By Slow Leaves
What is often overlooked about Winnipeg, is that it’s subtle brand of near perfect mediocrity is precisely what provides such fertile grounds for honest artistic expression. The city is not grand enough to incubate the large scale arts trends found in bigger cities. But it’s the perfect size to grow genuine art movements without reaching the tipping point past which a scene turns stale, becoming a caricature of itself, bloated with reproducers of the popular sound. Here is a short list of spots around Winnipeg that have been personally significant for finding music, playing music, and thinking about art.
Sometimes there are little gems hiding, unpolished and under-appreciated, in plain sight. This family run store has been around for ages. There are certainly other great record stores in town, but the real rare finds are often lurking deep within the walls of the Sound Exchange where the effort required to sift through hefty dust laden piles deters all but the most determined diggers. Pearls which might otherwise be swiftly snapped up from the logically arranged, labeled, alphabetized, and tabbed bins found in other record stores, those which have diligently adopted systems that facilitate the rapid procurement of goods in exchange for money, remain buried deep under mounds of hindrance albums in the vein of your Leo Sayers or Captain & Tennilles.
The Manitoba Museum, formerly known as the Museum of Man and Nature, houses a replica of the 17th century fur-trading ship, The Nonsuch. The British sea town setting here is enough to inspire the sea-side dreamers to break out the bodhran (thanks Google) and jam out to their favorite Ashley MacIsaac single. Myself, I’m more of a landlubber and prefer instead to head over to the 1920s town exhibit where rollicking piano soundtracks lure you into the silent era cinema theater, playing clips from classics like City Lights and The General.
I couldn’t make this list without mentioning the Times Changed, in part because I’ve had some great shows there myself but also because some of the best shows I’ve seen were at this little Main Street venue. When at it’s best, jammed with sweaty music lovers of all stripes, you can’t help but feel part of something truly special, understood only by those who were there.
Mondays at Into the Music. I used to share a house with a couple roommates. Every Monday was record day: the day when Into the Music would put out the newest batch of records. These were sneaky mornings in the household. My roommate and I never went together. Instead whoever was up earlier, would creep about the house quietly, cautious not to wake the competitor who with some luck might have been drinking the night previous, and slide carefully out the door, easing it closed, knob turned in to minimize any latch clicks or hinge creaks.
Then, arriving at the store minutes before opening, I’d wait, usually amongst a small gathering of awkward bodies shifting about nervously without as much as the lightest cursory exchange, a consequence, no doubt, of social anxiety related to having nothing else of import requiring a presence elsewhere at 10am on a Monday. This was a time of discreet judgment, arranging in one of two categories those who might go for the same albums as me, and those I didn’t have to worry about — the mulleted fellow with one glove who seeks only underground industrial vinyl, for instance, was of little concern.
And then the door would open and like footage of the desperate in a humanitarian crisis, we’d herd ourselves in and up the stairs, manners and social graces discarded, jockeying for a spot at one of four bins, elbows out, fingers running across record tops, pulling everything of potential. I haven’t been there on a Monday morning in a long time but I’m sure some of the same people are still lining up outside, sustained from one week to the next by the tenuous hope of a great find.
The back alley behind The Handsome Daughter (FKA Hooligans, The Standard, and The Rose n’ Bee). An old friend and I had a few meeting places in the West Broadway area, where we both used to live. One of my favorites was the tiny parking lot behind what was then called Hooligans, but now (after several iterations) The Handsome Daughter. We’d stand around near the back lane with a few cheap beers in large cans uncovering definitive truths on politics, philosophy, and art. We solved many world problems and caught fleeting glimpses of nothing less than the cosmos in its entirety. But the real beauty of that spot was being on the scene, without incurring bar tabs or hearing damage. The music from inside would bleed through the brick walls enough to guess which band was playing. It was also secluded enough not to be bothered by much more than a few passersby, or the occasional dumpster diver.
At a certain point in my life, various factors converged resulting in the experience of what could be called an awakening. Two things in particular occurred: the purchase of my first turntable and a membership to Movie Village. Several times a week I’d find myself in Movie Village absorbed in the music curated by the arts-invested staff carefully sifting through row upon row of DVDs with a boy-in-a-candy-store’s careful deliberation over which one (or maybe two, if mommy was in a good mood) prize to choose. Happily, Movie Village is still with us.
Sadly, it rests for now in a diminished state, across the street, taken in and granted space by Music Trader (another great music outlet). It stood defiantly at the north end of Osbourne Village, a beacon of hope in a time when nearly all other movie rental stores had shut their doors. Now visits to Movie Village carry a sadness, like visiting an old friend in a care home whose greatest achievements are past and whose future is uncertain.
Interested in hearing more about the sounds of cities from the artists who love them? Catch up on the full Compass series here.
Grant Davidson is Winnipeg’s Slow Leaves. His songs, genuine and honest, spare nothing in creating vivid images and heartfelt connections. 2014’s “Beauty is so Common”, like a California country-folk record newly discovered in your parent’s attic, straddles the line between new and old, revealing an album deceptive in its simplicity, rich in melody, and immediately classic.