Last fall when I interviewed Jayson Hughes for a Foothills Magazine article, he impressed upon me several times how important the Okotoks Elks Hall is to the community. Built in 1927, the Elizabeth Street structure has been an integral part of Okotoks life for almost a century, a host for every kind of gathering imaginable.
Hughes, the secretary of the Okotoks Elks Club, was making the point, in part because he was proud of what the old hall means to so many, but also to justify the club’s decision last year to tell a microbrewery that it wasn’t interested in leasing it a significant chunk of the building. It was a lucrative offer to be sure, but accepting it would mean not being able to play host to all those events.
I understood, and admired, the rationale, but it wasn’t until last week that I truly saw what Hughes was talking about.
Last Thursday night I attended the open mic night at the Elks Hall, not to take part because there’s not a musical bone in my body, but to enjoy what others with far greater artistic gifts were willing to share. It was an eclectic show but there were also commonalities among the performers, primarily gratitude for a venue that allows them to get up on stage in front of an audience as well as genuine support for each other.
As is the case with any open mic, there were the inevitable delays while equipment was checked and there was no shortage of pre-performance apologies, just in case things went off the rails, but performers need not have worried as the Elks Hall that night was most definitely a welcoming environment.
The open mic allowed one young artist to perform several original songs before bringing his mom on stage for a couple of duets, while a young guitar player/drummer got the chance to strut his stuff before a live audience for just the second time. And it wasn’t just the young ones who got up there as those of my generation represented with tunes from Neil Young and the Bee Gees.
The host, 16-year-old Dave Grunleitner, who got the evening going with some grunge, was quick to thank the Elks for donating the space because without the venue, this fostering of the arts wouldn’t be possible. It’s important to have somewhere that artists can not only hone their craft but also meet and support each other.
That's not to say the Elks Hall is the only performance spot in town, but it just seems like the perfect fit for this kind of event, one that brings like-minded people together for the betterment of themselves and the community.
The Elks missed out on a nice revenue stream by turning down the microbrewery’s proposal, but in doing so, Okotoks gained, or at least maintained, much more by having a place for everyone to congregate, regardless of the reason.
By the way, the next open mic night at the hall is set for Thursday, April 13. You’re welcome to sign up to perform but if your talents, like mine, don’t allow for that, there's always a spot in the audience.