Blues rocker Colin James is looking forward to welcoming him for his 90th birthday. Commodore Ballroom’s birthday.
The Commodore Ballroom turns 90 on December. 3. This is a milestone for the Vancouver venue and requires a kick-off worthy of a Canadian live music institution.
The experienced blues rocker first appeared on stage in 1986. Since then, he’s done a hat trick of consecutive nights there – five in a row in 1988, four in 1991, and three sold-out shows in 2012 – as well as many one-off performances. The two shows for the 90. Birthday are both part of Jim Beam Bourbon’s Live Inside concert series, which saved the Commodore from dark during the COVID-19 pandemic.
« Someone at the venue was very carefully counting the times I played there alone, and I would have thought it was about a dozen, » said James. « But it turns out it’s actually 32 if you put the times I’ve sat with acts like Blue Rodeo or whoever. Also, I didn’t really keep track of the two, three, and five nights that really built up. ”
James notes that one of the main reasons building a two digit resume is because it was always fun. Having played great rooms all over the world, the ace guitarist can very briefly sum up the appeal of the room.
« It’s stayed pretty much the original design over the years, and I think you can feel that on the floorboards and walls, » he said. “Of course it was taken care of when they redesigned the backstage area, which used to be pretty much a jumble of burned-out, messy rooms.
« I remember when Stevie Ray Vaughan was playing there and I saw Terry David Mulligan interview him backstage and it wasn’t anything special, but these great old rooms have to be kept. ”
Bronwyn Campbell, General Manager of New Commodore, confirms the atmosphere of the club to James. She says she feels pretty lucky to be working with the big team that keeps the legendary venue going. Turning 90 is a big milestone, but the pandemic is a bigger one. In recognition of this, the Vancouver Food Bank will benefit from $ 1 for every ticket sold.
« This year has probably been more challenging than any other for the music industry as a whole and it can get pretty lonely here when there are no people, » she said. “But then I remember that this is only temporary and that the time is right when we can safely and responsibly open our doors again. We’ve only done the four livestreams so far and they really managed to keep the music in the room alive which is special. ”
Owners Live Nation have started a broadcast of digitally broadcast shows from the Commodore, Danforth Music Hall and the Velvet Underground in Toronto. While such events will never revive the sweaty crowd at a sold out concert, Campbell and James both note it’s a front-row seat for a global audience.
« Aside from the long list of legends who played here (Commodore), the other thing that makes it special is the intimacy of our space, » she said. “Whether you’re visiting an up and coming artist who usually plays an arena or an established artist like Colin, there’s an element of being really connected to the fans and it makes people come back and do it again experience. ”
Campbell has never seen James play the Commodore. He says she’s facing a different set than a soft-seat establishment like the Orpheum.
« It always takes a bit more pace of you than the more nuanced performance you’d try elsewhere, » said James. “The Commodore brings out this pounding and rocking of the room. We finished our last show at Yoshi in San Francisco in March when the place turned into a ghost town. So there is something very special about the 90. to be casual with no goals other than a good time. ”
In one unusually bizarre year, James did what so many musicians, forced to stay at home, do with their forced free time.
« I’m writing a new in-hand record working with the same producer who made Blue Highways and Miles To Go in London, England for long hauls, » he said. « Normally I would have thought this was a recipe for disaster, but TeamViewer allowed us to transfer files back and forth seamlessly, and it’s pretty fun to see him mix my vocals while I sing at home. We’re pretty used to working together so I’m really happy that we can continue to work together. ”
This is album 20 for the musician who signed his first contract in 1988. It follows the mix of roughly half-originals and half-blues covers, including a collaboration with Craig Northey of the Odds.
James has long been considered one of the best blues-and-roots musicians in this country and only found himself in the blues charts when the Blue Highways were at No.. 1 in the blues table of the Roots Music Report. This album also spawned a hit cover of Willie Dixon’s Riding in the Moonlight, which has become a fan favorite with millions of streams on Spotify. Like most long-lived acts, James has multiple generations of fans and knows he needs to balance his sets to keep them all happy.
« Like everyone else, sometimes you don’t want to play for five long years, but then someone will ask for it and you know you have to, » he said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with cutting out some of these favorites for a while so that you can do something that still feels fresh and you can enjoy yourself. But those old chestnuts are the ones you keep coming back to for a reason because they feel good. ”
Finally, James mentions that he and Big Sugar leader Gordie Johnson did a few things together as part of Johnson’s continued idea of working with different artists on something in the future. That would surely be a duo tour that fans would love to see one day.
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