Every July, about a million cowboy hat-wearing visitors come to Alberta in Western Canada for the Calgary Stampede, a 10-day festival of exhibitions and competitions, as well as one of the world’s largest rodeos.
This year, Calgary’s music scene is poised to steal part of the spotlight, sparked by the July 1 (Canada Day) opening of the 160,000-square-foot Studio Bell, which will house the National Music Centre and the first bricks-and-mortar homes for the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame.
The $147 million building, which has an ambitious design featuring grand, sweeping surfaces, nine interlocking towers and a walkway known as the Skybridge linking the two main structures, honors the Canadian musical heritage that has produced such musicians as Neil Young, Shania Twain, Joni Mitchell, Arcade Fire and Diana Krall.
A highlight for local music fans will be the reopening of Calgary’s King Edward Hotel as part of the center. Long known as the King Eddy, it opened in the early 1900s as a working-class hotel for travelers arriving in what was then a booming prairie town. Over the years, the King Eddy grew into a blues hub, drawing names such as Buddy Guy, John Hammond and Pinetop Perkins in its heyday before falling on hard times and closing in 2004.
The building remained, however, and was purchased by the National Music Centre. Its crumbling facade was restored and reassembled brick by brick. The structure now serves as a sort of focal point for the rest of the center, which is located in Calgary’s East Village neighborhood, about four blocks from the Stampede grounds. The King Eddy will temporarily reopen July 8 as a pop-up country music venue during the Calgary Stampede (July 7 to 17), after which it will serve as an event space for special programming.
“When I’m traveling, and people find out I’m doing this in Calgary, they all talk about the King Eddy,” said lead designer Brad Cloepfil. “I think every city has one of those clubs, if you’re lucky, where every musician and about every genre has passed through.”
The center will display its more than 2,000-piece collection of music memorabilia, including one of Elton John’s pianos, Randy Bachman’s “American Woman” guitar and a 64-foot Kimball theater organ from the silent movie era.
But the star is likely to be the Rolling Stones’ Mobile Studio — a recording unit on wheels, housed in a blue truck, where not only the Stones but Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Bob Marley, among many others, recorded music in the 1970s. It quietly went up for sale in 2000. The Canadian center bought it for about $200,000, and it was transported from New Jersey to Calgary, where it was restored.
While it will be visible to the public, the studio won’t be fully accessible to center visitors except during tours. But resident and partnering artists will be able to record tracks on the fully functional equipment — including an early Helios console, a brand of European custom-made mixing and recording equipment coveted by music geeks. As the center’s president, Andrew Mosker, put it, the musicians will be able to “touch that magic dust.”
“These are not museum objects — they’re historic artifacts that we’ve done everything in our power to make accessible for students, teachers and artists,” he said.
Studio Bell includes two additional recording studios and a 300-seat performance hall. Cloepfil said he tried to make the soaring space mimic an open-air music venue. “The idea was, whether it’s a musician or a group practicing or playing, the music would filter up through the open spaces and the building would be filled with music in some way,” he said. “It’s really about making music interactive.”
Local music aficionados are eager to see how it all unfolds.
“It looks tremendous,” said John Schultz, who works at Recordland, a vinyl shop in the nearby neighborhood of Inglewood. “Hopefully, it brings more diversity to the city, so we’re not so much known as a cow town or strictly country music city. I’m quite looking forward to it opening.”
Bachelor is freelance writer based in San Francisco.
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850 4th Street SE, Calgary, Alberta
The 160,000-square-foot home of Canada’s National Music Centre has a large collection of rare music artifacts and memorabilia. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through July; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Monday starting in August. Admission is $14 for an adult; $11 for seniors and students; $8 for children age 3 and older, free for age 2 and younger.