How Music Mile Came To Be

If you’ve ever spent a Thursday or Friday night in Inglewood, it is likely you’ve noticed a tune on the breeze; a gentle serenade coming from a cafe or a bar. This is typical for Inglewood; a plethora of music venues stretching from one end of 9th Avenue SE, Calgary’s original main street, now aptly named Music Mile.

“I noticed that Inglewood was not only a great mixed use urban village and a real people place, but also an authentic hub for live music, with some of Calgary’s most prominent venues - a potential themed destination district”

The Music Mile officially stretches 1.1 miles from The King Eddy in the East Village all the way to The Blues Can right here in Inglewood. It also encompasses the many nearby venues just blocks from 9th Avenue. Music Mile celebrates Calgary’s incredible music scene and the venues and festivals that continue to set the pace for amazing local and visiting musicians. They have given the city a gift that can only be repaid through patronship. 

Speaking with Meg Van Rosendaal, a grassroots cultural leader in Calgary who was part of the team that originally conceptualized the Music Mile, it is easy to see why this project has been such a labour of love for those involved. 

“I had worked on developing the Olympic Plaza Cultural District when I worked at Arts Commons (previously Epcor Centre) before I moved to Inglewood. I noticed that Inglewood was not only a great mixed use urban village and a real people place, but also an authentic hub for live music, with some of Calgary’s most prominent venues - a potential themed destination district,” shares Meg. 

Meg first shared the idea with Bob Chartier, a recently retired public servant and amateur musician. Bob, obviously one for music-related adventure, hopped in his Volvo the day after retirement on a 40 day pilgrimage to the United States’ biggest music cities such as Nashville, New Orleans and Austin. Upon returning from his travels, Bob was renewed with admiration and appreciation for his home city and it dawned on him that he “he actually lived in a music district” much like these places he sought out on his trip.

It was completely serendipitous when Meg reached out to him about this concept she had been mulling over. “We decided to test the idea of a music district by walking into every shop along 9th Ave from the Blues Can to the future NMC (and blocks nearby) and asking “What would you think about this strip getting the name it has earned: Music Mile?",” says Meg. 

They pointed out the venues that already existed - Ironwood, Blues Can, Lolita’s, Festival Hall, Cucina, the Lantern Church, a reopened King Eddy and Recordland. They asked local business owners if they thought it would be good for their business and good for the city as a whole. Overwhelmingly they got an enthusiastic ‘yes’ from one end of the Mile to the other. 

Setting up a committee of like-minded folks was a fairly easy task as both Meg and Bob were already connected to individuals with an unparalleled dedication to Calgary’s music community.  Joining them on the path to Music Mile was Jim Button from Village, the ultimate gatherer of people; music industry veteran Greg Curtis of Tooth Blackner Productions; bluesman John Rutherford who had been the program director at the Epcor Centre; Jeff Hessel from Tourism Calgary; Kerry Clark from FolkFest; and the inimitable Chad Saunders of CJSW and National Music Centre. 

Officially launching the project with a live music-athon that spanned 8 venues and 12 hours the night before the launch of the Year of Music in January 2016.  The team formed a non-profit society made up of music fans and stakeholders and was able to add committees for marketing, fundraising as well as Streetscape Identity. Their focus is encouraging more people to check out the venues and to encourage new venues. Since they begun the Music Mile new venues include

OffCut Bar at the Nash, the BurnsWest Theatre at Fort Calgary, Charbar, Without Papers, Deane House, the Hose, Gravity, Studio Bell, King Eddy, the new Central Library, Good Earth East Village and Yardarm. 

“Our goal is not to increase the competition between all these venues, but together to create a bigger pie. We like to say “more gigs for more musicians in more places more often”,” says Meg. 

While Music Mile is still in its infancy it has already become an incredible destination for musicians and music lovers alike. They now support over 50 shows per week, with hopes of increasing that to 100 over the next five years and ideally supporting more daytime music opportunities and diverse musical offerings. While the growth has been rapid, so far the Music Mile team keeps things in perspective: “We’re sometimes impatient and want to do things quickly, says Meg. “Greg Curtis reminds us that “Austin didn’t become Austin overnight”. What has made Music Mile authentic so far was that it grew organically over decades. It’s evolution has to be equally authentic.” As Music Mile continues to grow so does the audience. If you haven’t been out to a show lately, be sure to check out Music Mile’s events calendar and support this already flourishing musical community.

ryan beale