ART BEAT – OOE Artist Feature: Red Bird Lands in the Hood!

Tanis Browning-Shelp

A big red bird perched high above 1165 Bank Street (near Belmont Avenue) in Old Ottawa South signals the arrival of a new live music venue with strong ties to Old Ottawa East (OOE). Red Bird Live owner Geoff Cass is a longtime OOE resident. “Our webmaster/designer, our bookkeeper, and our merch supplier are all residents of OOE,” Cass says. “Many of our OOE neighbours and friends volunteered their time to help get the space ready. Plus, an OOE resident donated a piano!”

The Bluegrass House Band performs at Red Bird Live on Bluegrass Monday, March 14. Photo by Laura Collins

The Bluegrass House Band performs at Red Bird Live on Bluegrass Monday, March 14. Photo by Laura Collins

Cass is a backyard birder and hobby musician who plays in a band with some other neighbourhood dads. “The cardinal logo came from the cover of our first album, which was called Radiance,” he says. “A radiance is a flock of cardinals.” The logo was designed by Doug Taylor.

Cass describes the venue as a place to teach, learn, play, and enjoy live music in a safe, enriching environment. “Red Bird will be open during the day for people to come in and enjoy coffee and pastries.” They will be serving coffee from Almonte’s Equator Coffee Roasters. “It will also be open during the day for playing music,” he says. “Last Friday we had 25 retirees come in to jam all afternoon and try out the space.”

Previously, the site has been a car dealership, a kitchen store, a furniture store, and an axe-throwing establishment. Red Bird Live’s inviting, and funkily designed venue space has a capacity of 80. The chairs are comfortable, and all face the stage. “This is a music venue that happens to have a bar, not a bar with a musician over in the corner playing background music,” Cass says.

The art-enhanced café is at the front. The stage, which is located at the back, is equipped with state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems and can accommodate a full band. “It is also good for soloists because it is comfortable and welcoming,” Cass says.

A self-described community guy—hockey coach, Hopewell dad, and Brantwood Park “Hoser”—Cass has a community recreation background. He has been involved in the Ottawa music scene for many years. “I ran a music school in Westboro through the Dovercourt Recreation Centre, and I ran the Ottawa Bluesfest School of Music and Arts. But I was a casualty of pandemic cuts on both fronts. I found myself wondering what to do next and rattling business ideas by friends. There was strong support for this idea, so we set about finding the space and doing the planning.

Musician and Red Bird Music School teacher Shaun Francisco performs at Red Bird Live’s Open Stage Tuesday on March22. Photo by Laura Collins

Musician and Red Bird Music School teacher Shaun Francisco performs at Red Bird Live’s Open Stage Tuesday on March22. Photo by Laura Collins

“Red Bird Live is here to complement what is already a very strong music scene in Ottawa. We’ve gotten feedback that live music starts too late for some people who want to get home to their families. Many musicians feel that way too. The pandemic wiped out several Ottawa music venues, so we’ll be filling a void thereby providing an income to musicians. Red Bird’s music teachers are also our bartenders, baristas, and performers. This set-up will allow them to pursue their musical journeys.

“Red Bird is a venue that will attract musicians. This is a strong arts neighbourhood. We’ll have local talent performing as well as touring musicians, and gatherings of musicians jamming. We are also here to teach.”

Red Bird currently has four small teaching rooms for private and semiprivate lessons in voice, piano, guitar, drums, and several other instruments. “Our musicians’ green room will eventually double as a space for small group programming such as songwriting workshops,” Cass says. He describes Red Bird’s music lessons as organic and low pressure. “Our number one focus is to get our students to really enjoy playing their instrument. We want them to have fun getting good. We might even switch up their instrument if it is a better fit for the songs they love.”

Cass also describes Red Bird as a safe place to perform. “When you’re around a stage you grow a comfort with that stage,” he explains. “The first time you come for a lesson, you may just walk across it on the way to the teaching room. The next time, you might stop for a moment. The next time, you might pick up a hand drum and start playing. We want this to be a place where our students feel comfortable playing.

“One young guy came for his guitar lesson the other day and his brother waited for him near the stage where a musician was playing. The student came out of his lesson saying that he had learned the A minor chord. Then the musician chimed in and said: ‘Wait! Let me play a song with an A minor in it.’ Then the kid realized that the A minor he had learned in the teaching room made it on stage!”

Red Bird Live owner and OOE resident Geoff Cass in front of his live music venue at 1165 Bank Street on February 22, opening day. Photo by Nicole Cass

Red Bird Live owner and OOE resident Geoff Cass in front of his live music venue at 1165 Bank Street on February 22, opening day. Photo by Nicole Cass

“We want youth to come out to Red Bird Live to perform. We love to see families playing, singing, and enjoying music. Remember, Red Bird is more performance space than a bar.”

Red Bird Live’s weekly events so far: Bluegrass Mondays (doors at 7:00 p.m., music from 7:30 – 9:30 p.m.)
                   Open Stage Tuesdays (sign up at 7:00 p.m., music at 8:00 p.m.)
                   Coffee House Sundays (open stage, music from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.)

For a list of events, or to register for lessons, go to www.redbirdlive.ca

Author Tanis Browning-Shelp (http://www.browning-shelp.com) pens her Maryn O’Brien Young Adult Fiction series, published by Dog-Eared Books, from her home in Old Ottawa East. Contact tanis@browning-shelp.com if you have information about artists or art events that you believe would enrich our community members’ lives.

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