Most of my Calgarian counterparts would sooner throw our neighbourhood to the North under the provincial bus than sing its praises. Whether you think it's impossible to navigate (it is), impossibly cold in the winter (also, is), or just not fancy enough for you (seriously? where are YOU even from?); fact is that Edmonton is a dynamic, artistic and vibrant city.
Context: of course my new infatuation with the capital city stems primarily from having fallen for a gal who had been living here for seven years. And as a side note, there are literally ONLY beautiful women in Edmonton. It's not a joke.
I played competitive hockey for close to 14 years, and between the terrible haircuts and tournaments, I was up and down the province a decent amount. I've been to Ponoka, Leduc, Sherwood Park and Lacombe, mainly. We once drove to Cranbrook two weekends in a row for a three game tournament. My dad loved to take us on the road. He was my coach for almost the whole time I played.
We had a tough time. I didn't deal well with constructive criticism, he didn't deal well with me calling him a 'fuck' at practice. I have a rough mouth. I think that comes from feeling really fired up and not knowing how to deal with it like a normal human.
Anyway, I basically remember Edmonton as this freezing cold, barren wind-scape of really tough hockey girls. Basically every time we went, we lost. Maybe I was just shitty? I don't know. I loved the trips, I loved driving with dad. He was always speeding but you felt invincible. I think that's a common feeling when dads, *or paternal figures of some kind, drive you around.
In Calgary, we played out of a few communities. I started playing boys when I was about six or seven. I played until I was ten. I had to practice with body contact, and it was awful. I was a really sensitive kid though, so it probably took nothing to make me cry and say "fuck it".
We started in Glenlake, close to North Glenmore Park; where I work now. Then I think I did two years in Trails West, an old Southeast community. Then Midnapore. There was a year I can't remember what neighbourhood we played out of, but we had the best Swedish jerseys, bright yellow and blue. We were called the Cougars. We kicked ass.
Actually, if you ever go to play a gig at the Nanton Auditorium, (or stop for afternoon beers, it's common), you'll see a photo of a girls hockey team on the wall in their bar. The photo is of my hockey team after we won the Nanton tournament.
While you are observing this nice, genuine photo of some girls with pseudo-gold medals and hockey gear on, you may notice that in front of them there is a giant, dead, stuffed, *posed*, cougar. You will also notice that a guy who is so obviously my dad is just so excited about the whole situation.
Lastly, you will probably look behind you to make a quick exit because you've realized you might get flack for not finding this completely normal, you will look up. Inside, on the slanted roof hanging over the bar, is the same cougar. He seems cool. You let it go, order your Pilsner, and think nothing of it.
You will also see hundreds of photos of musicians who have played their stage. They are incredible.
But I digress. Hockey memories aside, Edmonton was always a sort of mystical Northern land that always held disappointment and shame.
As I grew older and started playing music, lots of my Calgarian colleagues despised the city. Claiming "there's no money", "no venues" and "no gigs"; it's easy to see how I would be pre-emptively deterred from learning more about the city itself. Not to mention, intimidated by the vast roster of talented musicians and songwriters. But this post isn't to pump their tires, they know what's up.
My first positive Edmonton experience came from staying with Pete and Denise of 100 Mile House in Bonny Dunne, with my brother, Tim. We played a festival dowtown called "The Works". Awful turnout. Weird weather. Bums everywhere. But it wasn't the gig itself that made the trip.
The Last Call Garage, probably a venue some a familiar with, is 100 Mile House's garage and doubles as a music venue. Pete invited us in after what seemed like hours of drinking at the Empress, my other favourite local hang. The room itself is modest. A bar, some stools, chairs and what could be made into a stage. But it wasn't the room that got me, either.
Everyone I've met in the Edmonton music community has this weird sense of... well, just that, COMMUNITY. Support is limitless. Musicians, sound techs, writers and performers are all one and the same. Everyone has each other's back and has made venues out of basements, back yards, anything, to get their friends playing and in front of people as much as possible.
I feel like a raving lunatic comparing apples to oranges. Alberta has some of the best songwriters in Canada. And as much as I'll never want to live on Whyte Ave, or spend my days apartment hunting in the capital - every time I drive the QE2, I feel like I'm going home.
Not to where my parents are, or my old dog. It isn't a place where someone welcomes you in with a hot cooked meal. It's open arms, smiles, and support. It's an artistic community somewhat void of judgment and bullshit. There's just really good people wanting to help you have the best time you can while you're visiting.