Geoff Cass started teasing his newest project in summer 2021, and word of a new venue instantly caught the attention of every musician and music fan in Ottawa. With the impacts of COVID-19, music fans were accustomed to losing venues, not gaining them. But Red Bird kicks back against that trend, and with its web of community support and programming for adults and youth, it’s likely here to stay.
The venue is not so much taking flight as settling into its nest on Bank Street in the Old Ottawa South neighbourhood.
For those who want the specs, Red Bird is 3,100 square feet and fits 80 people comfortably in its plush chairs. It’s got a low stage with great tech hookups, a green room, four classrooms for private lessons, plus a bar/café. The building dates from the 1940s and was most recently an axe- and knife-throwing lounge.
Red Bird opened with a full slate of music teachers who give lessons in banjo, bass, cello, fiddle, drums, guitar, piano, vocals, and mandolin, and the list keeps expanding. In the near future, Cass also plans on starting a songwriters circle, guitar group, ukulele ensemble, and musical theatre program. After March Break, keep an eye out for programming specifically for young children. And it’s not just kids—Cass estimates that half the students are adults wanting a new post-pandemic skill.
“We’ve got about a dozen teachers and lots of students. And many of our teachers are performing artists, which is very cool,” Cass says. “Many of them are now working at the café or bartending and doing sound and they’re playing, so it’s become a real home for a lot of musicians, which was part of my goal. They’ve been amazing, just inspiring the kids.”
“Our teachers are well-rounded and keen to teach whatever it is people want to learn,” he says.
Plus, having to pass the stage to get to the classrooms has had its intended effect: “We’ve seen with the kids and students who come through, they see people playing on the stage and they want to do that.”
Although Red Bird is a venue for all of Ottawa, it’s clear that the people of Old Ottawa South are its main audience and supporters. The venue is enmeshed in the community.
Cass called the community’s response “amazing.”
“I knew Old Ottawa South would love it, but it’s been overwhelming,” Cass said of the venue’s reception.
In the time we were there, the sound tech was fixing some issues—with the help of her dad—and a budding cellist came in for lessons while his mom chatted with Cass. Red Bird is obviously a venue for everyone—kids (and adults) taking lessons, parents grabbing a coffee or a pint, employees (and their parents), people tinkering around on one of the instruments scattered around the building, and, of course, patrons there for a great rootsy concert.
“Our music teachers are well-rounded and keen to teach whatever it is people want to learn.”
Even some of the classroom doors come from a nearby house on Belmont Avenue that was renovating.
The venue also operates a café, with a wide selection of drinks, including County Bounty soda, and pastries from Simply Biscotti. They also sell Ashton Brewery beer and local cider from Saunders Farm. The food is all small finger food designed to be eaten while taking in a quiet acoustic show. Even if you aren’t looking for a show, it’s worth stopping by Red Bird for a place to get homework done.
Red Bird is booking shows and is starting their weekly Bluegrass Mondays on March 7. Cass says there’s still a few final touches needed—finishing the green room, some work on the acoustics—but he’s planning a grand opening, with a long list of volunteers who’ve helped make Red Bird a reality, at the end of March.