Steve Gilliss

SLAM Turns up the Volume

Steve Gilliss for Airdrie Life Magazine. Photo Credit: Sergei Belski

Steve Gilliss

You can’t talk about Airdrie’s vibrant music scene without giving props to the grassroots influence of SLAM (Supporting Local Area Musicians).

This non-profit society has been providing the means and opportunity for local musicians to promote their work for several years, but now it’s “spicing things up,” says its new marketing director, Steve Gilliss.

“We’re actually bringing things that would normally happen in Calgary to Airdrie,” he says.

“Originally, SLAM was musicians themselves who were on the board, working with musicians. But now, we’re trying to open it up to music lovers and the people who support musicians,” says Steve’s wife Samantha, who recently took on the role of society president and calls herself “one of the music lovers.”

The Gillisses, who moved to Airdrie 10 years ago from Calgary, became involved on the board last year. Steve has played guitar in several bands, but connected with the industry side of his craft about two years ago, when he and Samantha attended a Rock and Roll Fantasy camp in Las Vegas.

The camp wasn’t just about performing with and learning from members of iconic rock groups like Quiet Riot and Black Sabbath; it also taught them the business of making music.

“Seeing the industry side of things inspired us,” Steve explains.

With a new board and support from past president Jay Stoudt, who founded SLAM and is still active, the society is exploring several new or expanded initiatives.

One of these initiatives was the Spotlight Benefit Concert held in February featuring Canadian rock star Sass Jordan. The concert was a fundraiser for Guitars for Vets, a Canadian charity that matches guitar instructors with veterans, but it was also a showcase for local talent.

“It put our local musicians right out there,” Steve says. “People came to see Sass, but they also got to see our own.”

Another involves expanding the number of spotlight clinics. These events bring in industry professionals as instructors, which also leads network connections that benefit participants, Steve says.

The latest was a guitar-and-songwriting clinic held in June featuring Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, guitarist for Guns N’ Roses, and Calgary guitarist Ralph Boyd Johnson.

“Learning from someone like Thal,” Steve says, “who has been in the industry for 40-plus years; what a perfect person to bring to town for these guys to come learn from.”

“We hope to do four a year, and each clinic will have a different focus,” Samantha explains.

An example, she says, was an acting clinic in July that featured actors and directors from the American soap opera The Young and the Restless.

“SLAM’s primary focus is music and musicians, however we are looking into ways we can support all up-and-coming entertainers in several different disciplines,” Steve adds.

Another event that saw some significant changes this year was the popular annual SLAM on Air, an original songwriting and performing contest. Online pre-judges – Ron Thal, Nick Catanese of the Black Label Society and Sean Kelly, who has played with Nelly Furtado and Lee Aaron – narrowed down the contest’s submissions to the top six.

These six will compete in the live show event at Bert Church Theatre on Sept. 17 before judges Ralph Boyd Johnson; musician, filmmaker and SAIT instructor Richard Harrow; and Calgary-based promoter Bryan Taylor. airdrielife, as a major sponsor of the event, will profile the winner in the winter issue.

“This way we can get our local musicians’ music into the hands of these people,” Samantha says.

Every show or clinic, Steve explains, will give a local artist an opportunity to work with someone in the industry.

It’s all about networking, about connections. It’s just bridging the gap between local (performers) and industry people.

It’s a model Steve and Samantha say can be used anywhere in Canada.

“What’s our big goal? This is what it is, offering what we’re doing here as a model. Okotoks, here it is. Cochrane, here it is. It’ll work as long as you have the support system around you,” explains Steve.

“For this last guitar clinic, we had people (from) as far away as Vancouver and Cold Lake. It’s not local anymore. We could have one of these (SLAM) in every community.”

The society is also gearing up for a new membership drive. This is where non-musical people like herself can get involved, Samantha says.

“I love music, but I’m not a musician. We need people like me involved. Music is something we all enjoy.”

Live Music: Where to find it

If music is what feelings sound like, then Airdrie is a feeling community. Country, rock – you name it, we have it – and we love it live.

“We are very fortunate in that our city has a great pool of talent to enjoy,” says Carmel Squires, whose husband Craig performs with Airdrie’s party rock band Blakkstone Hexx.

With an exciting roster of acts on tap, the only question is, where do you hear them?

Krave Steakhouse and Bar on Main Street, and Babytooth Bambino’s on Summerfield Boulevard, offer a regular Monday night open mike from 5 to 8 p.m., followed by live bands.

The Good Earth Coffeehouse on MacKenzie Way, Standard Tap Public House on Main Street, and Sorso Coffee Social on Yankee Valley Boulevard, are also moving toward live events.

“We’re aiming for two nights a month to feature live acts,” says Sorso’s owner Dmitri Martini. “We don’t have a lot of space but it’s what we want to do.”

Besides these venues, there is a robust billing of larger events from the likes of George Canyon to the Kirby Sewell Band that appear regularly at Bert Church Theatre on East Lake Boulevard, and at the Town and Country Centre on Jensen Drive N.E.

“We also have ARTember in September which showcases (arts and music) in various locations around the city,” says Squires, who also manages several web pages dedicated to the Airdrie music scene.

Not to be left out, Grade 9-12 students can perform at the Boys and Girls Club Café on East Lake Crescent Friday nights during the school year.

And if you don’t mind a short drive, you can also catch live acts at the Jack ’n’ Throttle Bar ‘n’ Grill in Crossfield, Lazy Ace Saloon in Beiseker, and Barley’s Pub in Carstairs.

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