Erick Casselman looks a little dazed while standing next to the nearly finished bar at the Park Theatre. The venue owner is flanked by a tall bank of scaffolding on one side and a scissor lift on the other. There’s a half-dozen construction workers moving lumber, drywall and wiring to and fro. An electric drill drones on in the background.
"I’m always anxious and nervous. I mean, you saw it, there’s a lot to do," Casselman says when asked how he’s feeling about the state of the venue the Friday before it’s set to reopen for indoor concerts. "They tell me we’ll be done."
After 19 months of quiet — save for the constant sound of construction work — the Park is welcoming audiences back with a weekend of loud. Winnipeg punk group Propagandhi is playing three shows at the South Osborne venue Friday through Sunday. Tickets sold fast — a phenomenon Casselman believes is two-fold.
"Winnipeg loves Prop; we could probably do a month-long residency here," he says. "It’s been too long. We’ve had some opportunities for live music (outdoors)… but it’s not the same as being in an actual live music venue and being in a room that’s built for live music."
And build he has. When the drywall dust settles, the Park Theatre will be unrecognizable to returnees; the wall separating foyer from stage has been removed and replaced by a zig-zagging accessibility ramp.
"We have a couple of patrons that come quite often for shows, where we were assisting them up and down the stairs," Casselman says. "It’s one of the bigger reasons we did this particular renovation."
The women’s, men’s and gender-neutral washrooms have also been expanded substantially and the bar elongated and pushed against the north wall of the space. The Park’s capacity has doubled to nearly 700 people, bumping it up to mid-sized venue territory — a sparsely populated position in Winnipeg.
The room is new and the motions feel new again for Casselman, who hasn’t hosted a show since March 13, 2020.
"I couldn’t even remember how to order alcohol this morning," he says with a chuckle. "It’s almost like starting a new business again. It’s interesting; it keeps me up at night."
Nothing’s changed over at the Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club, but owner John Scoles is bracing for a return to routine.
"It’s like you went out and ran a bunch of marathons in interesting new places," he says. "And now you’re going to come home and you’re just get on the treadmill again and keep yourself in shape for whatever comes next."
Scoles wrapped up his second season of outdoor concerts last weekend — he booked for the Beer Can patio last summer and turned the space into Blue Note Park this year — and is preparing to once again host patrons inside the venue at the corner of Main Street and St. Mary Avenue.
In true honky-tonk style, the first show back is Sean Burns and Lost Country on Oct. 22. And blues legend Big Dave McLean’s regular Sunday-night jam sessions return in short order on Oct. 31.
Scoles hopes his clientele will return in pre-pandemic numbers, ready to comply with current public health requirements: masks and full vaccinations. Over the last two years of outdoor and online concerts, however, he’s realized that his community exists beyond the club.
"It’s not just these walls that bind those people together," Scoles says. "I’ve been doing this a long time. I am grateful for the resiliency of our community and I’m looking forward to seeing how they rise to the challenge."
It’s a similar story over at the Good Will Social Club. Last year, the Portage Avenue venue launched a GoFundMe campaign to help cover expenses while the doors were closed. The community stepped up and raised nearly $60,000 in response.
"It is heartwarming that so many people that… wanted the Good Will to stay alive," says co-owner Anthony Kowalczyk. "There was this massive support that happened and you’re kind of hamstrung as to what you can do to actually thank people."
"There was this massive support that happened and you’re kind of hamstrung as to what you can do to actually thank people." – Anthony Kowalczyk
The venue is hoping to make up for lost time. The Good Will had its first indoor show last weekend and is back Saturday with Totally Tens, a celebration of 2010 music featuring DJs Co-Op, Hunnicutt and Lambo. Staff had to adjust last weekend’s lineup since not all of the original artists were fully vaccinated by showtime. Kowalczyk expects those rules and travel hesitancy will make booking artists and out-of-town acts trickier going forward.
Still, the club is planning a big party later this month to celebrate its eighth (and missed seventh) anniversary.
"We’ll have to make up for two years," Kowalczyk says.
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Propagandhi with Choke, W3apons and Mobina Galore Friday, Saturday and Sunday; 9 p.m. The Park Theatre, 698 Osborne St. Tickets for Friday at Eventbrite; $25 Sean Burns and Lost Country Oct. 22; 8:30 p.m. Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club, 234 Main St. Tickets at Eventbrite Totally Tens ft. DJ Co-op, DJ Hunnicutt and Lambo Saturday; 9 p.m. The Good Will Social Club, 625 Portage Ave. Tickets at the door