owls club toronto

Bands fleeing Smiling Buddha bringing Owls Club back to life

It's been a tough month for the independent music scene in Toronto. 

Venues keep closing, and news of a sexual assault allegation against the co-owner of Smiling Buddha – a longtime music institution – has held musicians and event bookers in a moral bind. 

As promoters scramble to find new spaces to host their local and out-of-town acts, it seems as though one venue in particular has risen above the rest as the ideal substitute. 

The Owls Club, a 101-year-old local legion on Dovercourt with a leaky roof, is now hosting artists like Calvin Love, Nyssa, and Petra Glynt – all of who were originally slated to perform at Smiling Buddha later this month. 

While weekends at most venues are usually booked far in advance, this two-floored club – whose members mostly consist of veterans and seniors – had an open schedule that permitted bookers a stress-free transfer of shows over from a bar that has fallen into disrepute. 

Most popular for its Saturday karaoke sessions, a monthly country shindig called Saddle Up and card nights on Fridays, Owls Club's fading interior makes it an unlikely spot to host a head-banging concert.

With an aging membership and painfully cheap fees (it costs just $45 a year for new joiners), the club has been fundraising for years to reach its goal of $30,000 to cover expenses ranging from exorbitant hydro bills to maintenance fees for its leaking roof.

"We're just living day by day and we want to catch up," says Ana Da Silva, who has been managing the club since 2002. 

According to Ana, the introduction of young live bands to the space has been incredibly positive.

"I'm happy," she says. "It's saving us." 

Owls has been playing host to numerous concerts since the summer of 2016, but the recent influx of musicians moving over from Smiling Buddha has gotten more people through its doors than ever. 

Kyle Knapp, a local musician who has acted as the main contact for Owls' bookings, says he's referred between 10 and 15 artists to Ana since last week. 

"I don't see it being a replacement as much as it being a new, fresh space," says Kyle, who states the venue's old school vibe and good acoustics in the main hall upstairs add to its appeal as an upcoming hotspot for live music. 

"We really hope that people come and revel in how timeless the space is, and appreciate the fact that this place is opening their doors to a different demographic," he says. 

Concert promoter Dan Burke calls Owls "an unconventional place to do a live music event." As an industry veteran that worked out of the Silver Dollar before it closed last May, Burke has seen his share of venues come and go.  

"Every band and promoter I know has abandoned Smiling Buddha," he says. Burke has booked many of the shows that have switched over to Owls, including the Montreal-based band NOBRO, scheduled to play at the end of the month.

"I hope they benefit from this situation for more than a month or two." 

As to whether or not he continues booking shows there: it depends.

We'll have to see if the century-old building – which, from the outside, looks like it's stuck in time – has what it takes to become the music venue of Toronto's future. 

Lead photo by

SaddleupTO


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