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The fall and rise of a scene: a music promoter’s perspective

Dan1Edit [1]

BELLEVILLE – Local musician and music promoter Dan Foote performs with his band NonExistent in Belleville. File photo courtesy of Chandra McLeod [2].

By Greg Murphy [3]

BELLEVILLE – “Every few years the scene dies and comes back; it goes up and down. You might have a busy year, busy summer … and then the next year is dead,” says Dan Foote [4], a Belleville musician and music promoter.

Now 30, Foote has promoted music here since he was 15. It’s a constant uphill battle, he said.

“The scene is really up and down in Belleville, I find. You get different styles of music that come and go. From my experience it works in a cycle. The scene will go down and then come up again. The bands will break up for various reasons and then someone new will come along and rock it and then everyone will start playing that style. It’s a repetitive thing. You have to roll with the punches in Belleville. If you don’t, you’ll fall,” he said, sipping coffee at Sweet Escape Desert & Coffee Lounge [5] on Front Street on a snowy afternoon.

By “scene,” Foote means Belleville’s underground music acts in the genres of metal [6], hardcore [7], punk [8]and rock ‘n’ roll, as well as the people who go to the shows. Foote, who is also the front man for local metalers NonExistent [9], said there are many factors that play into the ebb and flow of underground music in Belleville.

During the school year, Loyalist College [10] is a big source of young rockers who go to shows, he said.

“The summers are quiet, and then once the college is back you get a bunch of people at shows. It builds through the college year and then dies off again in the summer.”

Shows are still put on during the summer, but they can be hit and miss, he said. The scene demands new artists constantly for it to stay in shape, he added.

“Another thing is you can’t throw a consistent number of the same style of shows and expect to continuously draw, and continuously make money, and continuously pay bands. The challenge is to always push to get new bands to come play here to keep the scene interesting.”

Geographically speaking, Belleville is a great place to have new and exciting bands play, Foote said, explaining that because it rests on a major arterial highway between Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, the city is an easy stop for bands on tour. But with those bands, consistent income is essential to have them play shows on tour: gas, food and tour merchandise to sell, among other necessities, are expensive for touring bands, he said.

“I try to establish up front what bands are to be paid. I normally have money in pocket to give them for stopping in Belleville. It’s common in small towns for some promoters to pay by the door – that’s when problems come up. If the band doesn’t draw a crowd, they won’t get paid well. Like, I’ll promote a show, they’ll promote a show – we work together but still no one comes. A lot of them understand but there’s little we can do about it.

“I did a show with Hello Kelly [11]. They played at the Irish Hall here. Something like six people showed up … and they weren’t cheap; they were touring Canada at the time. They were really understanding. I pushed the show and pushed it, but very few came out. That’s the way it is sometimes.”

Foote said that though sometimes bands aren’t paid well in smaller towns, it’s all about trying your hardest to help them. Promoters are there to help bands get a foot in the door of a town’s local scene, to introduce bands to new fans, he said.

The availability of venues is another factor that plays into the success of a scene. A number of years ago, venues like the Irish Hall on Church Street, the Engineers Hall on Pine Street, the Bohemian Penguin on Front Street and the Organic Underground, also on Front Street, used to see underground music shows frequently. Some of them are now closed, but there are other reasons for fewer shows, such as venue owners not wanting loud, boisterous events, and structural problems with the facilities.

“Some venue owners don’t want bouncing around. The guys like doing their arm-swinging and their bouncing around and things like that. Mosh pits [12]! Come on! You’ve got to have a pretty resilient location in order to throw a heavy-metal show. You can’t have a place that has a nice pretty lamp beside the stage, because it might not sit there for too long. It’ll get tipped over. We have a pretty respectful scene; people wouldn’t damage property on purpose … but it would probably happen,” Foote said.

More recently, the scene has suffered from a loss of some of its bands. Foote said several Belleville bands have broken up over the  past year.

“It seems like we’ve had in the last year or so a handful of locals break up … Our scene was getting a bit quiet, I found, because so many of the bands were just breaking up. With Blood Drenched Hands [13] broke up, Black Stab Gospel [14]broke up, Ymir [15] broke up. (Ymir’s) guitarist moved to Thailand for a bit, so he’s gone,” he said, adding: “There are many reasons that bands break up. Some disagree; others get old and buy houses. Some people just get tired of it and move on.”

But Belleville’s music scene isn’t all doom and gloom, Foote said. He predicts the scene will come back full force soon.

“It’s just a prediction, man. We have shows coming up, like Ill Scarlett [16] – they’ll be in town soon. Silverstein [17] will be playing here as well, at the Belle Pub [18]. Keep an eye out for some good shows this year.”