Halifax not attracting touring bands

With many venues and lots of students, it would make sense that the music scene in Halifax would attract many touring bands. Yet this is not the case. For starters, the venues here just aren’t big enough.

By Christine Bennett

The Company House, located at 2202 Gottingen Street. (Christine Bennett photo)

With many venues and lots of students, it would make sense that the music scene in Halifax would attract many touring bands.

Yet this is not the case. For starters, the venues here just aren’t big enough.

MaryAnn Daye, owner of  The Company House, believes that for many American bands, there’s just no reason to travel to Canada’s East Coast.

“It’s not worth their while to be on Canada’s radar because the US is so big,” Daye said. “Why would a promoter, or even a musician, want to make it big in Canada? It’s not going to add to their career.”

Liam Sanagan, member of Toronto-based band First Rate People, agrees there’s not much appeal to tour east for Canadian bands, let alone American ones.

In Sanagan’s opinion, the lack of attraction is mainly a result of an inconvenient location.

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“Halifax has the unfortunate position of being out on the Eastern tip of the country and not being a huge metropolis, so if I’m in a mid-level American band and I’ve just played Boston, we’d have to drive for at least 10 hours to Halifax, where the show is going to depend almost exclusively on the turnout of the young student population,” Sanagan said. “Then we’d have to drive at least another 10 hours to Quebec City, or even farther if you’re not stopping there.”

Daye and Sanagan agree that it’s mainly Canadian bands touring out east, and it has to be worth their while to travel here.

Speaking from experience, Sanagan knows that touring out east isn’t feasible for many bands.

“With gas prices being so high these days, traveling a whole day to play one show can really eat at your expenses,” Sanagan said. “After they’ve crunched the numbers, I think a lot of bands just realize that it’s not worth it.”

Liam Sanagan playing at a bookstore in Southampton, Ontario. (Erik Greensmith photo)

However, even when a band does have a big pull to come out east, “there’s nowhere for them to play,” Daye said. “We need something different than the Metro Centre. There seems to be something missing for mid-level bands that the Paragon used to fill.”

“If promoters don’t believe that the venues and interest are here, they won’t bring the bands here,” Daye said. “When promoters are considering it, they’re considering whether the venue they’re looking for exists and if they’ll bring in enough money.”

While the Company House is considered to be a smaller venue with a capacity of 120 people, this doesn’t mean that the venue only hosts small, local bands. “We’ve had some high profile people, and it’s because they want an intimate playing environment,” Daye said. “There are some musicians who have a huge following but want to return to an intimate environment.”

And that’s the kind of environment bands can expect to find in Halifax.