By Robert Reid
Pop the Gator is back — finally.
At least for one night.
Glenn Smith, the impresario who operated the popular blues club, is hosting Pop the Gator’s 25th Anniversary Party.
The event takes place at Themuseum on March 1 — a quarter century to the exact date it opened.
“A day hasn’t gone by in the past 25 years when someone hasn’t asked me about Pop the Gator,” confides Smith, who now operates Ethel’s Lounge, in Uptown Waterloo.
“This should fill the void for all the people who have been bugging me,” he adds with a chuckle.
Pop the Gator is the closest thing to an urban myth in the local arts community.
Although it ran for a mere five years — from March 1, 1989, through New Year’s Eve night in 1993 — it’s legendary status transcends reality. People remember it with extremely fond memories.
Even those who never visited the club, which was located above retail stores on Queen Street between King and Charles streets, claim they were there.
It was the place to be if you wanted to party, with some of the biggest international blues artists renewing their acquaintance with the late, great Mel Brown, who anchored the house band, The Homewreckers.
The club was a Mecca for young musical hotshots, including Shawn Kellerman, Steve Strongman and Julian Fauth, who have since made their mark as established blues artists.
The anniversary party both honours the past and anticipates the future with its lineup.
The headliner is Otis Clay and the Chicago Fire Horns.
“Otis opened the club in ’89, so it’s appropriate for him to return,” Smith confirms. “When I contacted him he said he was in. He’s coming with a full horn section and backup singers.”
Pop the Gator always booked a mix of established and emerging artists, and the anniversary party continues the tradition with Wesley Bright and the Hi Lites, a northern soul band from Akron, Ohio, making its Canadian debut.
“This isn’t an oldies show,” Smith asserts. “Wesley Bright is an up-and-comer, a perfect complement to Otis.”
Smith says Themuseum is “the logical place” to hold the anniversary blues bash.
It’s located around the corner from the original site of Pop the Gator and down the street from the Voodoo Lounge, the blues club located in the Mayfair Hotel that Smith ran prior to the Gator.
“It’s in the heart of downtown Kitchener, it’s big enough to accommodate a good party, there’s lots of parking off Duke Street, and it’s easily accessible to taxis and public transit.”
Smith, who started in the bar game by running The Circus Room, has been a major driving force in making Waterloo Region a blues hothouse.
He was instrumental in Brown and his wife, Miss Angel, moving to Kitchener.
Brown, an affable artist on guitar and piano as well as vocals, was a musical magnet who had played with most of the greats before mentoring and influencing the aforementioned generation of local blues artists.
Smith’s Southern Ontario Blues Club concerts at the former Royal Canadian Legion on Ontario Street, the Voodoo Lounge and Pop the Gator helped build an enthusiastic audience for such events as the annual TD Kitchener Blues Festival and its predecessor, Blues, Brews and Barbecues.
David Marskell, Themuseum’s chief executive officer, is delighted to be presenting the anniversary party.
“I’m thrilled Glenn has chosen Themuseum as the stage for this exciting event.”
Smith has been encouraged by the response of friends to whom he has confided about the anniversary party. He mentioned the idea to some people at the recent Maple Blues Awards and “they were really positive.”
Smith says he has no regrets about drawing the curtain on Pop the Gator.
“We had a good run. I wanted to leave on a high note, like Johnny Carson,” he says with a laugh.
Smith could have signed another five-year lease, but he had his sights set on Uptown Waterloo.
“I knew I had Ethel’s, and I was pumped about that.”
Smith acknowledges the futility of trying to turn back the clock.
“We can’t go back as much as we might like.”
Nevertheless, the anniversary party “is as close as we’re going to get to revisiting a moment in time.”
“You’ve got to do the best with what you’ve got.”
Smith and Marskell have not ruled out the possibility of future Pop the Gator concerts at Themuseum, which will receive a portion of proceeds from the party. The 300 tickets are expected to sell out quickly.
Pop the Gator’s 25th Anniversary Party
Saturday (March 1). Doors open at 8 p.m.
Tickets ($60 including taxes) are available at Ethel’s Lounge and Encore Records or online at www.THEMUSEUM.ca