Pat McIntyre has welcomed a lot of musicians onto his Calgary stage, but he hasn’t invited the fat lady to sing just yet.
A treasured institution of Inglewood’s live music scene, The Ironwood Stage and Grill is humbly seeking its loyal patrons’ assistance to stay afloat during these trying quaran-times.
The pub is hosting BANDing Together for the Ironwood, a Covid-conscious fundraiser on Aug. 21 and 22 in an effort to raise enough coin to stay in operation long enough to make it to Phase 3.
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Like most other businesses deemed non-essential, the Ironwood was closed for months due to the outbreak of COVID 19. When Stage 2 of Alberta’s Relaunch Strategy was implemented, the pub’s capacity went from 150 people, seven nights a week, to fifty people, three nights a week.
“We host over 400 shows a year. We were pretty much booked until November, then March 17 hit and we shut the whole system down,” said McIntyre.
The brainchild of friend and longtime resident performer Jory Kinjo, BANDing Together will showcase more a dozen local musicians as well as a live auction. They’ll still offer their time-honoured traditions like all-ages entry while serving drinks, and an exceptional food menu.
“Jory and the other musicians really rallied together for this,” said McIntyre.
Initially, there was pushback from McIntyre to host the event at all.
“Pride was involved. I didn’t really want everybody to do this at first, but Jory makes a decent living here and he doesn’t want to see this place fail,” said McIntyre.
“They insisted, so I acquiesced.”
The ripple effect
Kinjo feels his own sense of pride and responsibility towards the pub. He wasn’t about to sit idly by while his home was in peril.
“If you think of Pat as the top of this tree, and underneath are staff, sound people, artists, and obviously the patrons. So this one action has a big ripple effect,” Kinjo said.
Working with the Ironwood has given Kinjo the artistic and financial backing he feels he wouldn’t find so easily elsewhere.
“I bring in a couple international acts every year, and if it wasn’t for the Ironwood, I simply wouldn’t bring those artists to Calgary,” Kinjo said.
“It would be a tremendous loss to me personally if the Ironwood was gone.”
Since the Ironwood opened 20 years ago, they’ve paid out nearly $6 million to their musicians. That’s an average of about $300,000 a year.
“Once I did the math, I realized a lot of people would be affected by the Ironwood closing its doors,” said McIntyre.
The Age of Aquarium
Like most other business owners, McIntyre spent the last five months retooling the pub to optimize safety for staff, performers and patrons.
At the moment, wind instruments (human or otherwise) are not officially allowed on stage due to the risk of spreading COVID-19. It’s a significant problem for a live music bar. Ever the innovator, McIntyre came up with a solution. It’s since been replicated not only in other pubs around the city, but around the country.
McIntyre built a plexiglass “aquarium” as he calls it, on stage left, creating a safety barrier between singers and the audience.
“Pat made a big deal about the safety of the vocals box, and having the stage looked at beforehand. He wanted the health inspectors to come in and tell him if it wasn’t cool,” said Kinjo.
“Safety his been his biggest priority, he didn’t put all this effort in just to get shut down.”
McIntyre even helped a neighbouring Inglewood venue, The Blues Can, install theirs, as well.
“I try to help out other venues whenever I can,” he said.
“More music creates more music.”
Finding good help
For every hurdle and headache the situation has created, there seems to be an equal response of community and solidarity.
In a time and an industry generally riddled with drawbacks, mishaps and staff turnover, The Ironwood is somewhat of an outlier. Although McIntyre has had to temporarily scale back his staff from 14 to just six, nobody goes very far for very long.
“They all want to come back to work,” he said.
“It’s pretty amazing to say that our newest girl has been here for five years, and our oldest have been here for 14. They’re family, so you want to keep them as close as possible.”
McIntyre said it’s difficult to gauge how much money the fundraiser will bring in, or how much is even needed. He hopes they can net $15,000 to $20,000.
“It’s hard to predict anything right now. But, if we can bring in enough to get through the next couple months, hopefully we’re in Phase 3 by then and we can increase our capacity,” he said.
“We’ll just have to take it from there.”
Despite all the adjustments being made to keep the Ironwood going, McIntyre won’t compromise when it comes to what matters most; the music.
“We were one of the first venues to be able to kind of forego the whole genre thing. Blues, country, rock – doesn’t really matter,” said McIntyre.
“Be good at your craft, and you’ll be on the stage.”
More information about the event, including artist lineup, ticket purchases and ways to donate can be found on their Facebook page.
BANDing Together for the Ironwood will be live streamed on https://www.musicmile.ca/ on August 21 and 22.