Farewell Fernando’s


Photo credit and copyrights to Shane Collins & Gonzo Okanagan

The day began with a parade of dark, bloated clouds that marched their way across the Okanagan sky. The weather was not ideal for an outdoor event, but saying goodbye is done best with puddles on the ground. 

Red Bird Brewing hosted a farewell to one of Kelowna’s celebrated venues, our beloved Fernando’s Pub. 

I have spent many evenings at Fernando’s. Photographing bands, meeting friends, ordering their legendary avocado margaritas, thrashing to punk rock, dancing to local DJ’s, spilling beer and hugging strangers, yeah, Fernando’s was a place you had to slither past sweaty onlookers just to get to Matt Ellis, the captain of the ship for as long as my memory can serve at this point in my life.

Through the smoke and haze, I remember Matt behind the bar, always smiling, always friendly, welcoming me and my friends inside, handing over beer as I handed over my money, Matt and his band of pirates were a strong heartbeat in the bloodline of Kelowna’s entertainment scene. 

This past Sunday, however, Matt and his crew were guests of honor to a farewell celebration. 

Torrey Woody

I arrived as Torrey Woody began his set. He kicked things off with a loaded day lined up ahead of him. 12 bands would be playing their music and paying their respect to the legacy Fernando’s leaves behind. 

How fitting the rain and the date of this farewell. Sunday, October 23, 2021, the day BC’s government implemented its rules that dining establishments and venues must require its patrons to be double vaccinated to gain entry. There isn’t much choice in this matter.  For those of us who chose to get vaccinated, the day will hopefully stand out in our minds as a day we got just a taste of a life we used to know.

My partner and I found a good spot along the right side of Red Bird’s open air venue. Smokies on the menu. Perfect. After we ordered a couple of beers, we sat down and listened to Torrey belt out his tunes. He reminded the crowd they were his songs. “I sing my own music because I’m too lazy to learn covers.” 

Check out this line up: Stephen Kubassek, Sonder, Rusty Someone, Leila Neverland, PMC, Floyd Meets Brown, Josh & Bex, Crowd the Joanna, Charlie Handsome, PHARM and Stone Tortoise. If you don’t know em, find em. You won’t regret what’s waiting to be discovered. 

I see Matt Ellis and the Fernando’s crew come in a bit later. I haven’t seen the guy since 2019! I walk over and get a bear hug for doing so. Big smiles. Just like I remember. I shake hands with his crew, recognizing some of them. It feels like ages yet feels like no time has passed at all. 

Stephen Kubassek on stage watched by some of the Fernando’s crew

I spotted Miles Overn, a veteran live event photographer. Same thing: two years have gone by and that void of time is bridged with a smile and a handshake. He tells me he’s been to over 140 live shows since the shutdown.

“The music scene didn’t really die,” he says. “It was just forced into the shadows.”

It’s good to see him with his camera slung around his shoulder. I brought my camera too. Like Miles, I walk through the crowd as each band takes the stage. I do so tentatively. I noticed my programming. Two years of being watched by staff, quickly confronted if I had left my seat and didn’t have a mask on has really sunk its teeth into my patterns of behavior. Tentatively walking at first, I couldn’t help but feel that pep in my step and rejoice a little when I realized that it’s alright to move about. 

Leila Neverland performing

Friends of mine are in the line and I wave them over when they clear security. Hugs all around as Leila Neverland took the stage. She hasn’t lost her touch on that keyboard and her vocal cords are as tough as ever. She whales, just blasting her songs out while Dylan, on the drums, hits us with a face melting drum solo. A DRUM SOLO!!

My heart rejoiced once again. I made sure to take as many photos as I could before the elixirs took over the focus of my eyes and thus the focus of my camera. 

The rain fell lightly as darkness overthrew the afternoon. Our little table had become a mass of onlookers, hiding from the rain. Adam Semenuk, the captain of this Red Bird vessel set up a few propane fireplaces on the other side of the lot. People mingled and stretched out their hands, warming themselves as the cool October night settled in. 

