Wunderbar tackles the Taxman in fundraising concert

“We hate this.”

Those were the very first words in Wunderbar’s announcement for Saturday’s fundraiser for itself, the owners’ reaction to an unexpectedly large payment due at the end of November. The event is called Wunderbar vs, The Taxman, so you can probably guess what kind of payment it is.

This venue has an exceptional reputation among local bands, and is quickly becoming a favourite of touring musicians as well. Its intimate ambiance and a stage that’s lower than most gives rise to a connection between the band and audience that is rarely equalled elsewhere.

Matt Raudsepp from Montreal’s Honheehonhee (pictured), who performed there on Monday, said, “The vibe is a true rock bar – small and sweet – perfect for a loud and fast show. Places like this have odd mysteries that add to the mystique.”

Plus they have an extraordinary menu of independent beers, which never hurts.

A number of talented local bands and musicians pitched in for a marathon day of live music, including Morals, Mikey Maybe, and Ghost Cousin. Next Wednesday will be a more folk-oriented fundraiser.

“We support them because they support the local scene,” said Pete, guitarist for the Weekend Kids, which is also performing. “(The owners) have been in full support of us playing other venues around town, and even helped us book shows for our cross-Canada tour. These guys are genuine guys that really just want to make a great venue.”

Others praise the owners for creating such a “positive artistic environment.”

So what happened? According to one of the owners Craig Martell, “We have a sustainable business model … the problem is that we’ve always put all of our funds right back into the bar, and left no extra for a surprise debt like this”.

The issue is certainly not that there are too many live venues in the city.

“When you consider how many bands we turn down, it’s pretty clear there aren’t enough,” he continues. “But there’s also some competition between the venues for some artists. Maybe twice a month there is a band at Pawn Shop that I wish we got … maybe four times at Haven, a couple at The Artery.”

That’s not the main issue by far. With live venues, “You get no regular customers. Live music doesn’t allow for it. Edmonton music fans appreciate Wunderbar, but even the ones that know we do good shows every day don’t come there every day. Frankly, nobody actually wants to watch live music every day.”

So the bar books a variety of different acts – folk, indie, rock, punk, metal – to appeal to different crowds, while watching what other venues are doing, and hopefully keep people interested. “Even then, we’ll bring people out, but not drinkers.”

And when 100% of the door goes to the bands, leaving only the drink revenues for the Wunderbar, there are inherent challenges that are hard to escape. And no one escapes the Taxman.