The Blues Can: Just far enough away from the wrong side of the tracks

Story and photos by Sara Kuefler 

If you are familiar with blues culture, you will understand that a certain level of grit, hard living, and even at times slight unsavouriness are fundamental to the soul of the music, balanced by cheekiness, dark humour, and a fatalistic joie de vivre. The Blues Can, a live music institution on 9 Ave. in the historic community of Inglewood, embodies these qualities and more.

Teena Wilson, manager and music booking director for the club, has a presence that is hard to ignore. Business savvy and tenacious, as well as genuinely invested in the artists she fosters, she can be found at The Blues Can seven days a week and can be recognized by her petite stature and fiery red hair.

When I asked about the history of The Blues Can, Wilson informed me that they just celebrated their eighth anniversary in October. The establishment was born when a void was left by the closing of the King Eddy.

According to Wilson, “[The Blues Can] was started by Greg Smith, who was an employee, a regular, and a bit of a part time worker at the King Eddy for a long time. When the King Eddy closed, he and the community – the blues community – really missed it. So, he started The Blues Can in the image of the King Eddy.”

You certainly get a sense of the depth of feeling surrounding venues such as these, as Wilson expands, “We all grew up in the King Eddy. And when it closed, it was just such a terrible loss to our community that it just . . . something had to be done. And Greg didn’t even come from the hospitality industry. And I came from the music booking area. So, we just went full hard on it. And it’s kind of like a family run business.”

Jay Coda Walker performing at the Blues Can.

Wilson includes The Blues Can in a list of what she calls “heavy hitters,” along with the Ironwood and a few others. These venues are long standing, and, as noted before, they “dig in deeper” when times are tough. Fantastically, rather than being competitive and unfriendly, these “heavy hitters” have a good relationship and are supportive of each other.

Upon asking what she feels is distinctive or special about The Blues Can in particular Wilson informed me, “We do a dozen shows a week, including lunch times, happy hours, shows every single night. And we are seven days a week, we only close one day out of the year and that’s like Christmas Day.”

“What we do here is, we sell an experience. You can tell because people come here to get experience. They may love the food, or whatever, but they come here for the experience of a blues bar”

It is an up close and personal experience for patrons.  

Per Wilson, “The artists do a lot of walking around our audience when they’re playing; it’s just something they do. The audience just goes insane for it. They walk right out onto the street, and play right on the street, like literally, right to passing cars.”

The Blues Can is engineered for recording and has many CD credits. They also live stream on Facebook on Friday nights. The first Monday of each month a Youth Jam is held for Calgary’s budding musical talents to hone their skills.

Further, in respect to nurturing local talent an additional, and incredibly remarkable, facet of The Blues Can is their residency programs for musicians. Once selected, an artist will have the opportunity to play regular shows at “the Can” as well as work with Wilson on different aspects pertaining to finding success in the music industry, such as business skills, stage etiquette, how to work a room, and how to engage with fans confidently. This gives the resident artists exposure, experience, and a strong foundation to grow from as they progress further into their careers.

Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne performing at the Blues Can.

Two such resident artists had very glowing things to say about their experience with The Blues Can:

“The opportunities The Blues Can provides for young musicians are invaluable. From learning to play beside some of Calgary’s best players during their all-ages jams, to now hosting my own youth jam. The Blues Can has given me and many other up-and-coming artists a place to call home and is the future of live music in this city.” – Marcus Trummer

“The Blues Can is a spot we hold dear to our hearts. Being only 14 years old when we first stepped into the music scene as a group, The Blues Can was one of the few spots in Calgary that provided opportunities for us to play. We grew so much as a band through the shows we were able to put on at the Can, and for that we are forever grateful.” – The Static Shift

If you are looking for a true blues experience, or just a memorable night out where you can authentically connect with the magic of live music, The Blues Can will take good care of you.  

Check out The Blues Can on their website, Facebook, and Instagram