by Darcy Penner
A Wednesday night a few weeks ago I stepped off a #16 bus to make my way down to 555 Osborne for the Songwriter Explosion night. The story of the venue is known, but still unique: a sign-less bar in the basement of a Thai restaurant showcasing singer-songwriters and new artists, all the while hosting acts from punk bands to DJs.
On any Wednesday night the place smells like Thai food, with a seven table seating area and barely enough room for the guys from Inward Eye to stand while bartending.
“It’s an intimate basement space that is comfortable, and [bar owner] Everett [King] makes sure the musicians are put first and taken care off,” says The Sturgeons member Luke Hamilton.
Since November, every Wednesday has seen 555 host the Songwriter Explosion series: a singer-songwriter night curated by Dan Frechette, and now hosted by The Sturgeons.
I crashed an elderly couple’s date (or they offered me a seat at their table) and put back a few pints of Big Rock while watching various songwriters helm the barebones PA. Some acts had pulled out that evening, so door guy/bartender/Attica Riots frontman/Bokononists guitarist/Cash Grab member/solo artist Bobby Desjarlais threw his hat in for a set.
“It’s a basement bar, so it’s always kind of homey,” says Desjarlais. “It’s like the Cavern in that sense… because you’re extremely engaged with the audience the minute you are on or off stage. The atmosphere is kind of like a neighbourhood atmosphere.”
Following King from his previous venue, VP Nights, Desjarlais praises the 86 capacity basement. “Because of the size of the room you really get to make it your own when you are playing a show. With the Bokononists, we bring in a crowd and the room is small enough that we can fill it and it’s our evening,” he explains.
The Songwriter Explosion has gained a reputation, and has been a memorable night for local artists.
“I enjoyed the chance to listen to comrades of a very personal genre. The atmosphere felt intimate, warm and novel,” says local musician Holly Stratton. “The whole evening was very well organized, thanks to Dan Frechette, and I felt everyone was listening closely to each performer.”
While the venue tends to mostly host singer-songwriters and folk/country leaning bands, the room has been used for all genres. “I book everything,” King says. “As long as its good people, good times, [and] good crowds. We’ve done country shows, hip-hop shows, punk shows, rock shows, reggae – you know name it, we’ve done it.”
When asked about the competition from other venues of a similar capacity, King brushes it off. “There are so many wonderful musicians in this town, once you start getting rolling, start booking, and you’ve been doing it for a couple years, it gets easier and easier to fill the slots and you don’t feel like you’re competing anymore,” he explains.
With excited members of the community behind the room, and a sincere musicians-serving-musicians community, the venue has the potential to remain a great place for new and established artists alike. “I hope that it becomes an obvious home for bands,” says Desjarlais. “When bands come in and they get to create their own atmosphere and really enjoy themselves, that’s when I feel the bar is at its best.”
Although the Songwriter Explosion series wraps up in March, King keeps a handful of weekly events happening at 555: Monday night is jam night hosted by the Sawat Team, Wednesday night’s for singer-songwriters, Thursdays are either the Proud Sons or the Charlee Bravo, and bigger shows are booked for the weekend. So jump on a 16 and go!
[cite type=image] Sawatdeethai [/cite]