Rockin’ 4 Dollars, giving locals the limelight and traditions they deserve
By Bella Coco, Contributor
Rockin’ 4 Dollars started as a local rock event in Halifax. Now, over 15 years later, it has transformed into a beloved weekly local tradition for the Calgary music scene.
BJ Downey, hailing from New Brunswick, came across Rockin’ 4 Dollars when he attended art school in Halifax. Posters were plastered throughout the city and the advertisement ultimately piqued Downey’s interest.
“The poster was like ‘rock for dollars, win a thousand bucks, play a 15-minute set, backline provided, ‘I’m like, ‘what? This sounds insane,’” says Downey. “I would go there and if you played, you got a free pitcher of beer and it was just the thing to do in the city on a Monday.”
Downey fell in love. Planning to move in 2012, he asked the co-founders if he could start doing the event in Calgary on Wednesdays. After receiving their blessing, Rockin’ 4 Dollars in Calgary was born.
“Now, they’ve since quit that. So they’ve handed over everything. I have the name. Everything is now mine,” Downey says.
In the beginning, Rockin’ 4 Dollars was at Broken City on 11th Avenue, and it cost $3 cash to get in. Now, nine years later, Broken City has since been transformed into Modern Love and it is $5 cash to get in.
For $5, audience members get to hear up to eight bands play a 15-minute set each. Bands can win up to $1,000 on Rockin’ 4 Dollars unique wheel of prizes, which is spun at the end of the night.
Since the beginning, Rockin’ 4 Dollars has advertised the occasional themed night. The themes range from bands playing covers of Green Day, Blink-182, or Britney Spears. But out of all the themes, Downey says that the most popular by far is Emo Night.
“Usually the theme nights take off when we announce Emo Night, Green Day, Blink-182 or Nirvana is another good one. We announce and bam…the list is full within 24 hours,” Downey said.
While numerous bands from various backgrounds come to play at Rockin’ 4 Dollars, regulars have their fan favorites. Wack, Astrocaster, and Neon Detour are just a few local gems, and their attendance at Rockin’ 4 Dollars always provides a surge of audience members and a rowdy crowd.
Downey says that one of the biggest things he has learned since starting Rockin’ 4 Dollars is that bands don’t always know what is going on when they sign up to play. Some bring all of their gear, but at Rockin’ 4 Dollars, a full instrumental set isn’t necessary.
“We provide the drums. Just bring your guitars, your cables, your drumsticks, and your pedals. That’s all you need,” says Downey.
While Downey has created and curated an incredible local music scene, he has also worked hard at building a warm and welcoming environment at Rockin’ 4 Dollars.
While a good amount of bands play their first show at Rockin’ 4 Dollars, Downey says that the environment is very low-stress and has a familial atmosphere. For instance, the hockey lineup is when audience members, either dancing, sitting, or chatting, gather near the front of the stage and form two single file lines. Facing each other, the audience sticks out their hands and the performing band runs through to high-five the crowd. It is a true Rockin’ 4 Dollars tradition, as Downey explains at the beginning of every Wednesday night.
“If you’re feeling down, if you don’t know anybody in the city, and if you’re interested in learning about bands that are in the Calgary music scene, no doubt, Rockin’ 4 Dollars is 100 per cent the place to dip your toes,” Downey says.