Firsts are memorable and exciting. Imperial, one of Vancouver’s newest venues, will be celebrating its first birthday this month. Formerly a theatre, Imperial was inherited and then renovated to become the promising venue Vancouver knows today. To ensure the occasion is marked, Imperial has organized an anniversary weekend birthday party, feeling that one day of celebration would not suffice. Drawing on local talent, Imperial has sculpted an exciting line-up. At the same time, the venue is eager to showcase that they are capable of unique sound through local talent.

“We’ve never played the Imperial before,” said Dan Vacon, front man for The Dudes. “It’s just a baby as far as venues are concerned. But we like babies. When we got the invitation to play its anniversary, we were flattered… Also, the Zolas and Hey Ocean! are sweet folks and great bands. It’s gonna be all the fun,” he added.

David Hawkes, head of the music program at Imperial, readily lit up with excitement (even after a 12-hour day) at the opportunity to boast of Imperial’s sound.

“It’s not just a wall of loud,” Hawkes said. “There’s definition, and that comes from the technical side of things which came from the theatre which we inherited… So when you’re sitting there at the bar talking to your friends, you can actually have a conversation because your conversation is not being drowned out by distortion. That’s another big part of being at a venue with good sound… it’s more comfortable over the long term because you are not being bombarded, you’re actually being entertained.”

“We want them also to feel like when they’re here it’s beyond what’s onstage; we want [people] to float in from wherever they are that night because they know it’s always a good experience.” During Imperial’s infancy, the venue even hosted Jon Bon Jovi for a private show. “It was for a small group of people,” said Ken Phelan, general manager at Imperial, “but we had him up on our stage within six months of being open.”

Jon Bon Jovi isn’t the only notable moment Imperial has had over the last year. Phelan noted Imperial hosted a surprise wedding earlier in the year—and got a little choked up recalling how beautiful the event was. One fundraiser in the venue brought a boxing match into their versatile space. Then there were the brand launches, wrap parties, screenings, rehearsals, other fundraisers, conferences, and business meetings. ”I’ve never worked in a place that does so many diverse things,” Hawkes said. “I feel good about it.”

On the cusp of Main and Hastings, Imperial feels positive about where they are. “When you’re down here every day, you do see the drug addiction and the mental illness,” said Baxter Wilson, director of business development at Imperial, “but you also see people in suits and young entrepreneurs walking around. We have Chinatown on one side and Railtown on the other side. We’re in the middle with the chance to bring everyone together with something unique and cool that the city really needs.” And that they do – in a city known for a brutal history with venues, the success story of Imperial is exactly what Vancouver needs.

The weekend celebration will take place June 12- 14 and headlined by Hey Ocean!, The Zolas, and The Dudes on respective nights. Tickets are $20 in advance. Doors open at 9 p.m. and each night will be a 19+ event. The Imperial is located at 319 Main Street. 

By Graham McFie    

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