Iconic Commodore Ballroom celebrating 90 years of music, memories and midnight festivities

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From Sammy Davis Jr. to Snoop Dogg, the list of performers who have graced the Commodore Ballroom stage on the Granville Strip is as diverse as the musical tastes of Vancouverites.

Perhaps this is why, on the day’s 90th anniversary, the famous nightclub opened its doors to late night revelers, it’s hard to find a local who doesn’t have a tale of time spent spinning on the famous dance floor or watching a big star occurs while they were still on the way.

Inspired by the British Art-Deco ballrooms of the 1920s, with plush rugs and draped walls on the floors, the Commodore Ballroom opened on December 3, 1930 and quickly became the place to party.

It was not, however, a place to have a drink. Legally it is.

The Commodore Ballroom on Granville Street, circa 1950 (Art Jones / Vancouver Public Library)

According to Aaron Chapman, author of Live at the Commodore: The Story of Vancouver’s Historic Commodore Ballroom, nightclubs at that time were alcohol-free and people had to get their fill.

When the local police were on their tour, the doorman would signal to the band leader on stage who would immediately rally the band to play a tune called Deploy the barrel.

A busy night at the Commodore in 1930. (Vancouver Public Library Archives)

This system allowed all customers to hide their alcohol until the coast was clear.

“The police were there the night themselves and did the same, everyone knew that,” Chapman told CBC Thursday. The first edition.

Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain at the Commodore on October 30, 1991. Earlier in the year, they had played at the club as opening act for the Screaming Trees. (Kevin Statham)

Decades have passed, alcohol laws and musical preferences have changed, and the Commodore has remained a mainstay of the music scene.

Originally a place where orchestras and large groups kicked off the dance floor, many well-known names lit the scene in the years that followed.

Some mentioned by Chapman include: The New York Dolls in 1974, Kiss in 1975 and Tom Petty in 1978. The Clash also performed their very first North American show in the winter of 1979.

Kiss at the Commodore, January 9, 1975. According to Aaron Chapman’s book “Live at the Commodore,” some of Kiss’s guitar amps were actually empty and brought in to make the band appear bigger. (Kim Barnatt)

Sting performs at the Commodore Ballroom in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, February 1, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Jonathan Hayward)

“You can walk into this place and feel that energy in the room and that’s a very special thing,” Chapman said.

There aren’t many intergenerational places in town either where grandchildren can twerk where their grandparents once did the twist.

Katy Perry at the Commodore, January 25, 2009 (Michele « Sprout » Nelson)

For musician Alan Doyle, who has appeared on stage several times solo and with the band Great Big Sea, he keeps a very special memory.

It was there that, in 2017, Doyle and about 50 other musicians gathered to show their support for John Mann, frontman of local folk rock band Spirit of the West who had been diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease. .

Doyle gathered talent that night, both vocal and instrumental, and recorded a song especially for Mann in the second-floor men’s bathroom that Doyle turned into a makeshift studio.

WATCH | Renowned Canadian musicians perform at Commodore to help dear friend

Mann died in 2019 but was present at the event.

“The most beautiful night I have ever had there,” Doyle told CBC Thursday.

The venue has won numerous awards recognizing its importance as a local landmark and was named Canada’s Most Influential Club by Billboard Magazine in 2011.

To mark its 90th anniversary, the city of Vancouver has declared December 3 as Commodore Ballroom Day.

And while the pandemic may be keeping people from lashing out on the dance floor this year, venue owners Live Nation hosted a virtual birthday party featuring the British Columbia blues musician and regular. by Commodore Colin James.

James, who hasn’t seen his bandmates since March due to pandemic restrictions, says playing in an empty house is weird, it’s great to play on location.

“We just did an entire show and we couldn’t take the smiles off our faces,” James said. “You know I’m not the type to talk a lot between songs, so we just had a good time playing and it felt weirdly normal. ”

James, who has performed at the Commodore 33 times before, said the venue is unique to allow for larger shows while maintaining an intimate feel.

“Some cities got rid of their iconic places,” he said. “I’ve played it so many times over the years and it’s always really great to be here. ”

The first edition4:10Commodore turns 90

Live at the Commodore: The Story of Vancouver’s Historic Commodore Ballroom Author Aaron Chapman shares some stories about the history of the former statesmen of Granville Street. 4:10

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