I never thought I’d be writing a eulogy for my favourite hangout — the Slice, which officially closed its doors, Aug. 22 after 11 amazing years. There was also one final, final bash on Saturday, Aug. 27 which was a blast which brought back a lot of my favourite familiar faces including a tweener from Megan Rourke, Shaela Miller and a rejigged Tin and The Toad with special guest Dave McCann and Rancho Deluxe and several others which I missed due to trying to catch parts of all the other shows happening on Saturday.
There were hugs, handshakes and high fives aplenty and more than a few tears at the four wakes for the Slice last week (including the Saturday, Aug. 27 show) including Petunia and the Vipers, a spontaneous last minute Saturday, Aug. 20 open stage and the Moon Runner/ Moon Tan/ Rainbow Patrol show on Aug. 22.
Is it wrong to shed tears for a bar like so many did during the Petunia and the Vipers’ Aug. 19 show? I don’t think so. The Slice was more than a just a bar, it has been a godsend and a second home for the Lethbridge music community, especially since the Tongue N’ Groove closed it’s doors about the same time the Slice started taking off and Henotic was just beginning in the old firehall.
When I arrived, everybody I talked to raved about their adventures and misadventures at the Tongue N’ Groove, but I only arrived in time to catch the last couple of shows there so I never really understood the magic people seemed to find there until I learned the Slice was closing.
In 2007, I had just moved back to Lethbridge from Kenora, Ontario where I spent a lot of time in Winnipeg, hanging out at the Times Changed. When I found the Slice, which reminded me a lot of Times Changed, I thought I found my home away from home. And as soon as I had their pizza, I knew I had.
They brought in some of my favourite Winnipeg performers like the Perpetrators and Romi Mayes, Manitoba Hal, the D Rangers and Scott Nolan (who also frequently played Kenora) which made the transition of a big move to a new community (though I went to school here back in the day) a lot easier.
Like a lot of people, I always figured The Slice would always be there. They’ve outlasted a lot of local watering holes which featured music or bars that have moved away from live music because people don’t come out for it.
It’s easy to take an institution like the Slice for granted. If you were too tired, too poor or feeling too lazy to go out and see a show there, you always assumed you’d be able to catch the next one. All good things come to an end. I guess.
But to actually see it go is a devastating blow to everybody in Lethbridge’s burgeoning counter-culture community who was looking for a place to listen to live music you wouldn’t hear anywhere else; people who didn’t want to go a bar and watch a dozen TVs showing sports ( the one tiny TV in the Slice set unobtrusively in a quiet corner above the bar and kitchen usually featured a cooking show and sometimes a Flames game); people looking for a place to belong and perhaps meet other people a little bit off the mainstream. The troublemakers, sloppy drunks, scrappers and pick up artists who always seem to flock to bars, seldom found their way to the Slice. Not to say it didn’t happen, but it was the exception rather than the rule.
Was it a dirty, dingy, dive bar? Some people might say so, but so was CBGBs. More importantly the people at the Slice were always friendly and welcoming and the pizza was always delicious and the music was always excellent and often mind expanding.
The Slice has been a cornerstone of the Lethbridge independent music community since I arrived back here and was indeed one of the first bars I discovered while wandering the desolate, downtown streets simply looking for a quick supper during a few moments off at the Lethbridge Herald. I found a lot more, I found a place I felt I fit in. Because of the Slice I got to interview and write about and photograph bands I may not have otherwise given a second glance to.
Everybody has their favourite memories of the Slice. Do you remember the time the Sheepdogs stopped by the Slice’s beloved Tuesday open mic and were convinced to jam after their Whoop Up Days show, last year? That was just one of many magical moments there. I’ve seen some of my favourite performers there like Shred Kelly, more unusual shows like Delhi 2 Dublin, which I might not otherwise have given a chance.
Countless local bands formed there, broke up there, formed new bands there, had their first and last gigs there, formed bands just for special events for CKXU and fundraisers for the Girls Rock Camp and other worthwhile causes, and had plenty of adventures and misadventures there in between a lot of great music and occasionally way too many beers. People met their mates there and some have since married and had kids.
Over the past 11 years, The Slice has basically been the CKUA of bars, showcasing music you just wouldn’t hear anywhere else. You never knew what you’d get, but you knew it would be good, even if it wasn’t a style of music you’d usually listen to and you knew you would have a great time. You’d always find good people, good pizza and a lot of good vibes.
I remember a lot of late nights and consequently long mornings due to late starting shows there. I’ve seen roots shows, country shows, rock shows and punk and metal shows and plenty of ambient indie-rock shows and other weirder shows which are more difficult to describe. Even a couple of rap shows. They have all been entertaining and have given me something new to appreciate.
