“You don’t have to go
home shores but you can’t stay here!”
As the staff sweep up, count floats and herd patrons, the entertainer laughingly advises from the stage the night over. Then they turn the ‘ugly lights’ on to crash the tipsy back to reality.
Our neighbourhood is a permanent block party. Arguably the best one in the country.
We all live on George Street in St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador. Some of us literally, some historically (paid our dues and all that rubbish), and some visit nightly. Our community comes alive after dark when most of you have drifted off. It’s not a residential neighbourhood, but I assure you we have residents.
This version of Bourbon Street boasts the most bars in one stretch in North America. Despite its reputation for wild booze fueled nights with sailors, screech-in’s and scantily clad ladies (all true I might add), there is a neighbourhood that I love. The spicy smell of the hotdog carts (lovingly called Street Meat), and in the Summer the hollow clip clop of horse hooves down the cobblestone, announcing the surveillance of the Newfoundland Constabulary Police are comforting. The outside speakers on decks, above pub doors create a cacophony of music like an arbour across the street. It’s Disney for grown ups.
Characters with guitar cases criss-crossing the street, moving from gig to gig bark at each other. “Early show at Trapper John’s, Happy Hour at Bridie’s and late show at O’Reillys…gotta go ‘by. Where you to tonight my son? Whadda you at?”
To the tourist it is a night out. To the musicians and bar staff, we are the gate keepers of our culture. We tour, but like lemmings we always return to the hood, a few blocks off the harbour where dreams come true. We are after all the city of legends. If the walls could talk I’m sure they’d sing.
So what has changed on George Street that concerns me? Believe it or not there is a lack of traditional music. Accordion revolutions, fiddle – dance ups were the hallmark of this street. Now the economy has forced many a young musician into the oil fields of Alberta. Once able to make a living on George Street playing the squeeze box; the lure of black gold has replaced the sparkle of the stage.
This is just a stop on the way to Ft. Mac or a place where you spend your pay when you return. The tourism ads have you believe there is a whale in every harbour and a fiddler sitting on every stoop. But the street is the real barometer of the musical fabric of Newfoundland and tradition is fading even here. As training academy for the next generation of players, now George Street boasts less rosin on the proverbial bow. Why should this concern more than me? No fish. Now no fiddles?
“Let’s grab some Thai food and catch a punk rock band” ….said no tourist coming to St. John’s… ever…
by Wayne Chan | May 3rd 11:55 am
My daily commute is like a small gear of mechanical time, of epicycles upon epicycles, where days turn to months and to years, and the seasons cycle through. The rhythms of time are constant, but the changes they bring are not.
by george ilsley | May 3rd 1:44 pm
The neighborhood of Broma in Vancouver (around Broadway and Main) used to have salmon streams and a temperate rainforest. Now it has hipsters.
by Brendan Harrison | Apr 12th 12:54 pm
When white supremacists moved into my neighbourhood, I was forced to reconsider what community meant to me.
by Monica Meneghetti | May 2nd 11:45 pm
Queer Banffites come in every stripe but, like other wildlife, most of us are well-camouflaged.
by Christin Geall | May 3rd 10:16 pm
In my neighborhood, houses float out to sea. They’re jacked up from their foundations, lifted onto trucks, and barged away.
by Shelley Chase | May 3rd 11:44 am
A musician's look at a neighbourhood full of bars and stages that mark the change in the culture of one of the stalwart communities of traditional East Coast music. We think of St. John's as a bastion for Celtic music and old folks songs but is there anyone left to play the songs preserved in harbours and haunts when they arrive in Sin Jawns? George Street has the gigs but where are the minstrels?