Music City: 50 years and going strong

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By GORD YOUNG, The Nugget

If you’re a musician in North Bay, chances are you’ve spent some time at Music City.

The store has become an institution – a place where generations of local bands and budding musicians got their start.

Many purchased their first instrument at the shop and others learned to play their first chord. With its rows of shiny new guitars hanging from the walls and sprawling drums kits set out on the floor, some may have even fallen in love with music after simply stepping inside its doors.

“It’s a gathering place,” said Bob Ahern, a long-time employee who was on hand Saturday as the store marked its 50th anniversary.

The shop celebrated the major milestone with a reception and ribbon cutting during the day and a evening gala at the Davedi Club, featuring sets of music curated according to genre by some of the city’s most prominent musicians, including Neil Kennedy, Don Brose, Harley Renaud, Jim Harney, Jake Thomas and Shawn Moore. More than 50 musicians took part and the event sold out to a crowd of approximately 300 people, including some who travelled from across the province and elsewhere to attend.

Although the business has evolved since its inception in 1964, Ahern, who’s worked at Music City for 42 years, said the store’s role as cornerstone for the local music scene hasn’t changed.

He said it continues to be a place where musicians and music lovers alike congregate, whether they’re looking for the right piece of equipment or merely hanging out to jam or talk about music.

In the early days, Ahern said there were more than 20 local venues for live music in the city, including places like the Blue Spruce, St. Regis, the Belmont and the Continental. With some of those venues featuring bands six nights a week, Ahern said the store did a lot of rentals and catering to performers.

Roger and Reva Perreault purchased the shop in 1997, expanding a year later with a move to its current location on Algonquin Avenue, in the former St. Regis building.

Roger Perreault, whose son Mike is now managing the store, said his staff and the service they provide is the reason the store is still going strong after 50 years.

“It’s family,” he said, referring to the community that’s developed at the store over the years.

The store’s link to the past is also ever-present, with a wall of fame documenting North Bay’s musical history taking up most of the side entrance. Perreault, who started the tribute years ago with only a few photos, said people will spend 30 minutes or more on their way in or out looking at the display. Autographed posters of big name bands that have played in North Bay also adorn the walls.

The shop opened it doors long before many of its current customers and employees were born.

Karl von Estorff, 17, started working at Music City about a year-and-a-half ago. Like some of the other employees, von Estorff started hanging around the store when he was 14 and was eventually hired on.

“I remember the first time I met Roger,” he said, noting the store and its owner left an impression. “It felt like family.”

Mike Perreault, who was 18 when his parents purchased the shop, said he can’t think of a better way to make living.

“It’s awesome. As a musician, I couldn’t ask for anything better. I’m around the things that I love every day,” said Perreault, who takes his job of helping fellow musicians and outfitting them with the right instruments seriously.

Selling someone their first guitar, for instance, is something special, he said.

He spent the past year or so organizing the 50th anniversary celebrations. And Perreault said there is no better way to mark the occasion than a big party filled with music.

gord.young@sunmedia.ca