Benefit concert rejuvenates Ottawa music institution

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Tom Pechloff
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There is still a lot of work to do, but a benefit concert for the Ottawa Folklore Centre has helped the landmark music store keep its doors open, its owner said Monday.

Arthur McGregor, owner, Ottawa Folklore Centre

The concert featuring the likes of Lynn Miles, James Keelaghan and Sneezy Waters drew the largest crowd to ever see a concert at the Southminster United Church on Aylmer Avenue.

With 640 people paying $25 a ticket, and with proceeds still coming in from online donations and a silent auction, Arthur McGregor said he expects proceeds to be somewhere in the $20,000 range.

“We had no idea the outcome would be what happened. Absolutely overwhelming,” he said.

And while he had toyed with the idea of closing the store he opened in 1976 by October, he said that will not happen now.

“I’m in touch with the people, the companies I owe money to and we’re making deals,” he said. “There’s no intention of closing down or reopening under another name or anything like that. The intention is to keep the Folklore Centre going.”

Mr. McGregor said the shifting landscape towards online purchasing and online lessons had affected business. He said the store tried to compete by doing things like price-matching, but in retrospect, that was the wrong approach.

“Our job as a folk industry, or a music industry, not just folk, is to show people that the human touch is essential in music,” said Mr. McGregor. “Might not be essential when you’re buying a new toaster or whatever you are buying online, but when it comes to music it is essential.”

He said the store can’t compete with an online retailer like Amazon.ca.

“We sure can compete on the service,” he said.

Still, the Folklore Centre is continuing to move forward with its plan to offer more online lessons, Mr. McGregor said, because it can back it up with real people.

He said some Folklore Centre teachers are already teaching online, but now that the centre has a little money on hand, it will invest in the technology to expand the online service in time to get more teachers active once the new school year begins in September.

Mr. McGregor said the centre will continue to offer more online lessons as more of the school’s 32 teachers become comfortable with the idea. He said teachers will be assisted in learning some of the technology’s limitations, like not being able to play in unison with the student because of a slight delay. Lighting techniques and proper camera angles will also have to be learned.

In the meantime, work on keeping the centre viable continues. Mr. McGregor is meeting this week with someone interested in subletting some of the retail space. That is part of the work to do in the weeks ahead, a task Mr. McGregor called daunting.

The successful concert was not a “get-out-of-jail-free card,” he said. But it was a huge boost, not just to the business, but to him as well.

“The biggest turnaround in the whole thing was getting me back on top again,” he said. “You know, after a year of trying to put out fires, I was getting pretty depressed. When that happens, your head is down and you don’t see what’s going on around you and this has made me put my head up and showed me there’s a lot of people, a lot of people, an unbelievable amount of people who support us.”

Organizations: Folklore Centre, Southminster United Church

Geographic location: Ottawa, Aylmer Avenue

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  • Gary f grant
    August 15, 2014 - 17:30

    Arthur, you have earned all the respect and love accorded to you. Congratulations.