them have lost everything,” said BJ Downey, talent buyer for Dickens’ Pub and host of Rockin 4’ Dollars. “I know if I was down like that, I’d appreciate the help, and Calgary has been in that situation. We’ve had to come together to help each other out, we’re well aware of how that feels and what it means to step up.”

BJ Downey, seen here playing with his band The Hockey Fight, hosts a weekly event at Broken City called Rockin’ 4 Dollars, where local artists compete for cash prizes. In the wake of the Fort McMurray wildfires, however, Downey has opted to turn the event into a two-night fundraiser on May 17 and 18 at Broken City. Photo by Courtney BlackDowney is organizing two Rockin’ 4 Fort McMurray concerts at Broken City on May 17 and 18, with 21 bands taking the stage and all proceeds from ticket sales being donated to the Alberta Red Cross. In addition, 10 per cent of bar sales will be turned into donations, and Big Rock Brewery has offered to donate a portion of its sales from several venues around Calgary, including Broken City and the Blind Beggar Pub.

Downey says there was an immediate, overwhelming response to his call for support for the fundraising concerts.

“Literally every day I shake my head and am in awe of the local music community,” he said. “Calgary just does it right. Within 10 hours of posting the event we had over 50 bands volunteering their time for the show. Of course you can’t get them all on the bill, but it’s huge, literally within the first 10 hours.”

Dawn Borowski, promotions coordinator for the TLB Group and co-owner of Thrive Music YYC, is helping to organize the Calgary Bands for Fort Mac benefit concert on May 15 at the King’s Head pub. She says the outpouring of support from across the music community has made it possible to organize these huge fundraising events on extremely short notice.

“The fact, that we’ve had such an overwhelming response from all the different people within the community that are all coming together for this one event is absolutely incredible!

It takes all kinds of support to organize a benefit concert, and Dawn Borowski, promotions coordinator for the TLB Group and co-owner of Thrive Music YYC, has been working hard to ensure everything is ready for the Calgary Bands for Fort Mac fundraiser on May 15. Photo Courtesy of Dawn Borowski“We have people volunteering, Axe Music is donating the whole backline so the bands have the equipment to do this, the King’s Head is donating their space and will be offering meal deals all day long,” she said. “It’s just so heartwarming to have this kind of support and to be able to help in this way.”

Besides donating ticket proceeds from the event, there will be a live auction and donations from all band merchandise sold throughout the day. Calgary Bands for Fort Mac will see 29 bands playing an extremely full day of music, with doors opening at 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 15, and staying open to 1 a.m. Monday morning.

Mark Russell, whose band Citizen Rage is set to perform at the fundraiser, said, “I think this is something where all of Calgary’s music scene can come together. Musicians don’t have a lot of money, and the best way we know to help out is to band together and use our music, get people into a show and get donations for a good cause.”

Russell is a co-owner of local music venue Distortion, which has become a drop-off point for supplies donated to those affected by the fires around Fort McMurray. Much like Downey and Borowski, he says his call for donations was answered without hesitation.

“Sitting in my business office at Distortion right now there’s 20 flats of water, crates of diapers, inflatable beds for people, clothing. It takes us no time, we put a call out and people jumped to it. Everyone wants to be a part of the process of helping people, and it’s not for a pat on the back, it’s just a ‘human’ thing, you know? To help out people in need.”

Mark Russell says it is important that “all of us come together and stand up to make something better or change something or help people in need.” Aside from taking part in the Calgary Bands for Fort Mac fundraiser, Russell has been accepting donations at Distortion, the music venue he co-owns. Photo courtesy of Mark RussellMany artists and venues across Calgary are pitching in however they can in the wake of the Fort McMurray wildfires, showcasing the spirit of the local music community. Wine-Ohs held a fundraising event May 10, The Blind Beggar Pub has been on a food drive and the Calgary Folk Festival sent a $2,500 donation to the Alberta Red Cross, among many others contributing to the relief efforts.

Unfortunate times like this really showcase the character of a community. Through the fire and the flames, Albertans should be proud of how swiftly they came together to support those in need. Whether it be through cash or material donations, volunteering time or organizing events to gather support, it all showcases the resiliency of Albertans when faced with a crisis.

“It says we’re strong, and willing to do whatever it takes to help out and make sure people in need get the help they deserve,” Russell said. “And to all the bands who are doing this, and who continue to do this, I tip my hat. Our community is strong and I love that, I love being a part of it and I want to thank everybody for doing this!”

Adam Gawryluk and the crew at The Blind Beggar pub have been on a food drive and are encouraging attendees of the open jam night on May 12 to match each can of food with a $2 donation. “We would like to continue to support our community in ways that really matter,” Gawryluk said. “We hope that everyone gives even just a little. A little goes a long way.” Photo by Krista CuzaThumbnail image provided by Mark Russell

jbrak@cjournal.ca