Cathy and I were in Halifax for about 48 hours last week.
We didn’t listen to Q104 the entire time we were there, and as a result of the issue I’m about to discuss in this column, we’ll never listen to it again. But more on that in a moment.
At the tail-end of our time in HRM, we had lunch with a longtime friend of ours. Our cashier forgot to add one of our items – a pair of samosas – to our bill, and when she finally did so, I was intrigued to learn that the forgotten food cost $8.
Heading towards the MacKay Bridge to make our way out of the city, we hit one of our favourite HRM guilty-pleasure spots, Freak Lunchbox on Barrington Street, to pick up a couple of their amazing gourmet milkshakes. They each cost $4.49 – before taxes.
Bizarrely, as two little country bumpkins from Cape Breton were willing to pay eight-bucks-plus for milkshakes or samosas, a firestorm broke out over an HRM radio host’s refusal to pay an $8 cover charge for an evening of music in a legendary Cape Breton venue.
The culprit: B.J. Wilson, a morning-drive DJ for Q104 who visited The Doryman Pub and Grill on the first Saturday night of the fall and attempted to woo the Cheticamp venue’s doorman with a group rate of $50 for Wilson’s party of 11 instead of paying the individual cover charge of $8. The doorman wisely refused, and Wilson’s gang went on their way.
Back on the air at The Q’s Dartmouth studio on Monday morning, Wilson railed against the Doryman’s cover charge and then upped the ante by posting a variation on the popular two-laughing-guys-in-suits social media meme to Q104’s Facebook page Monday morning. The well-travelled photo bore the caption: “They want an $8 cover – in Cheticamp!”
Now, forget for a moment that anyone in HRM would gripe about paying to get into a licensed establishment featuring live music anywhere in Nova Scotia.
Instead, think about the hypocrisy being shown by one of the most recognizable voices and faces of a long-running radio station that brands itself as a friend to Nova Scotian artists – even to the degree that the Q104 weekly series Route 104 is up for Radio Program of the Year honours at next month’s Music Nova Scotia awards.
Not surprisingly, complaints rained down on Q104 from across the province, with the harshest criticism coming from such Maritime music industry veterans as Matt Minglewood, J.P. Cormier, and Colin Grant. Wilson and his Q104 bosses hastily prepared an apology and even pledged to match every dollar’s worth of cover-charge money from this past Saturday’s Doryman show featuring the Inverness band No Filter, and direct that amount to the Unison Benevolent Fund, which assists musicians during times of crisis.
It’s a worthwhile effort, but from where I sit, it’s too little, too late.
See, I spent seven years as a professional touring musician in the early 2000s. That period included performances in major Maritime cities like Halifax, Sydney, Charlottetown and Fredericton, but it also included pub shows in the likes of Mahone Bay, Yarmouth, Digby, Amherst, Truro, Guysborough, D’Escousse, Arichat, Louisdale, St. Peter’s, Glace Bay, North Sydney, and yes, Cheticamp.
I treasured every one of these communities for recognizing the value of live music. And while I’m not going to lie to you and suggest that every venue that charged a cover was packed to the rafters, at least the venue owners – and those who did indeed pay the cover – recognized that musicians have to eat, that gas isn’t free, and that those contracted to provide any service to a performance venue deserve the same respect as any patron that shows up at the door.
If I can pay eight bucks for milkshakes or samosas in Halifax, you can pay eight bucks for a night of quality entertainment, wherever it’s taking place and whether or not you recognize the name on the marquee.
And considering the high calibre of entertainment in Cheticamp – from La Swing du Suete, to Le Grand Cercle, to say nothing of the award-winning, trailblazing talent that fills The Doryman on a regular basis – we should consider ourselves lucky that there’s any place in the community willing to charge only $8 to get in the doors.
Eight dollars and a little humility could have saved Q104 from a public relations nightmare. Instead, they’ve lost the respect of the music community they claim to serve – and they’ve lost this independent musician’s patronage forever.