How many permanent all-ages music venues in Vancouver can you name?
Trick question. There aren’t any.

But a four day music event called “Safe Fest” aims to change all that. The proceeds will go toward securing a permanent, alcohol-free spot for underage concertgoers.

“I work as a music teacher and I have a lot of underage students that love music and they, all of the time, are complaining about not being able to see shows,” says organizer Daniel Ruis.

The event is being put on by the “Safe Amplification Site Society” or “Safe Amp” for short. Until now the group has been putting on shows at Astorino’s restaurant at Commercial and Venables.

“The issue with that is that it is only temporary because they have to give up their lease because [the building] is going to be developed eventually.”

More than 75 bands are playing 13 different venues between now and Sunday.

Full access will cost you just $15.00. Wristbands are available online at or at select retailers including Red Cat, Zulu, Beatstreet, and Neptoon Records. Individual shows range in price from free to $10.00 and donations are also being accepted.

SafeAmp formed in 2009 with the idea of presenting music to people of all ages and establishing a permanent legal, sustainable, and accessible all-ages venue in Vancouver.

Today, the Safe Amplification Site Society is working with the Britannia Community Centre to promote gigs at Astorino’s on Venables Street. For the next year, the organization hopes to build momentum towards its goal.

“If we are able to prove that this is something Vancouver needs, then we are hoping to get further funding and develop a permanent site either where we are or elsewhere,” says SafeAmp’s Ryan McCormick. “It’s really easy to become a member and present whatever you want as we don’t have any curatorial play in this.

“Fill out the form, pay $10 or do two hours of volunteer time and you can book a show.”

The organization also provides workshops on how to stage a show that respects bylaws, and lobbies the city, province and other stakeholders to attain its goal of making sure the kids can rock.

McCormick, 30, is old enough to legally attend licensed performances, but remains dedicated to the cause because he remembers how little there was when he was an underage fan as well as a performer.

Lynzaii Made of IndieStar Live got into the biz for the same reason.

“I started promoting shows when I was 15 in Red Deer, Alta., because bands were always going through town between Calgary and Edmonton and not stopping,” Made explains. “So I started doing shows there, where it was a lot less restrictive than it is here. I continued with it when I moved out to Vancouver.”

Made has found a home at the Tom Lee Music Hall on Granville Street, bringing all-ages gigs onto the centrally located and familiar Granville Entertainment strip. A dedicated all-ages venue is a great idea, but she would also like to see an arrangement where wristbands or upper/lower level separation could allow all-ages/licensed events.

A MULTI-DAY FESTIVAL aimed at helping to secure a permanent all-ages music venue in the city will take place in Vancouver next month.

Local band BESTiE is presenting the four-day, all-ages music festival #Safe Fest, which will run from October 10 to 13 at venues around the city.

According to band member Rob Cameron, the festival is intended to offer an inclusive experience for all ages, and give young people a chance to participate in the local music scene.

“We have a great, really strong, vibrant music scene in Vancouver, and unfortunately, the way the liquor laws are right now it’s incredibly difficult for anyone under the age of 19 to go see a show, or access that music scene,” Cameron told the Straight by phone. “So we’re trying to make it accessible for kids.”

The festival will feature a mix of under-age bands and established local artists, including the Boom Booms.

The pricing scheme for the event is also aimed at making the event accessible for young people. Full festival passes will cost just $15, while all shows at Astorino’s, Red Cat Records and Neptoon Records will be by donation. Other showcases will cost in the range of $5 to $10.

“I know if you’re a kid and you don’t have a job, it’s tough to get money,” said Cameron. “Even if someone can’t afford $15 for a festival pass, they can still come see about half the shows.”

Profits from the festival will go toward the Safe Amplification Site Society, a non-profit that is working to set up a permanent all-ages venue in Vancouver, and to The Music Tree, a not-for-profit foundation dedicated to raising awareness of ecological community projects through concerts and other events.

Safe Amp is currently operating a temporary all-ages music venue at Astorino’s on Venables Street.

“At the moment…any established music venue that is regularly putting on shows is not allowed to have anyone under 19 in the bar,” said Cameron.

