End of an era: Calgary loses Blind Beggar Smokehouse after 16+ years

Many in the music community were left heartbroken after the staple live music venue closed its doors at the end of July

By Leanne Murray | August 10, 2022 |5:00 am

An empty stage is all that's left after the Blind Beggar Smokehouse closed its doors after almost 17 years.

Photo: Blind Beggar Facebook page

Calgary’s live music community has lost a staple venue.

For almost 17 years, the Blind Beggar welcomed countless bands and musicians from all walks of life onto its stage.

July 28 was the final goodbye as the mics were potted down, the amps unplugged, and the lights dimmed for the last time.

Owners Doug Dumelie and Patrick Ballard made an official announcement on the Blind Beggar’s Facebook page on Aug. 7.

“We have reached a place where we cannot see a way forward anymore,” reads the post.

Closing the doors

In a previous interview with Calgary Citizen, Dumelie said the past two years were by far the most difficult for the venue.

It was during the pandemic when they opted to transition into a smokehouse restaurant and, as restrictions were lifted, they were able to have musicians back on stage.

But despite their best efforts to keep the business alive, Dumelie and Ballard ultimately made the difficult decision to shut the doors.

“We are proud of the staff for all of their hard work and could not ask for better people around us. Our staff was behind us 100 per cent while we navigated these rough waters and rode this ship down with us with pride, love, and dignity,” reads the social media statement.

House band the Accomplice and drummer Jaxon Smith take one final bow on the Blind Beggar stage. Photo: Dylan Lock

Taking a final bow

Dumelie and Ballard are more than just business partners, they are also bandmates.

Their band Constant Sunshine along with the house band for the last four years, The Accomplice, closed out the final night with a heartfelt set that also featured many familiar faces who have called the Beggar home.

In the statement, Dumelie and Ballard salute the thousands of bands, artists, and acts that took the stage over the years.

“As musicians, we also wanted to provide a safe and inclusive place where bands and acts could show their talent and people could come watch with dignity and respect. We believe that we achieved this and hopefully have encouraged artists of all designations and passions to continue doing their work.”

Managing the stage

Stage manager Kyle Paston started working at the Blind Beggar shortly after it opened and wore several hats.

He and Ballard worked together at Bottlescrew Bill’s downtown and formed a friendship that has now lasted two decades. 

A couple of months after the Blind Beggar opened, Paston was invited to work the door. The red seal chef was quickly promoted to kitchen manager before becoming bar manager.

Then, Paston moved into the sound booth and mixed just about every act that hit the stage over the past 14 years.

He says he enjoyed being an integral behind-the-scenes part of the shows.

Paston’s view from the sound booth. Photo: Blind Beggar Facebook page

Proud of the sound

“From a production point of [view], if there’s no sound engineer, then you’re just going to hear a bunch of garbage. Amps are going to be too loud, you’re not going to hear any vocals,” Paston says.

Many local musicians describe the self-taught tech as the best in the business, and Paston is proud of the sound he was able to produce at the Beggar.

“A lot of techs will go in there and just run some lines, do a soundcheck, and get them going,” Paston says, adding he would ask bands if they wanted any light synchronization, backing tracks, or other things to help make the show the best it could be.

“It’s their show, I’m just there to help them put it on. The way I looked at it is, I’m there for you. This is your show and your performance and I’ll do whatever I can to help you achieve what you’re trying to do.”

Many fond memories

Having musicians like Clayton Bellamy and Wild T & the Spirit on the Blind Beggar stage were highlights of Paston’s time there, but his best memories revolve around showcasing local, original music.

“We didn’t bring in cover acts, it was all original music,” Paston says.

“And when we first started we would have a maximum: you were only allowed to play two or three cover songs throughout the entire set. So we got to see all these new artists come in and pretty much form in front of us and we got to see them get better and better over the years.”

Paston says every band on the radio was unknown at some point and had to start somewhere.

“Somebody gave them a stage to go and play on. They got to hone their skills and show off their artistry and [creativity],” he says, adding it’s always a blow to the local music scene when a venue closes.

“Some people liked us and some people didn’t. It’s always going to be that way. But as far as the indie scene goes, there are really not many places to go to play your own original music anymore, which is truly sad.”

The final Blind Beggar jam. Photo: Dylan Lock

Heartbreaking end of an era

After more than 16 years, Paston made many personal connections at the Beggar and two of his nieces also worked there — one as a bar manager and one as a server.

The closure is devastating for him and he says he’d like to get into another venue to mix sound eventually, but for now, it’s too fresh.

“I’m actually pretty heartbroken right now after being at a place for that long,” he says, adding he has far too many fond memories to count.

Jeff Hessel, vice president of marketing with Tourism Calgary, says the Blind Beggar was a huge component of the local music scene.

“[It was] a great venue that had bands and drag shows and comedy nights and open jams. So we are sad to see it go,” he says.

“Blind Beggar really created a space for people to showcase their music, for people to come together and share great music. So they definitely had a place in our music scene that will be missed by Calgarians and people that come to visit the city as well.”

Supporting live music

Hessel says the pandemic took a toll on so many businesses and that now is the time for the community to support local venues and restaurants.

“There’s a real desire to go see live music again. I think that is definitely one of the things people have missed — travellers and locals alike,” he says.

“If Calgarians are interested in going and getting out on an evening or weekend, go to these places just to see what’s happening.”

Hessel adds there are many great artists, both local and otherwise, playing in the city’s various venues.

“There’s lots of live music happening on the weekends, throughout the whole city every weekend here in Calgary.”

As emblazoned on the back of an old Blind Beggar T-shirt: Long live the pub.

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Leanne Murray

Leanne is a Calgary Citizen reporter.

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