D’orjay’s Fave 5 Live Music Venues in Edmonton Alberta

By / Life / August 11th, 2021 / 2

Outside of Canada, one might not consider Edmonton (traditionally known as Amiskwaciy Waskahikan) an arts city.

However, D’orjay the Singing Shaman is here to correct that notion. The singer-songwriter, who moved to Edmonton from rural Alberta after graduating high school at the age of 17, thoroughly appreciates the picturesque town even after spending time in other locales like Vancouver. 

“I really love living in this city,” she says. “This city prides itself on its arts and culture. It’s very supportive of artists in so many ways.”

With the release of her debut album New King of Outlaw, D’orjay, who is Black and indigenous, is carving a space for racialized people in country music, a genre that traditionally pushes BIPOC and LGBTQ+ artists away. Before she performed her music publicly, D’orjay studied to be  a shaman, helping her clients and students become their most authentic selves. Now, when she performs, she brings that sense of completeness to her concerts by opening with a sacred space:

“This is something that I’ve been doing since I started performing professionally four and a half years ago, opening up sacred space, kind of giving context to what a shaman is. I do this opening prayer, and then say that ‘Another thing we do as shamans is bring light to the darkness. So I’m going to give you a little bit more light right now.’  And then I hit the battery pack and my bra strap and my hair lights up,” she laughs. She leads the audience in mantras and affirmations before launching into, of course, James Brown’s I Feel Good

In some ways, Edmonton creates the same safer space for D’orjay. “Nobody slows down because of -40 degree winters. We just don’t stop. Nobody goes into hibernation here.”

Here are five of D’orjay’s favorite places to perform, heal, eat, and drink in Edmonton.

The Aviary

This is one of D’orjay’s favorite local institutions. She cites the Aviary’s inclusive atmosphere, craft cocktails, excellent performance space, as well as the venue’s creativity. “There are pop-up kitchens that show up depending on the type of event in the venue. I feel like everybody in the city should support this venue, in particular for what Phillip Muz has done for local artists in Edmonton for a couple of decades now.”

The Red Star Pub/The Bower

It sounds like cheating, but it’s not. The Red Star Pub and The Bower sit right next to each other in the same building, and while Red Star is more of a dance hall, the Bower serves a more restrained cocktail menu. Red Star has been around for decades, hosting reggae nights and featuring Jamaican food.

“They have just some of the best DJ sets, like I’ve seen Mark Farina a couple of times. The Bower and Red Star are must-stops for anybody interested in just hearing some really great music and a very intentional, curated ambiance.”

Really, you can make it two stops: “You can pregame at Red Star and then go party at the Bower. The Bower feels like if you had a rich great uncle and he had a luxurious mahogany-covered library.”

The Blue Chair Cafe

D’orjay also cites the musical lineup at the Blue Chair Cafe, especially for brunch. “You can have an incredible meal and maybe cure a hangover with a hair-of-the-dog and an Eggs Benny, and also catch incredible live music and acts.”

According to D’orjay, she can’t help fawning over the city’s long-time establishments: “I’m a nostalgic bitch.”

But there’s a reason the good ones are here to stay: “Hospitality is so funny. The shelf life of restaurants and establishments is really not that high. And so I think that there’s something to be said for these types of establishments that are able to stay relevant for decades. It speaks to a commitment to their patrons.”

The River Cree Casino

It counts, right? “You can have a one-stop shop experience. You can go in and play the slots and play games. They have several restaurants that are absolutely incredible. I’m a big fan of their seafood buffet. The River Cree brings in artists who you wouldn’t really see or wouldn’t come to Edmonton.”

In fact, D’orjay was asked to work with beloved country singer Tanya Tucker for a session at the River Cree. Her friend, Tucker’s makeup artist, made the introductions after “talking up” D’orjay’s music and shamanism.

“She is, like, highly energetic,” D’orjay said of her evening with Tucker. “Considering how long she’s been in this business, I understand now where that longevity comes from.”

The River City Revival House

This venue is an offshoot of another Edmonton institution, the Starlite Room. While the Starlite hosts more established bands, the River City Revival House is home to up-and-coming bands — plus a “really delicious” menu.

D’orjay loves sitting in on the picnic tables on a Friday night, enjoying a cocktail pint and a menu of music-themed dishes. D’orjay’s favorite is the Nat King Cole-slaw and the Jack Sabbath, a vegan sandwich of jackfruit tossed in a coffee barbecue sauce.

“I am basically just an old dad in this body. I love dad jokes. I love corny!”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Cholst (she/her/hers) is an educator and music journalist in New York City. She began her foray into writing with her long-running Americana music blog Adobe & Teardrops, which turns 10 this December. Her writing has also appeared in No Depression, The Boot, and Wide Open Country. She is a contributing editor to Country Queer and hosts the Country Queer Spotlight podcast. She is also the editor of Rainbow Rodeo, the first print magazine devoted to queer country music. When she’s not writing about country music, she’s writing her fantasy comic series Artema.

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