The Sound of the City – Vancouver’s Live Music Scene

Vancouver is famous as a cosmopolitan centre with a kaleidoscope of flavours comprising its very unique and ethnically-diverse culture. It’s no surprise that this city’s proud patchwork heritage is most obvious on the stages of its live-music venues. And while Vancouver boasts too many musical establishments to name in their entirety, some are simply too good to ignore. We’ve shortlisted an intriguing cross-section of venues, all very different from one another yet all contributing a distinct note in the harmony of sounds that make Vancouver a city not just worth seeing but also worth hearing.

Many establishments nurture musical scenes that have become as indigenous to a particular region as the people who live there. The Buck & Ear Bar and Grill in Richmond’s sleepy fishing village of Steveston sits next to the fishing docks and the famous Steveston Cannery. Nowhere in the area is the local warmth and hospitality more apparent than this establishment. With 3 fireplaces, a heated patio and room for over 350, this area landmark caters to billiard and dart players, sports-watchers and on the weekends, music-lovers. For fresh seafood, friendly atmosphere and lively local music, this cannery-town’s favourite haunt hits the spot! Not far away, the Flying Beaver in Richmond offers similar local entertainment as well as an amazing selection of microbrew beers and a phenomenal menu. It’s also a favourite place for plane-spotting, the Harbour Air seaplanes arriving and departing from the Middle Arm of the Fraser River only yards away! Head east into the Fraser Valley and things take a turn for the western. 300-plus patrons pack into Coquitlam’s Boone County Cabaret every weekend to experience the sensation that is British Columbia’s #1 country bar. The musical roster here is a veritable who’s-who of serious up-and-coming talent with many artist making this their final pit-stop before signing a record deal. (And novices can learn the ropes during mid-week line-dancing and two-step lessons.) BC’s Country scene doesn’t get better than this! Things are quite different in the city. The Marine Club on Homer Street is an authentic Merchant Marine hang-out that’s cluttered with nautical memorabilia from all Seven Seas. A unique brand of Rockabilly has gestated here. Combine this with the Old Sea Dawg clientele and you’ve got one of the most unique evenings you’ll ever have the pleasure of experiencing.

But Vancouver is just as popular for fostering cultural pockets whose music remains pristine and authentic, despite its status as an export. Sometimes, a visit to such a place is as good as a vacation to its country of origin. For example, Falconetti’s on the East Side’s ethnically diverse Commercial Drive is, to all intents and purposes, a New York City bar with a roster of live-jazz acts that have a distinct Hudson River, not Fraser River, feel. Of course, the heavily Italian clientele-base and the subsequent Mediterranean deli menu also help. Big city America is also alive and well at The Yale on Granville Street, home to Western Canada’s blues scene. For years, this 19th century hotel has played host to acts from John Lee Hooker to Jim Burns. Canada’s East Coast makes an appearance in Vancouver as well. Meet Yaletown’s Atlantic Trap and Gill. Once called ‘The Newfie Tap and Grill’, this establishment underwent a subtle name change due to a bureaucratic issue; but the music stayed the same – good old Maritime Folk. Just because you opted to vacation in Western Canada doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy oysters and ale like a regular Halifax privateer! Vancouver’s Celtic heritage goes back further than The Maritimes. The Blarney Stone in Gastown features a raucous weekend roster of live Celtic house acts and enough Guinness to drown a village. If it was any more Irish, you’d be in Dublin. Latin American influences are strong in Vancouver too, with many regularly-occurring dance nights attracting anyone with a hankering for some spicier beats. Zocalo Contemporary Mexican Restaurant on Main Street features weekend music while braver self-styled Mambo-kings can work their moves Saturday nights at the ballroom in the Howard Johnson Boutique Hotel or Robson Street’s Empire Landmark Hotel. Whether Merengue, Cha Cha, Salsa or Mambo, there’s a surprising number of choices.

Yet despite the various imported flavours that contribute to the musical vibe of Vancouver, there’s a distinct domestic flavour that sets this city apart. In one word? Coolness. This gorgeous city knows it’s something special. And Vancouverites aren’t afraid to celebrate their particular brand of awesome through various ultra-hip establishments. And no surprise, the music is up to par, too. The original Cellar Restaurant/Jazz Club on Broadway just west of Greektown in the trendy Kitsilano neighbourhood has been showcasing some of the world’s best jazz acts for almost a decade. Factor in a sumptuous food menu, an amazing cocktail list and rich red decor and you can begin imagining how good a night here might be. Like your cool a little funkier? Check out the Libra Room on Commercial Drive. With its Astrological Martini Lounge serving sweet martinis and sexy cosmic libations plus a groovy electric jazz line-up, you’ll have nothing but a shag-alicious good time. Yeah, baby! Lava lamps aside, the Latin Jazz Sundays are a favourite with visitors and locals. For a more conventional good time, Bar None on Yaletown’s Hamilton Street is a Soho-esque establishment that’s a favourite with the star-set and star-gazers alike. For over 15 years, this establishment’s reputation has preceded it with an impressive line-up of DJ’s catering to the city’s ever-growing cocktail culture. Real club-track aficionados will appreciate the underground appeal of Lotus Sound Lounge on Abbott Street in Gastown. Dimly-lit, this space is a temple to all things electronic with the world’s best DJ talent spinning everything from Tech-House and Break-Beat to Drum-and-Bass and Progressive. Modsters and Hipsters, on the other hand, will appreciate the edgy Media Club on Cambia Street, home to indie up-and-comers and a favourite locale for industry showcases, CD release parties and even fashion shows.

Even loud and angry has its appropriate enclaves throughout the city. The Morrissey on Granville defines ‘Rock’n’Roll Lounge’ with its dim lighting and long, narrow layout. What makes this establishment special is the fact that it doesn’t show up on everyone’s radar, despite the fact that it has hosted such live acts as The Killers and Kings of Leon. Cut across town and you’ll find The Lamplighter in Gastown’s historic Dominion Grand Hotel – home to some of the finest rock, metal and punk to be found anywhere.

Whatever the genre, Vancouver’s music is a part of its lifeblood. Put BC’s largest city on your itinerary. There’s lots to hear!

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