Among the wider safety concerns at the Windsor, members of Winnipeg’s music community are frustrated that the hotel is shutting its doors as a local music venue.
Historically known as a blues bar, the venue inside the hotel has primarily served the city’s independent punk, metal, and rock scenes over a number of years.
Billed as “One Last Showdown at the Windsor”, the venue’s swan song will come Jan. 25 with local bands Witchtrip, Votov, Kratom, and Inhumed.
Witchtrip guitarist Josh Bedry told 680 CJOB that the last show will be bittersweet.
“It’s tough to see,” he said. “It’s tough trying to book the next gig, but as I see it, there are new venues opening up and new opportunities. There are venues to play and we’ll keep moving on.”
Bedry, who held his wedding social at the downtown hotel, said he’s never had a negative experience at the Windsor, but he’s aware of its changing reputation and the safety concerns around it.
“I’m not so blind to the things that are going on there. My personal experience has always been dealing with the lovely staff that work there, with the bands that play there, with the fans going to the shows.
“Personally, I’ve not been involved in any shootings or murders, but it’s certainly no laughing matter.”
Fellow heavy musician Mike Menza, guitarist for the band Endless Chaos, said the violence associated with the venue has had a severely negative impact on its reputation.
Although the decision to stop booking local shows was made before the recent murder, the hotel was frequently in the news in recent years due to criminal activity.
“It deters people away, it lowers bar sales and everything else,” said Menza. “It kills the vibe of the room, and then it’s got the reputation attached – ‘oh no, you don’t want to go there.'”
Menza said he’s never had so much as a guitar pick or a cable stolen from the venue.
“This takes a big chunk out of our music community. There are a lot of bands that have come through and played the Windsor for the first time. There’s bands that have toured the world and played the Windsor … it’s unfortunate that the venue has to close due to the unfortunate circumstances attached to the building itself.”
Guitarist and singer Paige Drobot, whose band will be performing at the second-last Windsor show Jan. 24, said the loss of the Windsor as an option for local bands seems to be a sign of the times.
At the end of 2019, longtime Osborne Village venue the Cavern also shut its doors, following a string of other closures over the past decade.
“I think it ebbs and flows,” said Drobot. “I’ve seen a few venues come and go, but the Windsor is one of those venues that’s been there the entire time. I’ve been playing that bar every few months for the past eight or nine years, so it sucks to see that one go.
“A lot of things are closing down right now. How many people are listening to local music these days?”
“We’re fighting against Netflix,” she said.
Drobot said she’s seen many venues shifting from strictly offering live music to incorporating trivia nights, comedy, karaoke and other forms of entertainment to pay the bills – which leaves local musicians on the outside looking in.
“We do produce so many artists. There’s so many bands, and they all want to play … and there’s only so many bars and only so many people who are interested in local live music who aren’t already in those bands. It’s kind of like oversaturation of a small market.”
Winnipeg singer-songwriter Romi Mayes told 680 CJOB she’s been playing at the Windsor since its heyday as a blues venue, and wasn’t surprised to learn of its fate.
“I see the patterns,” said Mayes. “I’ve been around the scene long enough to see why live music is becoming harder and harder to access for people who want to see it.
“I think there’s the economy, there’s technology…”
“I mean, if you can stream it on your phone, and you can see it on your YouTube and it’s cozy at home, why go out?”
Mayes – who is trying to inject some new life into the local music scene in her role booking shows at new venue 1928, in the St. James Hotel – said it’s not only a Winnipeg problem.
She stopped touring extensively in 2016 because a number of venues she performed at in other towns were struggling to make ends meet and unable to pay artists as much as they used to.
Although the recent violence at the Windsor has brought the hotel back into the public eye, the city councillor for the ward in which the Windsor is located said complaints about the building are nothing new.
“The Windsor Hotel … is well known to me,” said Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge – East Fort Garry), chair of the city’s protection committee. “I have received calls from residents wanting to shut it down.”
Rollins said if she had the power to close the hotel, she would.
The Windsor is also on the radar for Winnipeg police.
Const. Rob Carver said there are ongoing discussions between police, the city, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, and other agencies to find solutions to keep spots like the Windsor safe. He said a nightclub in the area with a reputation for violence was closed just before Christmas due to ongoing crime problems.
“Downtown and urban hotels that tend to … rent less expensive rooms and have less expensive alcohol, tend to be congregating places for people who are involved in criminal activity,” said Carver.
“That’s not a surprise. I’ve lived my entire life here and anybody who lives in this city or any other city knows, if you’re going to a hotel where there’s a bunch people drinking $16 drinks, is there crime going on there? Might some people be selling drugs? Yup. But if they’re selling $6 beers, the market is different and the people who are attending the place are different.
“All of those places tend to attract varying degrees of criminal elements,” Carver said.
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