By Lee Butler
A collaborative effort has been made by The Forge productions to resurrect a Whyte Avenue music institution.
The Forge on Whyte—formerly known as The Pawn Shop—will be a fully functioning 250 person capacity venue by mid-January, featuring acts of varying genres and calibre.
“The first time I got into it, at that point I was fixated on The Pawn Shop,” says The Forge owner Dale Weran. “With everything there, we could make it the same as The Pawn Shop was—the thing that everyone loved—but make it better, and make it for the bands as well. Because everything we’re doing is built by the bands, for the bands.”
We ran created The Forge company in 2014 after experiencing difficulties booking shows for his own group. Weran’s long-term plan involved opening a new venue, and he looked at several spots throughout the city. He had often driven past the vacated Pawn Shop, noticing that the space continued to remain available.
“Around March, I started talking to the landlord about [obtaining the space]. It was just discussing terms and going back and forth about that a bit and checking out the space.”
By October, The Forge had secured the lease and began making upgrades to the original layout. The venue still featured many of its functioning parts, helping offset the cost of a complete renovation.
“They had left so much stuff there—the stage was there, the rigging was there, the bar was still in really good condition, and it just needed a few little things,” Weran explains. “It was a really good opportunity.”
The Forge on Whyte features rebuilt, angled drum risers—handy to place two drum sets on for bigger shows that require backlined kits. Platforms were added on stage for keyboardists to be better displayed, as well as amp placement.
A two-foot stage extension was added, which covers the subs, allowing monitors to be placed on top. Plug-ins were implemented—as opposed to power bars off to the side—making the stage easier to utilize while performing.
Areas for local photographers have been accentuated, with plans to showcase the work of four to five local photographers each month.
One of The Forge’s bars was converted into a merchandise area for bands, eliminating the stress of continually sitting behind a personal station.
“We have a merch team that takes over all the band’s merchandise and we sell it for them, so that they don’t have to,” Weran says. “It gives them the ability to hang out with their fans, and when they’re on stage and people actually want to buy their stuff, we’re there to sell it for them. It increases bands’ profits.”
When it comes to booking acts, Weran has teamed with a well-known name in the Edmonton music scene. Art Szabo—previous talent booker for The Starlite Room—has come on board to lend his expertise and connections.
“When Dale was talking to me about what he had planned for the room, I immediately was interested,” Szabo says. “That room’s iconic to me; from the time it was Rebar, Stars—I mean my uncle used to play Tin Lizzie’s way back in the ‘80s. To me, it’s just like coming home. I love to be able to help develop that.”
Szabo currently works with many venues and bands in Kelowna and across the country. He hopes to continue building the talent pool in Edmonton, while opening up a network to Kelowna. Weran feels Szabo is a natural choice given his experience and credentials in the Edmonton music scene.
“I’ve been really trying to find people who really have their heart into the local scene,” Weran says. “His ideas for the venue really work with my goals and my values for this. It really worked hand-in-hand. It wasn’t a hard decision.”
The Forge will be inclusive of all genres and styles of music. The company will partner with local promoter Justin Sturek to book hip-hop acts, and will also include blues, folk and country—offering genre specific nights.
“My hope is that we can work with the bands in Edmonton of multi-genres and hopefully crossover crowds that can help everybody,” Szabo says.
Plans are in place for The Forge to be fully functioning by January 13 and 14, with a grand opening to follow in February. By springtime they hope to have the venue open six days a week—housing a variety of musical and artistic events.
With preparations and renovations still being finalized, Weran is quite excited to bring live music back to the space.
“We’re still fairly centralized on Whyte. Ave., and it’s just perfect for people to come in and enjoy music,” Weran says. “It’s helpful because we really need to have that on the Ave., it’s been lacking for so many years now. It’s going to bring the community back onto Whyte Ave.”
Originally published in VUE Weekly, December 15, 2016.