End of an era: Goodbye, Avenue Theatre

The Avenue Theatre closed its doors in the middle of June.

The word was given by general manager and talent buyer Steve Derpack, who explained on Facebook that it’s “primarily a decision to make personal changes for the investment group, and sell the land to interested developers.”

Derpack, who’s helped bring in a huge assortment of both developing local and touring bands since the venue opened for live entertainment in 2008, added, “All good things must come to an end, but this room will have a special place in the hearts of the arts community, especially the all-ages one which is continuously sorely lacking in this city.”

The venue had also been used during Alberta Avenue’s festivals, Kaleido in the summer, Deep Freeze in the winter. From 2005 to 2008, it was the Avenue Skatepark, and before that (give or take a derelict period) a popular movie theatre that opened in 1953. This is as much about the further stupid loss of local lore as it is a music venue. Most of Edmonton’s old movie theatres are gone now: The Strand, The Rialto, The Odeon. A theatre with just one screen wasn’t profitable. The Garneau, home of Metro Cinema, and the Princess Theatre on Whyte, are the only ones that still show movies, and it’s repertory cinema. The Paramount downtown, opened in 1951, had fallen to decrepitude even when it was still showing films, and was tried out as a live music venue for a time, but that didn’t work. Interested developers now plan to tear it down for a residential tower.

There is some concern over the state of the local music scene with the Avenue soon to be gone. “Another one bites the dust,” was one bitter comment from a notable music insider, but it’s unlikely that the closing of the Avenue will have much impact the bigger touring shows, as it did with the closing of the Edmonton Event Centre in 2012, leaving a void of large bars available for mid-level touring acts. It was still an alarming trend. Soon after fell the Haven Social Club and the New City Lounge. Other venues picked up the slack, and the business. The Union Hall – formerly the Thunderdome, formerly Goose Loonies – has been getting some pretty big names. Semi big anyway. Bastille, USS, a lot of electronic dance shows. The core of the Whyte Avenue scene remains relatively intact – Wunderbar, the Pawn Shop, the Black Dog and DV8, which moved into the space once occupied by the New City. The mighty Starlite Room, formerly the Rev, formerly the Bronx, formerly the old Citadel Theatre where Chuck Chandler taped the local TV show Disco Daze, is still rockin’. The Artery is its own little CBGB’s. And there are lots more venues the hipsters don’t even know about. These places are going to be busy this summer, and chances are, given the demand for live entertainment, there’s going to be a new room or two by the end of the year. Maybe one of these interested developers will build one. We can dream.

The Edmonton music scene has behaved like badly-hung wallpaper for decades: Push one bubble down, another one pops up somewhere else. One thing hasn’t changed: So many bands, not enough places to play.

Story by Mike Ross, GigCity, used with permission

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