The Zolas play all-ages show

Do all-ages shows have a place in Vancouver's arts scene?

Credit: Christine McAvoy

Vancouver band The Zolas makes music for people of all ages—including the ones who can’t get into bars yet

Infectious, lyrical and very much of the city from which they hail, The Zolas and their indie pop-piano hooks are easy to like. Nice on the eyes, bright on the ears. And the kids like ’em, too.


Thursday, May 6, 2010, you can catch The Zolas performing off their new album, Tic Toc Tic, at the St James Hall, opening for the six-piece avant-pop Vancouver band Brasstronaut, who returns to the city after a year on the road promoting their new album, Mount Chimaera. (Read our interview with Brasstronaut’s Edo VanBreeman.)


The show will be all-ages, which I only realized after I bought the ticket, and I have to say I’m pretty pumped. I spoke to The Zolas piano man Tom Dobrzanski about the show, the beer that props up the music industry and the place of all-ages shows in Vancouver’s arts scene.

Tom Dobrzanski, The Zolas
The Zolas piano man Tom Dobrzanski
(Image: Christine McAvoy)


First question, the obligatory backgrounder on the band: Who are you, where are you from, how long have you been playing?

Tom Dobrzanski: Well, Zach [Gray, of Billy Bishop Goes to War fame] and I grew up in Vancouver a couple blocks from each other. We played music for fun since we were 13, but didn’t get any good till, oh, i dunno… about a year ago. Our bass player, Henry [Alcock-White of Henry and the Nightcrawlers], and drummer, Ajay Bhattacharyya, are both from the island. Vancouver Island, not Jamaica.


Thursday you’re playing an all-ages show at St James Hall, opening up for Brasstronaut. I’m coming—how young a crowd can I expect?

Hmm… I’m sure it’ll be a mixed bag. Us Zolas haven’t played a lot of shows in Vancouver… I think this’ll be the fourth? So, we’ll probably see fans of all ages out. I’m a bit of a numbers guy, so I’m going to guess the average age will be 20.4 and the median age 18.8. 

I remember when I was a teenager, all-ages shows were basically my lifeline. Whether I was dancing my buns off inside or just loitering in the parking lot outside, those shows were the highlight of my week. How about you, do you have any found memories of all-ages shows from your youth?

No, I didn’t really go to any all-ages shows… Maybe when bands played at school i did… If there was a cool all-ages scene going on, I didn’t get the memo. Too busy playing roller hockey every day, I guess. But I have fond memories of playing all-ages shows. We used to sell out this venue called Mesa Luna. It was on Broadway near Burrard, and must have been a front for something. Nice high-school-age kids would be greeted by security guards in kevlar vests and those matrix glasses that float on your nose. And one day, they just packed up and left during the night. Literally, and coincidentally, we played there the night before. Ashleigh from Hey Ocean!‘s mic, might still be inside… Nobody has occupied the space since.


But, more to the point, in our last band (Lotus Child), there was a time when we were most high school kids on this side of town’s favourite band. They knew all the words… and we became the soundtrack to them growing up. 

Yeah, that’s the thing about that age, when you see a band live whose music you’ve really connected with, it’s like your whole world makes sense. If even for just that night. You know why you’re alive. I remember that. But it would drive me nuts when I’d find out a band I loved was playing at a bar. I couldn’t understand why all shows weren’t all ages.

One word: BEER. This industry is propped up on it. The thing about playing a bar is everything is there—the sound system, the sound guy, the booker in charge of promoting it, and usually they’ll even guarantee you money to play. They make their money selling BEER. Take BEER away, and it all flips upside down. Rent a venue, rent a sound system, find a sound guy, promote your own show and hope at the end of the day enough cool kids heard about it to make it break even. Almost impossible for an out-of-town band to set up… and almost impossible for us to setup anywhere other than our hometown.

Are all-ages shows important to a city’s arts scene?

We’re writing music for people of all ages, and that includes people who can’t get into bars yet. They can also be more fun to play for—you know they’re there for the music. They have time to really get to know it in a way that busy people in their 20s don’t. To them it’s more than a soundtrack to beer drinking. On a good day, it means something to them. It influences them, or helps them through something, or just gives them a way to be unique.