“So really if you’re under age and you want to go see shows, you’re either going to a rare music show at a hall that someone’s decided to put on, usually at a loss–because it’s really hard to make money if you’re not selling booze–or Astorino’s.”

Cameron said the idea for the all-ages festival initially came about as part of a challenge through the Peak Performance Project. The members of BESTiE , one of 20 finalists in the competition, hope to see the festival evolve into an annual event.

The submission deadline for bands interested in playing the festival is September 27. More information is available on the #Safe Festwebsite.

Liquor Policy Review

The BC Government is currently collecting feedback from the public on what liquor laws they should change. We think they should reduce ageism by allowing minors into licensed music venues, fixing the special occasion licensing system, and ending the ban on delicensing for all-ages events. Have your say over at

NOW SETTLED INTO it’s semi-permanent home at Astorino’s, the Safe Amplification Site Society has cooked up two of it’s more high profile all-ages gigs for this weekend.

On Saturday (September 7), Byron Slack of Invasives joins Nomeansno’s Tom Holliston for a “rare acoustic set” at the Commercial Drive supper club.

The following night (September 8), Nardwuar brings both the Evaporators and Thee Goblins to Astorino’s for a free—that’s right, free—all-ages throwdown.

Joining the Nard is one of Mint Records’ newest signings, garage rockers Tough Age—a band led by Korean Gut’s Jarrett K, who was one of the founders of SASS, giving Saturday’s show a nice triangular symmetry. And who doesn’t like triangles?

"We’ve been fans of Jarrett’s other projects for quite some time now," Mint Records’ Shena Yoshida told the Straight. "So when (Mint label mate) Jay Arner told us about the completed record, we were really excited to hear it. The band works really hard and is made up of lovely people, so we were more than happy to help get it out there."

Yoshida and her crew are so happy, in fact, that they sent us a link to the band’s debut single for the label, “Sea of White”.

Mint releases the Tough Age album in November.

It’s Saturday night, almost 9pm, and we’re at the corner of Venables and Commercial.  Walking up to the old Astorino’s building, you wouldn’t know that there is an all-ages show starting in ten minutes.  Partially, because nobody is here yet, not even the opening band.  Partially because nobody shows up to shows on time in Vancouver.  It’s a thing- Vancouver Time.  If something is scheduled to start at 9pm, and you want to save yourself upwards of an hour of standing around awkwardly waiting for something to happen, show up at 11.  This seems to happen a lot at Astorino’s (affectionately SASStorino’s)  since theSafe Amplification Site Society (Safe Amp) started renting the space earlier this year.  It’s 9pm, the show is supposed to start, and nobody seems to care.

It’s still easy to see why people get confused about the space.  A charming, homemade sandwich board, with teal blue backdrop and hand-painted red letters indicate that there is, indeed a show:  “All Ages, Come In!”.  However, as welcoming as this lovely sign is, the actual building itself is a bit ominous, and even more so since the installation of a grey, wire fenced gate at the top of the two steps leading into the venue’s somewhat confusing entrance.  The more obvious and accessible entrance is locked, and gives off the impression that there is absolutely nothing going on in here tonight, but if you keep walking you’ll find the sign, likely hidden behind a small crew of folks smoking and chatting.

Once you cross the threshold into the “Red Room,” (named after the clear centerpiece of the room — a circular hole in the ceiling, complete with a mirror reflecting those standing below, a red light bulb, and a big, glittering disco ballsuspended from the middle) it appears as though little has changed since the old days when it was a bingo hall in the 70s.  In fact, a now defunct BINGO board hangs on the wall to the left of the new makeshift stage that set, waiting for the first band to arrive and start the show.  A huge, empty floor spans a very long distance between the door and the stage, and I look around at other people looking around.  Nobody knows what to do.  It’s Saturday night, after all, and this is a dry venue.

Safe Amp, a local non-profit, has been fighting for a legal, sustainable, permanent, all-ages music venue in Vancouver for years now, and as a bit of a compromise, has accepted a shared-space rental agreement through Britannia Community Centre for a short-term trial at Astorino’s.  The deal is somewhat less than ideal for the group, but a good way to test out the waters as far as running an actual venue goes.  As such, Safe Amp has taken over this massive, dusty, poorly-lit, cultural relic of a hall that, no matter how hard they try, evokes all the awkward/horrific feelings of high-school dances past.  And no alcohol in sight to calm nerves.

