Goonie Musings: Edmonton, if we don't participate we don't exist 

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Leo Martinez performed at Blues on Whyte Nov. 14. Ryan Garner/Edmonton Goonie

“If we don’t participate we don’t exist.”


That’s been our earworm since the weekend, those words, over and over — in the original voice, promoting open mic attendance, and echoed in several others during the past week, including Ryan Jespersen and Dave Chappelle’s, Leo Martinez and Kat Zel’s.


If we don’t participate we don’t exist.


The days are getting shorter. The nights are getting shorter too. First came the 10 p.m. edict, now, rather than a full-blown shutdown Alberta’s new COVID restrictions (25 per cent capacity and a live entertainment ban) essentially strapped a pair of Doc Martens on and Lui Passagliad Edmonton’s bars and restaurants right in the passaglias. They also left local musicians — who were already bouncing pillar to post, pinball wizards in an ever-tilting world — without a place to perform.


“My job as an artist is to reflect my world, to keep history,” guitarist Paul Steffes told us at the tail end of summer. “When we look back at our time years from now, the artists and musicians will inform people about this time.”


They fell silent this week, swept off stages around the City of Champions as COVID cases soar. And attendees who once risked only their livers now risk their lives, as well as reputations and relationships in a strange twist of virus-shaming and social media side-eye that’s certain to get worse as gatherings retreat underground.


We’ve been greedily hoarding our memories lately, filing them away as they happen to savour ourselves rather than sharing for public consumption — bright spots in gloomy days.


Like 100 mile house transmitting emotion through Le Cité Francophone’s human aquarium, providing a perfect date night that drew tears of all kinds and gratitude for the get-together. (Word came down yesterday that Café Bicyclette is packing it in until spring. Here’s hoping they reopen to a better, brighter world come cycling season.)


Or the following night at Blues on Whyte, when Leo Martinez tore the sparsely-crowded place apart with a stirring performance. Playing behind Plexiglas, he saved the best for last, following Rising Up with Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

Or last weekend at River City Revival House — Kat Zel finishing a full day of performances with a talented flourish before Gregos Matthews capped the night with a frenetic keep-the-rock-alive finale that featured Steffes, Jarret Gray’s fiddle and Zach Semanuik’s trumpet, among others. It called those familiar words back to us.


If we don’t participate we don’t exist.


Many venues and establishments won’t exist for much longer, unfortunately. To both their benefit and bereftment regulars mostly fill the place. And when one of them catches COVID or decides to stay home their absence extends further than an empty table or barstool. It causes fear for their safety, and our own. It means reduced shifts and strained budgets. Tough choices on several fronts, not only personal and professional, but fiscal and fatal.


Because the threat is real. People don’t ask if we know anyone who’s had it anymore. Chances are we know at least one person, perhaps many more, who’ve been affected by the virus. We also have family members struggling with health issues and friends awaiting surgeries that may never come, which makes it hard to actively promote events and encourage attendance, increasing the risk during such a precarious time.


COVID restrictions have turned the Goonie’s Edmonton Events list into a massive shoulder shrug, so rather than push event coverage or seek out sponsorships we’ll take a step back and focus on how to best serve readers once the clouds lift.

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The Edmonton Journal's events list the week of March 5-11, 2020. Ryan Garner/Edmonton Goonie 

Even without events happening there are plenty of ways to participate and support local talent while we await the day the shows must go on. Because they will. And when events are filling our concert halls and chuckle huts we’ll let you know, offering up a massive map of unburied treasure for the taking.


For now, stay safe and be well. We hope you’ll join us again on the other side, because if we don’t participate we don’t exist, and Goonies never say die.

Goonie Musings: Welcome to the Goonie, Edmonton’s one-stop resource for arts and entertainment

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Don't bend; don't water it down; don't try to make it logical; don't edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly. – Franz Kafka

Up with life. Stamp out all small and large indignities. Leave everyone alone to make it without pressure. Down with hurting. Lower the standard of living. Do without plastics. Smash the servo-mechanisms. Stop grabbing. Snuff the breeze and hug the kids. Love all love. Hate all hate. – John D. MacDonald


Welcome to the Edmonton Goonie, a non-profit online alternative newspaper aimed at helping local artists thrive and venues survive. That’s our mandate, blending the best elements of the Edmonton Journal and Vue Weekly to help fill the void in our city’s arts and entertainment coverage.

We face our most uncertain winter in recent memory. Last November our greatest fear was slipping on ice-covered sidewalks. This year, having seen Bohemia, Brick & Whiskey Public House, Empress Ale House and Rose & Crown Pub cease operations, we fear losing any more of our beloved venues, leaving artists and musicians one less place to share their talent.

The Edmonton Goonie launched on Monday, Nov. 2. In the week that followed an election turned the world on its ear, Alex Trebek died and COVID cases rose, while in our neck of these dark woods Passport Restobar cancelled its live music calendar, The Aviary reduced capacity, and River City Revival House temporarily closed its doors again, increasing the urgency to aid a scene in need.

Deadmonton is a dirty word around here, and despite the dire circumstances there are still plenty of events happening in the City of Champions. You can find them all by date and venue on our Edmonton Events list, because there are few things worse than hearing someone say, “I didn’t even know that was happening” a day or two after an event — fear of missing out eclipsed by the regret of something missed.

Even worse is hearing “I would have gone but didn’t have anyone to go with.” So we’ll not only tell you What to See, previewing an event each day, but Where We’ll Be, so you can choose to join us. Nothing helps brave the cold nights more than friendly faces, and in turbulent times the arts redeem us.

During the last week we caught a soul-stirring open mic poetry night at Spotlight Cabaret, Open Your Mouth and Say… Mr. Chi Pig at Metro Cinema, and the trio of Bobby Craig, Kaylin Kowalyshyn and Mikhail Sherris engaged in music's magic, closing out River City’s open mic with Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car.

This week is just as enticing, with Eddy’s Kingdom screening at Metro on Tuesday, Dana Wylie and Kirsten Elliott at Holy Trinity Wednesday, the Newcastle Pub hosting John Hewitt Thursday, 100 mile house at La Cité Francophone Friday, and dozens more that we haven’t mentioned and unfortunately can’t attend.

Reviews and podcasts await, as well as our City of Champions series and Writer’s Block section. And a variety of columnists will be unveiled during the next month, but for now you can anticipate a weekly Tuesday morning column — Goonie Musings — and submit your questions to our forthcoming sex column, Sex With Dean, at

In recent weeks we’ve heard complaints about the city’s music scene tightening gateways to entry, sexual assault and misogyny in our venues, a convoluted and compromised grant system, and open mics that feel anything but to new artists. We’re looking forward to digging into all those stories and more in the days and decades to come, helping pave a better path forward by promoting local talent, informing readers, exposing inefficiencies and building community.

To that end, the Edmonton Goonie is committed to paying our own way into events around town. It would be hypocritical of us to encourage you to spend your hard-earned money unless we’re willing to do the same to support local venues and artists. We’ll also be committing a portion of proceeds to Living Hope, a multi-year city initiative to prevent suicide.

Inspired by the 1985 film Roger Ebert said “walks a thin line between the cheerful and the gruesome,” we chose the name Goonie to denote our status as likeable outcasts and reinforce our values of friendship, teamwork and transparency.

Read us, share us, join us, because in perilous times we are stronger together. We are Goonies. Goonies never say die.