Business leaders raise $50K to keep Rainbow Bistro going

The funding is the first step in a four-part plan to help the live music milestone stay in the business, said Kevin Ford, CEO of Calian Group.

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In a collaboration that could be a model for live music clubs in any city, a group of Ottawa business leaders calling themselves the Rainbow Bistro Business Amplifiers raised $50,000 to help keep the Rainbow Bistro functioning.

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The funding is the first step in a four-part plan to help the live music milestone stay in the business, said Kevin Ford, CEO of Calian Group. A musician who is also the father of musicians, Ford had fond memories of taking his sons to the Rainbow’s Sunday jam and didn’t want it to close.

After learning that the pandemic was making it impossible to make ends meet, Ford was the first business executive to contact Rainbow owner Danny Sivyer. In the two months since the two men first met, Ford gathered other business leaders and music industry representatives to participate in weekly Zoom meetings, where they brainstormed strategies, both long and short term, to to be applied to the live music sector at the club level.

Their first idea is to create a wall with corporate sponsor logos overlooking the stage. Ten companies immediately pledged their support and paid $5,000 each to add their logo.

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Rainbow Bistro owner Danny Sivyer (seated) is surrounded by members of the group of music-loving business leaders, the Rainbow Bistro Business Amplifiers, who have raised $50,000 to support the business to date.
Rainbow Bistro owner Danny Sivyer (seated) is surrounded by members of the group of music-loving business leaders, the Rainbow Bistro Business Amplifiers, who have raised $50,000 to support the business to date. Photo by Errol McGihon /post media

Sivyer, who has run the club since it opened in 1984, has been overwhelmed by the support. “We’ve never had so much money in our bank,” he said. “Ever. We were lucky if we paid our rent every month.”

On the eve of Rainbow’s 37th anniversary celebration this weekend, he added that he recently signed a new five-year lease with the landlord, with an option for an additional five years. “We hope to be alive for a long time,” Sivyer said. For now, shows are booked every Friday and Saturday until December.

The other steps in the business plan include applying for grants, launching a crowdfunding campaign and revamping the club’s digital strategy.

The 10 executives, most of whom were at the Rainbow on Monday to announce the good news, are all music fans, but they have different reasons for wanting to see the club survive. John Sicard, president and CEO of Kinaxis (and a drummer), believes music is an “underlying unifier for humanity” and something that brings people joy.

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“Experiencing live music in an iconic place where you can not only hear it but feel it, it doesn’t deserve to die because of COVID,” Sicard said. “Do we sit back and say ‘What a shame’, or do we lean in because we can? I think you have to do something with purpose to keep it alive.”

John Jastremski, CEO of MDS Aero, who is also a musician, thinks it’s important to support smaller clubs, because that’s where artists develop their talent.

“The clubs we focus on are (the ones with) 150 people or less, because if you’re a budding musician, you’re not going to play at the NAC,” Jastremski said. “You’re going to play at Irene’s or a place like the Rainbow.”

But for Kingsford Consulting founder Andrew Penny, it’s more about the city’s quality of life. “Why should anyone live in Ottawa?” he wondered. “It’s not for work anymore. You don’t have to be here. So it must be the quality of life. Places like the Rainbow are a foundation of our culture for me, and that’s important. It makes Ottawa interesting and fun.”

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Jamie Kwong of the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition, who is also involved in the weekly meetings, said the collaboration is a “great example” of what can happen when different sectors of a city work together.

“What Ottawa needs more is for everyone to work together so that our sectors are not so segregated,” she said. “All these companies are large international companies. To have them all here and support the music industry in this way is remarkable.”

Strategies that will help other companies in the city’s music industry are also being considered. “The Rainbow is one of the clubs that is struggling,” said Ford. “We need to support the Rainbow, but we also want to work with the wider ecosystem of live music in Ottawa to find out how we can make it a broader discussion. Stand by.”

lsaxberg@postmedia.com

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