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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.