Drop-In Centre is the best kept secret when it comes to music venues (with video)

May 2, 2014

Max Ciesielski is Art.Beat’s designated volunteer sound man. Photograph by: Kerianne Sproule, Swerve

With apologies to April Wine, rock ’n’ roll needn’t always be a vicious game.

Take ArtBeat stage, Calgary’s best-kept secret when it comes to music venues, for example. The stage is set up every Friday in a corner of the dining hall at the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre. The venue is a bit obscure, but the scene is familiar to anyone who’s ever been to a concert.

At the March 28 gig, clients, staff and volunteers filled tables and benches to hear Toronto’s New Country Rehab play a set of twangy originals and covers. As the band played Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper” audience members snapped photographs with their phones, bobbed their heads to the music or quietly mouthed the words to the song. One woman danced at the front of the room while pretending to play the fiddle. (We told you it was just like any concert you’d been to.)

It’s all designed to offer a much-needed distraction from the grind of homelessness. “Being a client at a homeless shelter, it can be difficult sometimes to get out and be exposed to really good live music,” says 60-year-old Max Ciesielski, ArtBeat’s designated volunteer sound man. Ciesielski (above) has years of experience as a musician and sound engineer, and is also a resident at the Drop-In Centre. “You don’t always feel like going into a club,” he says. “You feel like, ‘Oh gosh, I’m a homeless person, maybe I won’t fit in.’”

The first ArtBeat gig took place in the fall of 2011 as part of the Possibilities Project, a series of programs that bring the arts to the Drop-In Centre. Since then, it’s grown to be one of Calgary’s best-attended weekly music events. Every Friday from 4:30-5:30 p.m., up to 600 people (typically clients and staff) pack the dining hall to catch shows by artists such as John Wort Hannam, Tim Buckley and Jocelyn and Lisa.

All the equipment, from the speakers to the sound-mixing console, have been donated or lent to the centre on a long-term basis. The musicians volunteer their time, the staff advocate for the space, and residents like Ciesielski pour their hearts and their heads into making the ArtBeat stage a beautiful place to catch a show.

“Music builds so many bridges,” Ciesielski says. “The sound has to be good so that (the musicians) can connect with the audience. If they’re not connecting with the audience, what’s the point?”

We have a feeling that Bruce Springsteen would agree. After all, he once said that “the best music is essentially there to provide you something to face the world with.” Judging by the smiles on the faces and the tears on the cheeks of the ArtBeat audience members, it’s mission accomplished.

See video of the ArtBeat stage at the Drop-In Centre.