The Spirit of Rasputin’s lives on at the Elmdale Tavern

by Lynn Stevenson


“A lot of this entered Rasputin’s” says Missy Burgess –  gesturing to a performer who, fiddle in hand, just left the stage, – to the audience enthusiastically clapping, to the row of waiting guitars piled up against a tavern wall.  By “this” the veteran performer and singer/songwriter means the “spirit”, the enthusiasm for folk music that is vividly alive and well – and now hanging out at the Elmdale Tavern at 1084 Wellington West in Ottawa.

It’s a Monday night in December – just days before Christmas – and the place is packed with folk music junkies young and old.  Among them, a generous helping of former “Rasputinites” – people for whom Rasputin’s Folk Café on Bronson Avenue was a haven and a beacon for over 25 years.  The cramped cafe/open stage, and rec room for wandering musicians closed after a fire in July, 2008.  Since then, a collection of self-styled “orphans” have been searching for a new place to call home.   It looks like they found in at the Elmdale.

The “dale” appears the perfect haven for Rasputin’s ex-pats.  Red the bartender certainly seems to think so, as he smiles, bringing another pint of Beaus to a group former Rasputin’s clientele.  Under the careful management of Bruce and Nathalie Myles, the Elmdale Tavern has evolved from a somewhat seedy Hintonburg watering hole into “The Place” in Ottawa to see live music – everything from punk to country – and now folk.  Natalie and Bruce have generously offered up Monday and Tuesday nights to the former Rasputin’s crowd – and now Sunday nights starting in February.

The Spirit of Rasputin’s is a tribute to Dean Verger who for 27 years managed Rasputin’s.  His tiny café hosted artists from around the world and helped launch the careers of many local musicians.  According to George Laing, Manager of the Spirit the term “open stage” was coined there.  While there have been many open stages since – Rasputin’s was  the only place in the city where performers got to play for a quiet, attentive audience.

Dean decided to retire after the fire hoping others would take up where he left off.  A dedicated group of volunteers took up that challenge, determined not to let that unique folk music community die.  Says George, “much was lost when Rasputin’s closed – more than many of us realized.  It may have been taken for granted.   But there is no doubt Rasputin’s made a huge difference to the folk music scene in Ottawa.” George hopes the Spirit of Rasputin’s will make that difference once again.

Monday night is Open Stage.  Tuesday night features Folk Jam.  And starting Sunday nights in early February – a mixed musical offering of some big names and more less  known musicians.  The new Sunday nights will kick off February 7th with Ottawa’s own Lynn Miles who started herself at Rasputin’s many years ago.  Every second Sunday of the month will feature CKCU Weekend Wrap-Up hosted by Pat Moore.  The third Sunday of the month will feature more concerts, and the remaining Sunday evening will feature what is being loosely called “Rasputin’s Beard” – a showcase of new talent with bigger bands as well as individual performers.  Check out  www.rasputins.ca (http://www NULL.rasputins NULL.ca/) for a full calendar of events.  Tickets for Lynn Miles can be purchased at the Elmdale and will also be available at the Folklore Centre.

Half way through Monday night’s third set a young woman named Skye McLeod comes forward to play.  Her parents took her to Rasputin’s years ago when she was just a kid. She doesn’t remember much – the feeling of the place more than anything and how happy it made her parents to perform and just be part of something special.  Now, at age 21, she has played in front of a live audience for the first time as part of the Spirit of Rasputin’s at the Elmdale Tavern.

Almost on cue, a small group of friends move up front to cheer her on. Skye starts to play and her soft voice floats around the room. Although quiet, the audience has no difficulty hearing her words – part of the tradition of Rasputin’s is a respectful “listening” environment – so no one has to compete with the hockey to be heard.  Skye plays just two songs and departs the stage, as is the rule on Monday nights.  When the last performer finishes, some in the audience get up to leave, but others stay, talking and sharing and hoping for just a bit more.  They will all be back.  There is no doubt that the Elmdale, reincarnated with the “Spirit of Rasputins” is also a special place, full of tradition and song and spirit.  And this spirit is catching!

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