In addition to their own shows, they opened their doors to popular local music festivals including the South Country Fair, Electric Eye, Lethbridge Jazz Festival and CKXU Love and Records afterparties. There have been wakes there for beloved regulars like Frank Dooley and Murray Nelson who have passed on and fundraisers for other regulars fallen on hard times.
The Slice was more than a bar, it was a community. A damned fine community of people who care about each other and care about supporting live music.
I got to see and support some of my very favourite Lethbridge musicians there. I couldn’t possibly list all of them. Somebody would be missed. I met some of my favourite people in this city at the Slice.
The Slice featured early shows with bands who have gone on to greater things and bigger shows like Said the Whale and Hey Ocean. I saw some of my favourite bands like the Mahones and White Cowbell Oklahoma shredding rolls of toilet paper with a chainsaw and sending sparks into the air off a cowbell, singeing Arianna Richardson’s tinsel bed art work hanging from the ceiling and Big John Bates (remember Brandy Bones lying down on the bar with her upright bass for a solo? Or Big John Bates’ grinder girls?) and bands that were to become my new favourite bands playing there like the Lazys ( I remember their guitarist Matt Morris climbing on the bar and playing a solo while a handful of surprised regulars drinking at the bar looked on), Public Animal, the Brains and lots of great Calgary bands like Napalmpom and the Dudes.
I remember Mason Rack from the Mason Rack band wandering into a the middle of a good sized crowd and getting one woman, celebrating her birthday actually, to help solo. And don’t forget the inimitable three man Mason Rack drum solo which featured Rack and the band pounding out a solo on beer kegs, chairs, tables, the floor and the top of the bar itself, then juggling the drum sticks with each other.
I remember packed Fred Eaglesmith shows and not so packed shows from Eaglesmith band alumni Roger Marin and Dan Walsh. I remember Eaglesmith calling out people for chattering during his set. Which was pretty unusual as people usually tended to be fairly respectful to the performers on stage.
More often than not I was the only one other than steadfast owners Tyler and Jesse Freed and maybe a bartender on hand to see amazing musicians — even Juno Award winning blues musicians like Sue Foley (plus packed shows with Sue Foley at this year’s Jazz Festival) and talented folks like Wild T and the Spirit and Cecile Doo-Kingue who nobody was there to see on more than one occasion.
I remember a full house for the United Steelworkers of Montreal, whose frontman Gern f. Vlchek wrote a book “Turn Right, Turn Left, Repeat” about touring Canada as part of an independent band which includes a beautiful passage about the Slice and Jesse Freed.
“Jesse the owner, is a little curt … one of those guys that you will meet at four in the afternoon and get a tiny feeling he really isn’t into you, but by closing time, you will be thinking of putting him on your Christmas card list. He is a good example of Lethbridge itself,” Vlchek writes. He describes other bars he’s played in as as “believer bars”— bars that cater to touring musicians, who host them (and more often than not lose their shirts on them) because they love the music and want to expose other people to it. That’s the Freed brothers in a nutshell.
My heart was saddened by the news that the Slice officially closed after the Moon Tan/ Moon Runner show on Monday. So were a lot of hearts, so a handful of the dedicated regulars literally sent it off with a bang by climbing on the roof and setting off some fireworks after the show.
So thanks to Jesse and Tyler Freed for 11 years of great times, delicious pizza and amazing music. You’ve been a cornerstone of the local music scene for what seems like forever and will be sorely missed. Best wishes in your future endeavours, you will be remembered with love.
The loss of the Slice leaves a void in the local independent original music scene. Hopefully it will be filled. I don’t want to lose the faith. Nobody should lose the faith— the scene is strong here and a lot of the credit for that goes to the Slice for giving local musicians to perform and hone their craft in public. Something will come of it.
For now, Lethbridge will depend on the Owl Acoustic Lounge for original indie music. You can also hear live music regularly at Honkers who have their open mic on Saturday afternoon and the Monday open mics at the Onion and Owl.
And new seasons at the Geomatic Attic and Lethbridge Folk Club start this month.
And Saturday afternoon family jams at the Owl Acoustic Lounge. And the Smokehouse on Saturdays when the school year starts,
Average Joes and their counterpart Coyote Joes feature bigger acts. But the bigger acts all have to start somewhere — somewhere like the Slice.
The important thing to do is support these places and the dedicated promoters putting on shows all over the city at places like the Moose Hall where punk shows regularly happen, and Attainable Records which is featuring local and touring alternative rock and indie music. Otherwise, one day there will really be nothing to do in Lethbridge. And it will be on your heads.