I guess it would make sense to write these first words about the place I’m hoping to raise money for. It is quite possible that some of you who are reading this have never been to the Fort Cafe. Maybe you’ve heard about it in the news and maybe you’re somewhat touched by the outpour of concern regarding the place, but with this piece, I want to give you a glimpse into the life which thrives in this beloved, windowless cafe. I want to tell you about the Fort Cafe, but I’m gonna take the long route; bear with me, I’ll get there eventually, I promise.
I’ve been living in Victoria for about five and a half years now; I moved here from Calgary in hopes of redefining my self (though I certainly didn’t know that at the time). While I moved out here propelled by love, and in the grip of a manic fury which left most of my friends back in Alberta scratching their heads and crossing themselves, it was a difficult transition. I knew only one person upon moving here, that being my girlfriend at the time (she’s now my wife; Zeus smiled upon me), and in spite of the hyper-social climate of my mania, I found it incredibly difficult to make new friends here.
Victoria can be a hard place to meet people; for a long time, I didn’t get to know anybody apart from the circle of friends who’d gathered around my wife. It’s often been said that Victorians are rather stand-offish, slow to seek out new friendships. There’s many theories as to why this is, but the one that makes most sense to me is that Victoria is such a transient place; people move here for a while, discover there’s no work to be had, and move away. I’ve had my heart broken several times in the five years since I moved here. Friends come, but mostly go; we’ve all learned to protect our hearts, it’s only natural.
This is probably part of the reason why it was so completely devastating to hear that The Fort Cafe was gonna leave us standing out alone in the rain. In many ways, the Fort Cafe is like a most reliable friend– equal parts consistent and unpredictable. While we know that upon entering the Fort Cafe, we will be greeted with wonderful aromas and sweet tunes, we’ll never be able to predict the kinds of characters who we’ll find there.
The Fort’s open stage, held every Wednesday night, is a perfect example of the type of diversity the place encourages. I’ve been to a lot of open stage nights; I go as often as I am able. I’ve seen some absolute professionals hone their skills, and I’ve seen some amateurs completely embarrass themselves (on a particularly sloppy night, I was one such amateur); each are compelling in their own way, and the beer’s good and cheap.
One thing that sets the Fort Cafe’s open stage apart from other open mics is that The Fort is an all ages venue. Some of the best performances I’ve seen at The Fort have been the hungry, young up and comers, for whom the Fort is their only option. And it’s a great option. The Cafe provides a full back line– instruments and a good PA await all who come.
It’s been interesting to see the community that has developed around this night, in particular. I’ve seen young performers such as Smash Boom Pow! come into their own on that tiny stage, and I’ve seen a spark take residence in the eyes of older performers as they sing they songs publicly for the first time in years as toddlers dance as only toddlers can dance, at their feet.
The Fort Cafe is a safe place. A haven from all those judgements and stereotypes which have become all-too commonplace out there, the Fort seems to know instinctively that the most compelling creators might not be welcome anywhere else; the Fort becomes their home.
The Fort is also a home away from home for an international host of musicians. One in particular comes to mind. I first met Jon Cohen at the Fort Cafe. Jon, a musician from Montreal, came to our town for the first time a few years ago to play a set. Jon was made to feel so welcome by the Fort Cafe, and by co-owner Benji Duke in particular, that when he decided to come back last month, he couldn’t conceive of playing anywhere else. Cohen has toured Canada and the United States extensively and he knows how special the Fort is.
Jon was kind enough to share the following statement:
“The saying ‘you don’t know what you got till its gone’ will certainly be the case if it comes to the Fort Cafe’s closing down. The is a beacon and refuge for new music and indie touring acts. It is a place where you can always feel welcome and always hear amazing new music.”
“I’ve played in many places like the Fort Cafe but the one thing that separates the Fort from the other venues is Benji and his amazing staff. Their love for musicians, their commitment to supporting the local and national scene and their hospitality made it one of those places where you could always hang your hat.”
“They were willing to take risks on music they believed in and that is something very rare on the Canadian music landscape today. I hope Benji and Co. will carry the torch to another location. Victoria needs a place like the Fort Street Cafe.”
I hope you will join me in trying to raise money for the cafe. Here, again, is the website: