article and photos By Britt Meierhofer
Touring Northern British Columbia during the dead of winter is not for the faint of heart (or tire tread, for that matter). It is a mission. A determinate test of one’s limits. A chance to meet the locals in ‘nest’ mode. Not to indicate that the locals don’t emerge from their dens on these frigid nights, quite the opposite indeed. The towns of Northern B.C. have solid crowds of music enthusiasts who greet touring acts with open ears and (mitted) high-fives. Geographically in the middle of it all, Prince George has a steadily growing scene, with new restaurants and venues opening up on the regular, while existing ones continue to thrive. The Black Clover, Prince George’s newest music venue, is an Irish Pub that houses lively acoustic acts on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, while The Prince George Legion (under the talented management of Mad Loon Entertainment), hosts top-notch acts that span the genres while giving the crowd a solid space to cut a rug. Nancy O’s continues to catch artists on their way through town as well, providing a warm, intimate stage for performers and a list of beers a mile long. Another venue being reimagined and vamped up in Prince George is the Artspace: where once there was a simple stage and minimal sound gear, now resides a room made to accommodate acts of all sizes, with a brand new stage, sound and lighting set up. Prince George catches a lot of acts on their way to festivals in the summer, but in the winter, Prince George IS the destination during Coldsnap Festival, which runs February 3-11, 2017 and showcases regional, national and international acts spanning over the genres.
A tour of Northern BC provides many stages outside of Prince George, with one in particular that stands out to any musician who has ever played there. North of Prince George in Rolla, BC, the legendary Rolla Pub hosts acts on the regular, and gives them star treatment. The Pub’s owner/operator, Patty Martin, is loved by all, and provides musicians on tour with all the comforts, including a bustling crowd of enthusiastic listeners. Near Dawson Creek, Rolla is a good pitstop on the way into or out of Alberta, and Patty’s hospitality will see you off nourished and recharged. To the West, in Prince Rupert, two venues that get a lot of love from musicians are Wheelhouse Brewing and Cowpuccino’s. Wheelhouse Brewing, established in 2013, is a nautically-themed brewpub that slings some of the best beer Northern BC has to offer, and they bring a buzzing crowd to the table for performers passing through. Cowpuccino’s is a warm and cozy coffee shop in the port town, and provides performers with a tried and true room to play to.
A couple hours’ drive South of Prince George finds you in Wells, BC, famous for the ArtsWells Festival of All Things Art. Outside of festival season, The Wells Hotel is a favourite for passers-through to play at, providing a glimpse of the magic cultivated during Artswells. A bit further south in the town of Williams Lake, the Arts on the Fly Festival Society puts together a series of concerts called Safety Meetings. Held at the Central Cariboo Arts Centre, these bi-weekly concerts have gained a reputation for being dreamy as all heck to play at. Nearby in the community of Forest Grove, Astrid Hensey and her husband Steve (founders of the magical Hootstock Festival) help touring artists find a venue and a crowd to play to in or near the town of 100 Mile House during the off-season.
These are just a few of the opportunities for touring and playing in the ever-growing Northern British Columbia music scene, and if you’ve got the grit, the Winter views are breathtaking. So get studs on those tires, hit the road, and don’t forget to bring your snowshoes for a day-off adventure.
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