Crowd huddled around fire at Red Bird

Mitch, the other captain of this Red Bird crew asked Matt Ellis to come up on stage and say a few words. I grabbed my camera. There’s a warm current of blood coursing through my veins now. My feet were both light and heavy. Matt told the crowd how much Fernando’s had meant to him and how much the evening meant to him, too. He even brought out the avocado margaritas one last time. A tear in his eye, he said his goodbye to his beloved bar. He raised his glass and the crowd raised theirs.  

It’s never easy saying goodbye. I felt a tear in the corner of my eye as well. 

Red Bird didn’t charge cover for its patrons. All of the proceeds would be donated to the musicians. They even posted a massive QR code on the walls so people could use their phones to make a donation. Things really have changed from only a few years ago. 

After another beer and two avocado margaritas, I put my camera away. No point in taking any more photos for the rest of the evening. Some things are better seen outside of the camera’s frame. And I didn’t want to drop my camera in a puddle. 

 It was a night of friends, smiles, hugs, dancing and feeling human again, away from the adopted fear the pandemic has left on our collective doorstep. 

Crowd dancing to Charlie Handsome

I left Red Bird feeling a mix of emotions. On one hand, it was incredible to see everyone again. To embrace one another without fear. Without restraint or persecution. To hear live music again. To feel goosebumps take me over with the sensation of being in front of two waves of energy. One from the audience behind me and the other, the band in front of me. To take photos of musicians again. 

And on the other hand, some of my friends couldn’t come in because they didn’t get the shots. I’m sure some of you reading this haven’t either. It’s not my place for opinion on the matter. I respect everyone’s decision, regardless of where you might stand. We also said goodbye to another important venue for our live music here in my favourite place, Kelowna, BC. 

The rain fell hard as I made my way to the taxi. It was appropriate for the event. Saying goodbye isn’t easy, but in order to make way for whatever is ahead, we simply have to write our own story,  move forward and turn the page. Where one door closes, another awaits to be opened. We have been forced into the shadows, yes, but as we continue to hold strong I see it with my own eyes. We find a way to reach the light, and we are doing it together, one chapter at a time.


Matt Ellis pouring mix for avocado margaritas
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The Okanagan’s been my home since I was born. Life has taken me across the planet several times and through that transient lifestyle I developed a journalistic style to my photography and to my writing. My influences would be that of James Nachtwey, Annie Lebovitz, Ashley Maile, Hunter S Thompson, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Tom Robbins, Wes Anderson and Charles Bukowski. The world outside this incredible valley, its cultures and its mystery is what’s kept me working and trying to save my money, so I can keep getting back into the world. That’s the way it used to be. Covid has opened my eyes to the land I call my home and there are so many tales to tell right here in BC. From tales of the impoverished to the neglected to those who overcome adversity, to the spirit to overcome fear, the power of storytelling has never been more relevant. I’ve always been a storyteller. There’s a tale worth telling in every neighborhood. I just happen to write about what happens to me along the way and I’ve kept them close to my heart, hoping one day I’ll have an outlet so I can tell those stories the best way I know how; by writing them down. From adventures of long ago, both here or maybe far away, future interviews with musicians, artists of all kinds, the coverage of events, the people I meet along the way, whatever I get up to I intend to have you as my guest as I go back in time and dig up the bones of those old adventures or chase down new ones. Through the alchemy of storytelling, you can come along with me if you like. Before Covid-19 I was really coming into my own photographing live shows; punk rock bands, hip hop showcases, tattoo portraits, rock climbing adventures, Femme Fatale burlesque performances you name it, the phone was finally beginning to ring. Then Covid showed up like a hurricane and I guess it wiped us all out in one way or another. I have a real bone to pick with Covid-19 and if I can share some stories for our readers to enjoy, I’ll do that and when we can return to live music and to foreign travel and we can safely get to working on mending what’s been damaged I tell you I want to be ringside like Joe Rogan commentating on Covid getting its ass whooped. I want to see it tap out and watch us overcome this hardship, raise our collective hands triumphantly and move on into whatever new normal is waiting for us. I’ll be there and through my eyes, just like the boss man, Hunter himself, I’ll do it in Gonzo fashion and bring you kicking and screaming along with me. So hold on tight and dig in. It might not always be pretty but I won’t call it all ugly, neither. That’s for you to decide. My name is Shane Collins and I hope you’ll read along with me and our team here at Gonzookanagan.com


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