For veteran bluesman Harry Manx, the Dream Café is all about the people.
He remembers playing at the original Dream Café, a smaller, 40-seat venue across the street from the current location on Front Street and upstairs. From the stage, you looked at the audience in one direction, but the performers also had a view out the window at another Penticton landmark, Slack Alice’s.
“I used to make jokes about ‘oh, there’s the mayor going into Slacks’, things like that from the stage,” said Manx. He also remembers owners Pierre and Debra Couture and the staff putting in a lot of miles going up and down the stairs.
“That was a hard club to work, with limited seating and those stairs,” said Manx, who nonetheless looked forward to return visits. He said it was the vibe that Pierre and Debra created that made the club a unique venue then and still does.
“It all grew out of a passion. Boy, you could see it in the early days, the fire in their eyes that they were going to make it work,” said Manx, who has become friends with Pierre and Debra over the years. “It’s the personality of the people that run it that really make it work. Otherwise, it’s just four walls.”
With his unique, custom-made guitars, Manx has been called a link between the music of East and West, blending traditional blues with the depth of classical Indian ragas.
He’s bringing that sound to the Dream Festival fundraiser on May 1 and 2 at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre, part of an all-star lineup turning out to help support the Coutures as they create a new future for the club.
“Any way that I can support these guys, I am happy to do it. They supported me in the beginning, giving me gigs and stuff when I wasn’t very well known. You have to give back a bit where you can,” said Manx. “I am looking forward to being there and being part of the occasion.”
Though the Dream Café now seats more people, Manx said it’s still a tight fit.
“I think for the audience, that is the real good thing about the place. Every seat is pretty close to the stage. If you have an artist you really want to see, you want to get as close as possible,” said Manx. “I think there was one night I was tapping my toe in somebody’s soup.”
It’s an audience that the Coutures have created over the years, Manx said.
“I think Pierre has educated a lot of the locals about the music scene over the years. He has brought in some wonderful players. Both him and Debra have contributed a lot to the community that way, educating people about the music of the world.”
Most good venues, Manx explained, have people that are the mainstay, that characterize the venue.
“Pierre is such a charming guy, there is no one that doesn’t love him to death, and Debra is one of the most giving people you are going to find,” said Manx. “That’s a pretty good combination of two people to be running the venue. They get involved. It has been a lot of work on their part, but a lot comes back.”
This article is part of a series profiling artists coming to support the Dream Café on May 1 and 2.