Though the seven-year-old Sam may be a bit younger than the average youth trying to see some live music in Vancouver, Rose brings up a good point. Venues in town that are bars may have their own set of problems, but running an all-ages venue in this town is a whole lot tougher—they can’t sell liquor to minors and that cuts a big source of revenue that helps most venues in town pay rent.
Jarrett Evan Samson, another director of the society and a musician who plays with Collapsing Opposites and Shipyards, had a story that really drove the point that bars and kids don’t mix. When he was 16 he desperately wanted to see Matthew Sweet play at Richard’s on Richards. He wanted to see Sweet so badly, but he had a conscience, so he decided that instead of sneaking in, he would try to appeal to the owners of Richard’s to work out some way he could go. They have lots of concerts there, they must love music.
Surely they would understand the desire of a rabid music fan to get in and see his favourite band. So he sucked up his pride, asked his mom if she would be willing to come supervise him at the show and called Richard’s. After explaining his desire to see Sweet he was rudely told “We’re in the business of selling alcohol. We’re not a fucking daycare.” Then he was hung up on. Samson got a fake ID and went anyways, but the memory of those final words stuck with him.
Situations such as the ones described and more prompted the directors in the group start thinking about the necessity for a dedicated underage venue in Vancouver. When they realized that they’d all been thinking the same thing they realized they had enough people to start an organization dedicated to their collective goal.
Samson and Melberg were sitting in a circle in the Shed with three other directors of SASS: Ryan McCormick from Collapsing Opposites, Caitlin Gilroy from Melodia and Unreliable Narrator, and David Mattatall from Shipyards. It’s easy to see why they wanted to meet to chat with me in the Shed. The Shed is pretty much exactly the sort of place that SASS hopes to run; located in East Van, it acts as a jam space and small venue that’s popular for those who don’t feel it’s necessary to drink at a show. It’s a great space and popular with the younger folk in Vancouver’s music community, but it does have some problems. It’s just a shed in someone’s backyard—tiny, not soundproofed (jamming ends at 9 p.m.), is being sustained by the goodwill of the home’s tenants and neighbours and is definitely not zoned or licensed with the city as a proper venue.
“We want something that’s sustainable, that’s permanent,” said McCormick.
They’ve got a wish list of their ideal space. They’re working towards creating a venue/art space that is soundproof (or soundproofable) with a capacity between 85 and 200, that is accessible to the people of Vancouver, legal, affordable (for the society and people who go there) and most importantly, all ages, so it won’t be making its money on alcohol sales either.
That’s a tall order, but SASS has a lot of determination, and it goes beyond the five directors who spoke with me.
SASS currently has 35 people signed up and those members participate in various committees that are working towards goals such as raising awareness and raising funds. The group is getting a lot of support from performers and the local music community.
“I don’t think there’s one artist yet who hasn’t said ‘Yes, that’s what Vancouver needs,’” Mattatall said.
They’re still a long way from achieving their financial goals, but they’re working towards it with an admirable determination and patience. “We want to find a space that’s right for us, but we want to find a space that’s right for us at the right time,” said McCormick. They’re not going to cut corners to open a space before it’s able to sustain itself through some sort of funding.
The group is spending a lot of time brainstorming ways to gather the funds that will be necessary to run this space.
“We’re artists primarily,” said Samson jokingly. “We don’t have bags of money.”
They’ve been looking at other cities for inspiration on how such art spaces are run, such as the Vera Project in Seattle, the Smell in L.A. and the Department of Safety in Anacortes. These spaces are able to operate because of private donations and government grants in addition to any revenue brought in from concerts or retail sales at the location. As McCormick pointed out, they’re not too picky about what sort of organization wants to fund them either. “This is an opportunity for CEOs to get in touch with the grassroots community,” McCormick said with a grin. He said it jokingly, but you can tell he meant it. This space is important to SASS.
Until they get some heavy hitting donors or government grants, though, the group is happy to put events together with the proceeds going to the eventual funding of the space. There have been concerts and film screenings and they are currently putting together donations for a garage sale which will have all proceeds go towards the society. If you’re interested in donating, volunteering, attending an event or just want more information about SASS you can check out their website at www.safeamp.org.