Fredericton’s well-known and well-loved Capital Complex celebrated its 20th anniversary with a special show on Sept. 13.
Owner Ted Beach built the Capital Complex in 1998. “He wanted to build what he saw as ‘Fredericton’s Friendliest Bar’,” said Zach Atkinson, the bar’s current manager. Not only is The Capital now a composite of multiple performance spaces, it also serves as a home base for musicians and creative performers with live music nearly five times a week.
Atkinson came on board at the friendly music hub about 10 years ago, while “the music landscape was starting to shift a lot in Canada and out East.” Starting as a music promoter and working his way into the general manager role, he still takes care of all the artist and entertainment booking. “There was a point where one bar would have a band playing three nights a week, but now you’re booking three or four bands a night, three to five nights a week,” said Atkinson. “There was really a need for a team of people with this new demand.”
You can see why the chaos and excitement of so many new acts coming through Fredericton led to a lot of creative mish-mashing. Sean Hutchins, a member of The Midnight Ramblers, The Mothership and Maggie's Farm Revival, remembers the bands that have come and gone over the years.
“It changes with the new bands that pop up and the bands that come out of old bands, like a group of musicians that played for a while and then split ways. A good example is a group like Some Dads, a group that people would have seen in older bands and watched them grow creatively. The new people that show up also create new collaboratives and new festivals and lineups going on.”
The Capital of course is a very casual setting, with friendly staff and unique drinking nooks in every corner. This relaxed atmosphere fits the ways people tend to come across The Capital. “We hear a lot of stories of how people find The Capital, like patrons who stumble across the bar,” said Atkinson. According to him, it might be due to the student population in town and how The Capital can be a cosy alternative to other bars in the city.
“Fredericton’s a university town, and in first year you’re kind of just going with the flow and sometimes this is just the place that your friends go to. We also get lots of stories of people discovering The Capital because their friends are going out to party clubs, and they didn’t necessarily feel like it was the right environment for them, so they happen upon The Capital and make it their second home in some cases.”
Atkinson said that other bars of course have their strengths, but that the aim at The Capital is simply to “appeal to a broader audience.” They do just that with the variety of shows they host in their performance spaces. “We really try to encompass all [different forms of performances]. We do a lot of drag events, comedy shows, improv groups like Hot Garbage Players, and it’s really a bit of everything.”
The Capital Complex is busier now than it has ever been and sometimes the venue has had to turn acts away. “Unfortunately, we can’t book everyone that are trying to come through, but we’ll do our best to try and book the acts that we can, or find them a creative home in the city while they’re coming through on their tour,” said Atkinson. With this many performances going on, Atkinson said they are “very grateful that we’ve been able to retain an audience of people that have been coming and want to experience music in a live format.”
Artists like Sean Hutchins appreciate the diversity of performances and audience members. “Some bands bring a student audience, an early show with a super wide range of ages from 19 to someone in their 70s. The Wilser’s Room seems to cater to some older acts, but there’s also Reggae nights on Wednesdays and that’s the complete opposite. We have a really wide range of people and all ages.”
The bands that The Capital entertains come from all over. “There’s obviously a heavy local component and any band from around the city would have probably played here,” said Atkinson. “We do get a lot of acts that are touring nationally and internationally, so Canadian acts like Ria Mae, Joel Plaskett and groups like The Arkells come through.”
Several local bands who began at The Capital have gone on to tour Canada, the United States and Europe. This shows that The Capital serves as a creative launch pad for aspiring musicians. “We’re a home base of Fredericton music, and you have a lot of artists come see each other’s shows and that even bulks up the audience on nights with bad weather,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson is simply grateful to provide opportunities for creativity in a changing music industry, and knows this wouldn’t be possible without the immense support they have received from the Fredericton community.
“[We hope to continue] doing the same kinds of things we’ve been doing for the last 20 years. The music scene and genres of popular music might change, but we’re going to be right there alongside that change.”