Some Winnipeg organizations and musicians are moving away from hosting traditional shows.
Joy Balmana is the founder of Stream WPG, a non-profit concert series that uses Facebook Live to stream performances by local hip-hop, R&B and soul artists to viewers around the world.
“I feel like a lot of people still have this idea that there isn’t a big hip-hop culture in Winnipeg,” Balmana says. “But there is.”
She says she created Stream WPG in 2016 to help connect emerging local artists to the audiences they deserve.
“I’d go hang out in my friends’ studios, and they’d be collaborating, performing and beatboxing, and it would be a collective of great musicians doing those things. But when it came to actually performing, the crowds were really low, or the shows were few and far between.”
The most unique element to Stream WPG’s concerts is that anyone can watch them. Hosted at Fools & Horses, Stream WPG’s shows are free to attend, free to watch online and designed to be as inclusive as possible.
“I like the idea of barrier-free music,” Balmana says.
“Not having to pay cover charge, holding it in a place that has gender-neutral bathrooms and that is wheelchair accessible is super important to me. That’s why I chose Fools & Horses as a venue, and they were really down to collaborate in that way.”
Balmana says audiences also enjoy how accessible Stream WPG artists are on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
“It’s like, ‘Hey, this artist followed me back! That’s so cool!’ The artists are gaining this audience that they may not have had before.”
New technological platforms like Facebook Live aren’t the only way emerging Winnipeg musicians are growing their audiences.
In 2013, synth-pop duo Theresa Thordarson and Ava Glendinning wanted to play live concerts but felt intimidated by traditional music venues.
“We were pretty shy. We had played only one show. We weren’t really a band back then,” Thordarson says. “We were still very shy about going into a public venue.”
The duo decided to play publicly anyway – not at a traditional venue, but the cozy second-floor living room of Glendinning’s home. The concert was a success and a tradition was born, which continues in 2017 even as the duo’s band, now called Bicycle Face, plays to larger crowds.
Glendinning says house concerts have a distinct vibe that sets them apart from shows at more traditional venues like The Good Will or The Handsome Daughter.
“If you say, ‘I’m playing a house concert and it’s going to be really fun. It’s going to be a unicorn party, and then you can hang around after and we’ll serve hot chocolate,’ it gives people something totally different to go to.”
Thordarson also credits house concerts for developing a sense of community among Bicycle Face fans.
“It’s nice because there are built-in conversation starters like, ‘How did you find out about this show?’ And we’re such an active part – we introduce ourselves, we tell silly stories, we interact with the audience,” Thordarson says. “It’s not an anonymous thing.”