An affectionate tribute to something a lot of us have – that favourite venue where we cut out teeth as a gig goer. In Chris Hearn’s case this was a place called Crocks n Rolls in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
We all have one. We all love it. It’s that place that you spent countless nights in. It’s that place where you saw that amazing show that you will never forget from that band you now love and own every piece of music they ever made. Yes, it’s that venue / club / bar / hole in the wall where live music was played, appreciated, enjoyed and created in your hometown.
For me, it was a place called Crocks and Rolls in the place I grew up in, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. Dark and dingy, poor ventilation, low ceiling, beaten up booths and furniture, scuffed up wooden dance floor, urine stench bathroom plastered with band stickers: In other words, it was heaven. There were very few nights where a band of some sort wasn’t playing, sometimes to a full house or sometimes to two or three people (sometimes one of those two or three people included me).
I was fortunate to be going to this place during the heyday of Canadian music. The number of touring bands was huge, and many of them made it pretty big in the end (congrats to them). Thunder Bay is right on the Trans-Canada highway, stretching from one end of Canada to the other end. Whether you want to or not, you have to go through Thunder Bay when you go across Canada. And, best yet, Thunder Bay is an 8 hour drive from Winnipeg and an 8 hour drive from Sault Ste. Marie, two other cities touring bands hit. So, the logical stop off place for the night is Thunder Bay. So, why not play a show? Thanks to Crocks and Rolls (or, just Crocks), these bands had a venue.
So, these bands would slip into town, Frank Loffredo, the owner and promoter would make them feel at home, and Thunder Bay would have a show. I have never heard a bad word about Frank. All the bands loved him. He had a good reputation. And Thunder Bay owes him a lot for what he’s done. Everyone came through Crocks: I Mother Earth, No Means No, DOA, Sloan, Econoline Crush, Moist, The Odds, the Tragically Hip. And, then of course, a host of smaller bands that didn’t quite make it to the top, but probably should have, like the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, made up of some of the most incredible musicians in Canada at the time. The Lost Dakotas, a punk-folk outfit from Toronto were a personal favourite. One of the best bands I saw there was Liquid Bone Dance from Winnipeg. I wore out the tape I bought at that show. They were headed into the studio to record their debut full length when they broke up. Damn them and that decision! Before Our Lady Peace got really big, they played Crocks. I happened to be there: Me, a table of three other people, the bartender and Frank. Next time through, I believe they sold out the place. It wouldn’t be too long before they were selling out arenas. Then, there was Rancid, who played one of the weirdest shows, where every kid in Thunder Bay with a Mohawk was crammed into the sweaty place, their Mohawks sagging down, or plastered to the side of their head. It was hot and sweaty in there and people could barely move. Lars Friedriksen would later in the tour have an interview at Canada’s MTV equivalent, Much Music, where he said that was the best show on the tour. Then, there was the night that Pearl Jam was supposed to show up. Rumour had it, that they were booked to play there, and then they got big. Would they still show up? The answer was no.
Other clubs have come and gone from town. There are a few bigger venues for bands that outgrew Crocks. Crocks itself even shut down for a number of years, sadly. But, it has since been revived, thanks to Frank, and Thunder Bay once again has its best loved venue back, albeit a few doors down from where it used to be. It’s still the same atmosphere though. It’s still a great place to see bands. It’s still about the only place in Thunder Bay I want to go to on any given night. And, when I do go back to Thunder Bay, I always do end up there for at least a show or two where I can feel a bit younger than I am for just a few hours and remember what it was like in the good old days. I can’t wait to go this summer in fact. I’m ready!
All words Chris Hearn. Flyer pic ÃÂ© Melanie Bell.