Shortly after 9pm, members of the opening act Kidnap Kids rush in, rosy-cheeked, and only slightly flustered, right on time to start the show.  I can’t think of a better venue for this band, who wrote most of their songs while still in high school, referencing their suburban roots, hanging out at Seylynn Hall (an all-ages music venue in North Van).  The three-piece casually strolls on stage and wishes everyone who’d bothered to show up early enough a happy 2009.  The infamous twosome of Alie Lynch and Celina Kurz shot straight into a solid set of banter sprinkled between original songs and covers, arguing over whether or not a dedication should really count if the person isn’t there, telling us anecdotes about heartbreak, dating, and what it was like to be writing songs in high school with your best friends.  If only more high school kids were in attendance!  They played to an audience of about twenty people, about half of whom were of a differently-lettered generation from the band.  Their songs areinfectiously catchy, with clever lyrics and interesting stories woven throughout, and although they sometimes stumbled through false starts and a few mid-song hang-ups, they pulled off a successful set, for a room of people who it seems were content, but had also seen it all before.  A lot of crossed arms, a lot of uncertainty, probably wondering when they could politely run across the street for something other than the organic pop for sale at the door/concession stand.

Norvaiza, also known as Todd from the Winks, is playing next.  He’s been living in Montreal for years but has come back to Vancouver and has brought back some new tunes with him. It is quite amusing to watch the latecomers filter in; each one stops in their tracks when they find an incredibly hushed room and a surprisingly calm, solo set on a mandolin, with backing tracks playing through an ipod.  The audience sits politely, cross-legged on the floor, while Norvaiza’s songs dredge up a dreamy, beach vacation kind of feeling, which was very apt, since his straw hat and laid-back look screamed lucid escape. He holds his mandolin like it is an old friend; he clearly cares for it, but is familiar enough to be a bit rough with it when he sways it side to side throughout the set.  As lovely as thereverb-drenched mandolin songs are, attention spans start to wane, and as the set goes on, about half as many people are congregating outside as were once inside.  Those who stayed for the whole set clear out quickly as soon as it ends, while DIANE start to set up.

DIANE get straight to the point, with a loud, driving sound that mesmerizes the crowd and even gets some heads bobbing to the all-encompassing rhythm that never lets up, under a thick wall of distorted guitar.  More people have come in at this point, and the crowd’s general tone seems to be a bit more lively, presumably from the help of the social lubricants provided by some of the nearby adult beverage purveyors up the street.  DIANE’s set has an almost hypnotic effect on the crowd that seems to shake the weirdness out.  Everyone looks much more at ease.

Tonight’s show is a CD release party for Collapsing Opposites’ sixth full-length album, “Revolution is Now.”  The artwork from the CD is very minimalist compared to previous releases, featuring a photograph of grey pavement, with hot pink text for the album credits.  When you open the case, however, you find an image of the outside of the Red Room at Astorino’s, digitally altered as though the name of the room was actually “REVOLUTION IS NOW.”

Ryan McCormick, Collapsing Opposites’ songwriter/vocalist, has been a large part of the Safe Amplification Site Society for years.  He was one of the founding members of the organization, and has poured hours of work into taking the organization from a simple idea to an actual venue, where he is currently throwing an all-ages show.  By listening to the themes of this latest album, you can tell that his dedication to the all-ages cause is an all-encompassing labour of love, that spills into the music, and tonight, for those lucky enough to be here, into the vast space of the Red Room at Astorino’s.

