By B. Simm
CALGARY — Mark Russell, proud to be born and bred in the city’s southern burbs, wanted something more than playing lacklustre all ages shows. He wanted out of the basement and into the bars, where there was a few dollars to me made, and a few (quite a few) beers to be shared. Calgary Beer Core was his brainchild, and along with Jim Martin and a cast of devotees they’ve cultivated a grassroots operation that’s created community out of disorganization, bolstering numerous local acts and now bringing some of the punk rock great to town under the CBC banner.
Mark Russell: All ages shows were on the slide in the late ‘90s, early 2000s; really shitty at the time. I got fed up, formed a band, BDFM (Beer Drinking Fighting Machine) and decided to throw my own shows. We also had a little skateboard company up and running, Hell’s Court. The Beer Core actually came out of that. There were only four or five live venues doing stuff then, The Underground, Distillery, The Point on 17th and The Stetson. Things took off in a big way. Within a month we met 20 bands, by the end of the year we’d booked close to 150.
BeatRoute: The Distillery became your main stomping ground.
MR: The Point was our first show. Fights broke out, cops were called, the place was trashed and we got banned. I went looking for a new venue and came across the Distillery (originally located on the corner of 8 St. and 5 Ave. SW). Got drunk one afternoon, and wound up doing a massive amount of work there as well as the Underground (now the glorious Commonwealth).
Jim Martin: We did a few shows at the Barfly too, next to Broken City. It was ridiculously small. There was an entrance, a stage and the bathrooms all crammed toegther. I really liked making people wait ‘til the band was off stage before they could pee. That was the best part of the Barfly.
BeatRoute: But it’s not all just about drinking, parties, throwing fists, the Beer Core has done a lot of charity work.
MR: That first year we got involved with the Distillery we started the Rock for Tots (children’s benefit) and Rock for Tits and Ass (cancer benefit). We did Rock for Veterans for four years.
JM: And there was an endless stream of benefits where someone we knew had to get home to bury his grandpa or something like that. And all the Salvation Army shows for six years. At its worst, two shows every weekend throughout November into December with something like ‘80s bands.
BR: Still, there’s the perception that the Beer Core is really just a roving clubhouse that consists of a bunch of dudes looking to play loud and have a good time. Do you have a bigger vision for it than that?
MR: Having a good time is definitely part of it. Originally the idea was to get bands band out of the basement and into licensed venues. We all turned 18 and wanted to drink anyway. So why not play, drink and get paid?
JM: A lot of battle of the bands where in bars, which was a load of crap. It was divisive instead of community.
MR: More like battle of the friends, because clearly some bands were better than others. But what mattered was how many friends a band could bring out. We’ve tired to bring bands together. Instead of having one band sitting over in the corner like some kind of high school clique, we tried to bring them to same table, let’s drink together, shoot the shit, smoke weed, fight together, what ever it was. And that created something that was super easy for us to hold on to.
JM: There was a natural camaraderie that fell into play. If you knew a Beer Core show was happening, you’d know a bunch of people there.
MR: We wrestled with a lot of people thinking we’re just a gang. Bands who played Beer Core shows were THE Beer Core bands just because we posted bands who played our shows on our site. So we got rid of that roster. Anyone is eligible to play our shows. The inner circle, the core, are the people who help run the business.
BR: What’s that consist of?
MR: We’ve had a designer who’s pumped out posters for the last eight years, website and social media guys, there’s a decorating committee, my wife’s the merch coordinator and handling all the government stuff bringing in the bigger acts. Where Jim and I look after the bookings and oversee the majority of the shows.
JM: We’ve been lucky, because we’ve had all these people wanting to be part of it, willing to come to meetings and help out and do some of the shitty, most thankless tasks like looking after the door and counting heads on the floor.
MR: While I’ve always been a businessman, I had to step up and get organized. It’s a community business.
Celebrating 10 Years of Calgary Beer Core takes place from Aug. 29-31 with over 20 bands playing at Vern’s, Dickens and The Stetson.AB, Alberta, Calgary Beer Core, Dickens Pub, Jim Martin, Mark Russell, Stetson, Vern's