Sunday, March 28, 2010

Return To Harpo's??? I've seen a buncha ads around Victoria for a blues gig tonight at the Upstairs Cabaret, billed as "Return To Harpo's"...and it got me thinking about the state of venues in Victoria right now. Of course, the Upstairs Cabaret, home of the weekend party in Bastion Square...wasn't always the go-to place for twenty-somethings looking to get drunk, listen to crap music and pick-up...from 1974 to 1995, it was known as Harpo's, and was Victoria's premier live music venue. I never saw a show at Harpo's (the first time I visited Victoria was a year or two after it closed...and I didn't move here until 10 years after that), but I had heard about the legendary venue from tons of people who'd played there in it's heyday. Harpo's was part of the bar circuit for bands touring Canada throughout the 80's and first half of the 90's, and played host to pretty much every Seattle band (known and unknown) during that period (ever wonder why so many Heats and Allies records turn up on the South Island?). Punk, Indie, Blues, Reggae, all went down at Harpo's over the years.

There's a Facebook Group for Harpo's where you can read people's memories of that bar, the shows, and the bands that played there...check it out. an obnoxious bar that caters to drunk college kids and tourists, tries to cash in on it's former glory as one of this cities most beloved music venues for one night, to promote some blues show. It just gets me thinking of how much this city could benefit from a venue like Harpo's right now. As is, Victoria has one venue that doesn't rely on club nights and big drawing bands to pay the bills, and that supports live music pretty much every day of the week. I think we could use another. Band's like Young Fresh Fellows, Fastbacks, Monomen, Headcoats, Phantom Surfers, the Mummies, Flop, Nomads, Cynics, Night Kings, Girl Trouble, etc...played Victoria over the years. I don't know how many of those bands would have ended up playing here if faced with the current musical landscape in Victoria. I mean...when was the last time you saw a no-name band from Seattle on stage at a bar in Victoria?

Next time you're taking a walk down Wharf or through Bastion square...imagine The Mummies playing the space now occupied by the Upsatirs Cabaret. The Mummies played Harpo's 3 times in 1990/1991...and those were probably 3 of the top 10 punk shows to hit Victoria in the past 20 years. Here's some pics...

1 comment:

Upstairs Cabaret said...


Just stumbled upon this now.

I can understand your view on nightclubs in Victoria these days and who they cater to. One thing that some people might not realize is that those typical weekend nights are the nights that pay the bills and keep our doors open.
We at Upstairs Cabaret use those nights to financially support events like the "Return to Harpos" and many other live shows that we put on multiple times every month.
Unfortunately times change and the public's willingness to support live music isn't as vibrant as the alternative. That all said its our goal to continue to push forward with bringing more live music back to this historic space.
Recent acts we have hosted : Maceo Parker, Deep Dark Woods, Jon Cleary, Bill Johnson, The Lost Fingers to just name a few.
If you ever have some insight or suggestions for us I would be happy to hear them.
You can also check out our event calendar at

Joel Friesen
Upstairs Cabaret