A special invitation to the inaugural The Next Stage event held at the Rainbow Bistro last night was the equivalent of a golden ticket.
Not to rub it in too, too much, but organizers brought in Nick Durocher, better known as TALK. The first time he ever did a show was at the Rainbow, in high school. Last night, he sang his chart-topping Run Away to Mars while inviting everyone to join in. The crowd was equally captivated by Juno Award-winner Angelique Francis and her band.
Some 150 leaders from the business and music industry had the opportunity to mingle over the course of two hours. Building connections was a primary reason for organizing The Next Stage invite-only B2B Leadership Networking Event.
The evening was co-hosted by Erin Benjamin, president and CEO of the Canadian Live Music Association, and Sueling Ching, president and CEO of the Ottawa Board of Trade. It delivered on Benjamin’s promise of offering “bite-sized” treats of entertainment and discussion that would leave guests wanting more.
Mayor Mark Sutcliffe dropped in to express his appreciation to members of the music industry for their commitment to their craft. He thanked the sector for “entertaining us, inspiring us and, as well, for contributing to our local economy, because it’s such an essential industry in our city.” The importance of live music was felt during the pandemic, Sutcliffe noted. “I missed it so much.”
The Rainbow, a legendary live music venue that has hosted such iconic performers as Blue Rodeo, Tragically Hip, k.d. lang and Colin James, has become a symbol for collaboration between music and business. “We want to unleash the power of networking, to encourage each of you to run headfirst into some of the unusual suspects in the room and see what kind of unexpected sparks might fly, to be inspired by this collision, this cool mash-up of connections that we might not otherwise ever make,” said Benjamin, as she fired up the room.
The city’s future urgently requires new and different approaches, added Benjamin, who’s also a proud board member of the Ottawa Board of Trade, which serves as the voice of local business and an economic partner in the nation’s capital. “We need to do this for artists. We need to do this for the city. We need to do this to attract and retain the talent we need to come and work for your amazing businesses. We need to foster creativity in our future entrepreneurs, and to inspire an even deeper sense of pride within our citizens.”
The event attracted such prominent CEOs as Kevin Ford (Calian Group), John Sicard (Kinaxis), Kathryn Tremblay (Altis Recruitment and Technology), and John Jastremski (MDS Aero Support). They, as well as Boyden managing partner Jim Harmon, Ottawa Senators president Cyril Leeder, and OBJ publisher Michael Curran, played a crucial role in a community-led effort to rescue the Rainbow after the club announced its closure during the pandemic. Their collective efforts involved both financial contributions, fundraising and advocacy for government grants, with Long & McQuade standing out as one of the generous donors.
The legendary live music venue is celebrating its 40th anniversary this fall. Ford, who also serves on the board of the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition, expressed pride with the club’s success, citing over $100,000 earned last year by local artists who performed at the Rainbow. He emphasized the importance of financial support for artists, not only as an opportunity to showcase their craft but also to reward their hard work. “I’m happy to say the club is doing very well,” he said.
Ford shared his personal connection to the industry. He plays guitar while his son, Cody, is currently touring as a professional musician.
It was interesting to hear Sicard contemplate a life without music. It’s no life at all, he stated during a brief but inspiring panel discussion with Mary Rowe, president and CEO of the Canadian Urban Institute. The two riffed off each other effortlessly with ideas — including Sicard’s suggestion that businesses include a stage in their workplace environments for live musical performances, a practice he described as “one of the greatest things we have ever done” at Kinaxis. “It’s a win-win-win.”
Sicard is part of the Catapult Collaboration initiative, dedicated to supporting emerging artists with a pay-it-forward mindset. His generous support of TALK’s career is what led the artist to return to Ottawa that night to perform a couple of songs. “Anything I can do to help John,” he told OBJ.social.
Sicard, who plays drums, can appreciate how hard being a musician is. “Anybody who knows me knows I started my life wanting to be one. I wanted that life; I did, I really wanted that life. I dreamed of it. I spent every waking moment thinking about it,” he told the audience of what eventually became his “labour of love”.
“Only later in my life did I realize that I might now be in a position where I can actually be part of the music industry in a very productive way, and fulfill my dream in a different way. For business leaders, we’re often viewed as consumers of music. We are consumers of music but not collaborators, and I think we have to change our perspective,” said Sicard while describing music as “a cultural pillar”.
Rowe drove home the importance of urban engagement, adding that cities — especially downtowns and main streets – thrive when people actively participate. “We have serious challenges in urban environments across this country. It is not the moment to sit at home and just watch television.”
The public can’t afford to be passive, she continued. “We’ve seen urban environments diminish and degrade before, and it’s hard to bring them back. The way they come back is by people like us getting up, getting out and having this kind of collective experience. There’s nothing more important than that experience of live culture.”
Music helped to stitch New Orleans back together after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the region in 2005, she said. The victims of that disaster drew on their assets: music and culture.
There were some attendees discovering the Rainbow for their first time that night, including Ching and RBC regional president Marjolaine Hudon. They seem to take to the place, judging by their ease on the dance floor.