Opening its doors to the public for the first time on Canada Day, the National Music Centre was welcomed by over 5000 Calgarians. They were all eager to visit the new centrepiece to Calgary’s East Village, and not without reason. The striking structure of Studio Bell, now home to the National Music Centre, cannot help but catch the eye. With Studio Bell’s combination of architecture and acoustics, the National Music Centre has found an ideal new home.
The excitement in the opening-day crowd was palpable. One of the first in line was Calgarian Dave Jones. A life-long musician, Jones has played with his band across the city for over 15 years. He says Calgary is lucky to have the history of Canadian music so close by. “There’s a huge, increased focus on music in the city,” Jones said. “Now music fans can see Canadian legends on the wall or read about them.”
The 160,000 sq ft facility is now a cultural institution for Canada. The $191 million project has transformed the historic King Edward Hotel into a musical mecca. With five floors of interactive exhibits, the centre offers visitors the chance to explore the rich history of Canadian music.
Andrew Mosker, CEO of the National Music Centre, believes Calgary can become a destination of choice for music-lovers. “There’s museum exhibitions that tell stories about music,” he said. “There’s studios here that help artists record music using a unique collection of equipment. It’s also a place to come listen to great live music.”
Beyond its stunning architecture, the National Music Centre has transformed the face of the city. Traditionally a country and western town, Calgary is increasingly broadening its musical scope. No longer is country music exclusively heard in bars and clubs across the city. While it will take time before Calgary can be considered a northern ‘Austin’, this transformation is well under way.
These notions are repeated across Calgary’s musical landscape. Kerry Clarke, director of the Calgary Folk Music Festival, says the city has a strong musical tradition beyond the country genre. “You look and you see cowboy hats around the Stampede, or you see a lot of pickup trucks. You don’t have to scratch the surface very far to find really awesome clubs and little festivals.”
Clarke also says Calgary’s cultural awakening is being noticed beyond the city limits. “In 2006, the Globe and Mail called Calgary one of the seven musical wonders in the world. The Globe and Mail, based out of Toronto.” For Calgary, a city that craves recognition as a cosmopolitan metropolis, this praise is more than welcome.
Each July, the Calgary Stampede attracts over million visitors. Although the country music of the ‘Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’ grabs the headlines, festivals of different genres are too present in the city.
One such gathering is the Sled Island festival, a showcase for alternative music and art for five days each summer. Festival Manager Shawn Petsche says the two events have a close relationship. “Any time you have a city that is more conservative, there are going to be young people who want to actively rebel against that image.”
Petsche says that Calgary’s evolving art and music scene drew him to the city from Montreal ten years ago. “I heard the music that was being played, and I saw the visual art that was being shown. I thought, actually, Calgary is the place to be.” Petsche adds, “the quality of music and art here is amazing.”
Luckily for Calgarians and visitors, this musical evolution shows no signs of changing rhythm. With the excellent National Music Centre open to the public, the city is becoming a hub for music across the province and the country.