Red Bird Live, Ottawa’s newest music venue and school, hits the right note with the local music scene
With his new music club Red Bird Live, entrepreneur Geoff Cass hopes to complete the Old Ottawa South music scene.
After years of successfully creating musical programming for the Bluesfest School of Music, Geoff Cass decided the time was right to get into the game.
So this week it opens live red birda combined concert stage, licensed café and music school at 1165 Bank Street in Ottawa South in what was once an ax throwing pub.
Decorated in a cool ’60s vibe reminiscent of Ottawa’s coffeehouse days, Red Bird Live is a retro coffee bar and photo gallery in the front, a 100-seat stage in the middle, and studios for classes music box in the back. Equipped with state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment, it’s the right size for singer-songwriters and storytelling artists, like Kathleen Edwards, Danny Michel or Amanda Rheaume, to perform. It would also be perfect for jazz.
In addition to regular gigs, Cass has outfitted the space with musical instruments so patrons can meet, improvise, play with and — may be — for their own band to use.
“It’s a big risk, for sure,” Cass, 45, said during a break in a staff meeting. “I was ready to do something on my own when the pandemic hit. hit. Opening a concert hall during a pandemic is incredibly risky. COVID-19 hit the industry hard, but after the experience I had programming Bluesfest Music School, I knew it was the right time for me.
Until recently Cass taught Environmental and Recreational Education for 10 years before moving to the Dovercourt Community Center where as Program Director he ran camps and after-school programs and the School of Music and of Bluesfest art until the 2020 pandemic triggered layoffs.
“Teaching was a lot of fun, but I moved from teaching to running the music center pretty quickly,” he says. “I really got into it. We started the Bluesfest music program with nobody and worked our way up to a really good roster of students and became an important part of the community. I want to do the same here. I’m a better administrator than a teacher at this point. I really enjoy running a business.
Luckily, Cass was working with one of the sharpest people in the gig business, Bluesfest CEO Mark Monahan, who was there to help her through the initial planning stages.
“He was very supportive of that idea,” Cass recalls. “He said, ‘You can’t run a club on your own. They don’t make any money. My job now is to schedule the venue, give people really good reasons to be here, and remove as many financial barriers as possible,” he adds. “The key is to make Red Bird a great experience from start to finish, keep it affordable, and make sure people know about it through marketing.”
Red Bird Live opens this week with live music and already has a number of music students lined up for lessons.
“I started dreaming of a space where people could learn to play and enjoy music,” he says. “What reassures me is that I have three complementary businesses under one roof. Each feeds the other very well and will give me a much better chance of surviving.
“It will initially be a place that will serve beer and wine, rather than a bar with music in the corner.
“I have the support of the community,” he adds. “The Glebe and Ottawa South love independent businesses that work with them and for them. I’m not here to step on anyone’s toes. I’m here to complete the music scene.
Raised in Toronto, Cass moved to Ottawa 25 years ago for school and never left. Married to his wife Nicole and with 13-year-old twins, he says opening the venue was a family decision.
“It was a big decision for all of us. The kids think it’s cool, and Nicole is very supportive. Without his will to do so, Red Bird would not have taken place.