Rockin’ 4 Dollars Turns Four

Story and photo by Aron Diaz

Some things just go hand in hand: peanut butter and jelly, Mulder and Scully, and Wednesday nights and Rockin’ 4 Dollars.

Rockin’ 4 Dollars has been a staple in the Calgary music scene for quite some time and are having their fourth anniversary show – or the “champagne birthday” as organizer BJ Downey playfully calls it – on Feb. 6 at Broken City, which will be played by a special, handpicked line-up of bands that have actively supported the event throughout the years.

“We’re going to have a lot of champagne, red carpet, professional photographers, balloons and glitter,” says BJ.

BJ Downey, or “BJ Killer” as he is known as, runs the show at Broken City every week. More than just a “fun mediocre open-mic night,” eight to 10 bands sign up to play in front of a crowd of around 120 to 200 people and also get a chance to win $200 to $1000 every Wednesday night.

BJ got the inspiration to start this weekly tradition from his time living in Halifax where its own Rockin’ 4 Dollars during Monday nights was already in existence.

He borrowed the concept of the event for Calgary four years ago and he started booking the show every Wednesday night at the Nite Owl for almost a full year before finding a new home within the walls of Broken City.

BJ knew how hard it was to start something like this.  At one point they were begging all of their friends to come to the shows but only ended up having 20 to 25 people showing up.

“It was hurting the heart and the soul a little bit, but then all of a sudden it just took off!”

Four dollars to get in and you never know who’s going to play. Aside from a slew of talented new bands and artists like Lashes, Sellout, Emily Ripley, and Kate Stevens, more established musical acts also show up from time to time to grace the Rockin’ 4 Dollars stage like Calgary’s own The Dudes and, at one point, the Florida rapper Stitches.

“You come here on a Wednesday and I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. There is nothing like it,” says BJ.  Some nights consist of a certain theme such as Green Day or Blink-182 cover night, which became a hit. The most recent one was the “Bird Box Edition” night; a fun, safe twist to the Internet trend based on the Netflix movie, where bands got to play one song while blindfolded.

As a promoter, BJ loved the idea that he gets to have a sort of first pick on new talented bands that no one has heard of before. A good example of this is Calgary local band “Sellout,” which BJ discovered when they signed up to play one night. Immediately, he rushed to the front to watch the band and as soon as they are done playing, he booked them for a big show to open for Toronto hardcore band Cancer Bats. Since then, he became the manager and booking agent of the band.

“That is a true testament that a new band could and should play Rockin’ 4 Dollars. You just don’t know where it’s going to take you.”

Countless memories have been created in its four years. A particular recent one is when solo music artist Julian, aka “Noise Man,” from Mexico was visiting a family member in Alberta. He ended up playing around seven weeks of Rockin’ 4 Dollars and made lifelong friendships within the Calgary music scene before saying their tearful goodbyes. Another fond memory was from 2016 when Rockin’ 4 Dollars made over $6000 during their special two-night show to help the residents and volunteers of the Fort McMurray fire.

It used to be just BJ’s show, but Calgary as a whole has grabbed onto Rockin’ 4 Dollars and turned it into what it is today. It’s like this big family; it’s a scene within a music scene, he says.

“I hope there is another 10 years of Rockin’ 4 Dollars in Calgary. I see it not even close to slowing down.”

Broken City is the place to be during Wednesday nights. The live music, the camaraderie, the surprises, great beer, and countless laughs are more than enough to make you come back every week.