By Tyler Stewart
LETHBRIDGE — On August 27th, the longest-running music venue in Lethbridge permanently closed its doors. After 11 years of operations under brothers Jesse and Tyler Freed, The Slice was not just the most consistent place to see live music in town, but a breeding ground for the local music scene, and to many, a second home.
“I discovered The Slice because of a Sun-Rype juice commercial, actually,” explains Jesse Northey, namesake of the art-pop group Jesse and the Dandelions, and a Lethbridge-raised musician now living in Edmonton. “I searched out the song from the commercial to discover it was Said The Whale, and weirdly enough, they were actually playing The Slice the next day.”
As an 18-year-old just starting out in the music scene, that concert made a huge impact on Northey as he began playing shows, hosting jam nights and promoting concerts himself at The Slice, before he was asked to start doing sound for live shows.
“It was really flattering when he asked me to start working the board,” Northey says. “They typically didn’t give up very much control on things, they were very proud of their own operations running it the way they did. It was like an invitation to become part of the family.”
People who have played gigs there know the brothers Freed may not come across as the friendliest of folks when you first meet them, but anyone who has spent time there knows them to be truly welcoming and humble people, playing a vital role in building the music community without ever taking that on in an explicit way.
“It’s really a testament to the community of Lethbridge, how The Slice brought people together for music and developed friendships because of the way musicians interacted with each other,” Northey says. “It gave me an opportunity to get up and play with people that were way beyond my skill level, but in a way I could learn and grow. I haven’t found another place that’s been that supportive.”
Local songwriter and occasional bartender Shaela Miller can testify to receiving the same support – even having her face chosen for the iconic mural that graces the outside of the building.
“My very first show at The Slice was the night the mural was completed,” Miller says. “The Slice was like home to me and to so many other local musicians and music lovers alike.”
While The Slice nurtured the local music scene, it also played a role in developing more of a pan-Albertan music community, offering a consistent place for touring bands to route through in addition to Calgary and Edmonton. From hosting the kick-off to the Swig of Alberta travelling festival (organized by Northey and the folks at Edmonton’s now-defunct Old Ugly Recording Company), to providing guarantees to touring acts that would otherwise never stop in Lethbridge, The Slice went out on a limb night after night to help musicians connect with local audiences.
“There were plenty of bands like July Talk, Hollerado, Said the Whale, and others that chose to spend valuable time there instead of other places. Medicine Hat and Red Deer don’t get that same treatment,” Northey says. “It was The Slice always honouring every guarantee and making these types of shows happen. Without them taking that risk, the Lethbridge music scene would not be what it is today.”
While the scene will soldier on, thanks to newer venues like The Owl and Attainable Records, Lethbridge has not only lost the best thin crust pizza in the province (if you ate there, you’ll know), but a place where friends were made, passions were encouraged, and community was built.
“The Slice closing almost feels like a painful breakup,” Miller laments. “The kind of breakup where you are both still deeply in love, but know in your heart it is over and there is no turning back.”AB, Alberta, Lethbridge, Slice closing, Slice Lethbridge, The Slice