The set is a live performance of the new 9-song album, and starts with a song that sounds like a protest march chant, over a repetitive loop of circus-like guitars.  The band is ready to start, but the room is still nearly empty, so they start the music and wait for the crowd to filter in before shouting the opening line: “GENTRIFICATION!  GENTRIFICATION NOW BEGINS!”  The song is essentially a grocery list of things that are part of the problems that encompass our city, from cupcake stores, to music venues, ourselves included.  The song, and the album, are both incredibly self-referential, to the point where the chant ends in a repetition of, “PEOPLE AWARE OF THEIR OWN ROLE AS GENTRIFIERS!” The crowd is receptive, but not overly enthusiastic.  However, McCormick, now holding only a microphone, starts jumping around while singing on the floor, face to face with the audience.  The crowd looks mostly like they’ve just come either from the beach or the skate park, with sneakers and plaid shirts as the unofficial uniform for the evening.  Several people are standing with hands clasped behind their backs, but they aren’t bored, they are engaged- actively listening.  The lyrics are a pivotal part of Collapsing Opposites songs, and tonight, they have a message they’d like to get across- with a title like Revolution is Now there’s no room for misunderstandings.  Everything is pertinent.

As far as revolution goes, I’m not sure if it’s happening now, but soon.  But when McCormick tells the crowd, “You can sing along to this one if you want, it’s supposed to be an anthem for our generation,” you can’t help but feel proud to be part of this tiny movement of hope.

SASStorino’s will host shows for this year’s “Shout Back! Festival” which kicks off in the Red Room this Thursday, August 22nd at 8 pm. If you’d like to see more all-ages, sustainable venues and some great bands check it out!

Booking Form

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The year of venue death continues as Artbank prepares to close this August.   :(   

Since the beginning of this year, Vancouver has seen a surge in the number of evictions and closures of cultural spaces.

The 2013 dead-venue list already includes the Waldorf, the Junction, Rhizome, John, the Mansion, the Nines, ROYGBIV, and Nowhere, and we’ve only just entered June.

Many of these were small community spaces created out of nothing by passionate, independent artists in the most expensive city in North America, and without any support or legal recognition from the City.

The latest loss appears to be the Zoo Zhop, a Downtown Eastside record store and music venue that has been holding live concerts since 2009. Located at 223 Main Street, the Zoo Zhop has been an open and affordable space for local bands, and has built a vibrant community, serving as a launch-pad for many young artists and musicians.

The current threat against the venue comes after an unannounced visit by Vancouver Fire & Rescue Services on May 30. The surprise inspection resulted in a list of 14 repairs that must be completed to comply with the Vancouver’s fire bylaws. While those repairs are reasonable requests that should enhance the safety of attendees, the list was preceded by a demand to cease holding concerts entirely, regardless of whether or not the repairs are completed.

The space has been inspected before, but it has never been ordered to stop holding concerts. There have been no recent amendments to fire bylaws that would make music in the space illegal.

In Vancouver, which has the most unaffordable real-estate market in Canada, arts spaces often close because, in the face of high rents and other costs, it is very difficult to break even. To make sure that artists and musicians are able to live and work here, the city should be taking action to address high rents being charged to retail, residential, and cultural spaces.

Vision Vancouver has so far been unwilling to act significantly on that issue. They argue that there isn’t anything they can do when spaces are evicted because of the financial relationship between tenants and landlords. The Zoo Zhop’s situation is different because the city clearly can act here. The venue is not threatened by financial or contractual issues; it is a regulatory matter suddenly being enforced by city staff.

The first time Vancouver was described as a “No Fun City” was back in 2002. Almost 10 years later, in an attempt to address what the city itself called “contradictory and outdated policies and regulations”, the Regulatory Review on Live Performance Venues began.

Earlier this year, staff finally made one small piece of progress, launching the Arts and Culture Indoor Event Pilot Program, which allows small events in spaces that would otherwise not be allowed to host them. Unfortunately, it does not help permanent venues like the Zoo Zhop, as spaces that hold more than two events per month are ineligible for the program.

The local arts community is still waiting for the rest of the understaffed regulatory review to be completed; in the meantime, venues like the Zoo Zhop continue to fall victim to inspectors given far too much leeway to decree an end to music with the stroke of a pen.

Instead of banning concerts, the city should take up a cooperative and collaborative approach to help facilities to make safety improvements while allowing them to continue holding events. The ability to keep this venue open and safe is well within the capacity of city hall.

Although action on the Zoo Zhop will not be enough to stop the systemic loss of art space due to high rents and gentrification, Vision Vancouver should certainly intervene here and show that their claims of support for the arts community are at least somewhat sincere.

A petition has been started by the operators of the Zoo Zhop and is available here.