When Michael Wekerle made a last-minute decision to secure the legendary El Mocambo in November 2014 for a reported $3.8 million dollars he allegedly cracked that he might need to invest an additional couple of million bucks to fix the place up to his specifications…Thirty-Five Million Dollars Later!
This is the reported amount, the 54-year old merchant trader, who made a name for himself as a panellist on the Dragon’s Den television series (four seasons), has invested to make the famous Toronto entertainment venue a state of the art, concert venue, recording facility.
His ultimate goal is to not only re-create the venue’s mid-1970-1980’s glory days when the likes of U2, Elvis Costello, Meatloaf, Blondie, Bon Jovi and yes, The Rolling Stones performed at the 464 Spadina Avenue address under the neon palms sign. But to also use advance technology to provide a state of the art facility that would allow featured artists to live stream their performances nationally and internationally while providing the ability to produce live recordings of their performances.
“We expected to open this April but then the Coronavirus hit so now we have pivoted into live streaming,” explained Wekerle from his Caledon home residence after Big Wreck launched a live stream concert series Thursday, September 10th. Patrons were able to purchase links to the site courtesy of a partnership with nugs.tv. “It’s a difficult challenge because people are used to getting a lot of content for free.”
As he envisioned the reconstruction of the El Mo, Wekerle planned for two live concert areas plus a first-rate recording facility but he admits that the idea of live streaming concerts was a bit of an afterthought in his planning process. As things have turned out with the current pandemic, the ability to live stream live events is turning into a masterstroke.
“We initially were going to use the live stream process as a teaser to promote concerts but now we have to change the way we do things,” Wekerle admitted. “Now it’s a chance for artists to rethink how they present themselves.”
One thing you have to say about Michael Wekerle is that he thinks big! From the moment he took possession of the famed facility, he laid out plans to maximize the venue’s financial potential. Aside from creating the ultimate live environment, Wekerle even announced plans to launch his own el Mocambo boutique record label, enticing former Coney Hatch bassist Andy Curran away from his Anthem/SRO project consultant post (where he worked on packaging box sets for the likes of Rush and Max Webster) to be GM/A&R director for the newly formed El Mocambo Entertainment division.
“My first question to Michael was, `considering the current environment’, do you really want to start a record label in 2018!!,” cracked Curran.”I just got sucked into his passion, he wanted to tackle the entire world.”
Wekerle parlayed his friendship with 54:40’s Neil Osbourne to launch the label with the band’s 2018 `Keep On Walking’ album while Curran utilized his connection with Kim Mitchell to secure the release of Mitchell’s latest record `The Big Fantasize’. With a future solo album by Osbourne in the pipeline plus a release by Osbourne and his daughter Kandle under the banner `A Family Curse’ (new single “Desert Blues”) and a release by a young band from Windsor called Hutch, Curran and Wekerle are taking baby steps to create a vibrant new outlet for both established and up and coming artists.
“I have to get Michael to slow down,” joked Curran. “If he had his way, he’d be signing a band every week.” As it was, both Osbourne and Mitchell had records already in the can and we’re looking for a distributor, for which El Mocambo Records was happy to oblige and Curran is enthusiastic about fulfilling Wekerle’s mandate to develop future domestic talent. “It’s early days, we are still developing a roster that can obtain Factor funding but Michael is enthusiastic about promoting and developing domestic talent.”
“I envision the El Mocambo as a content creation centre,” Wekerle explained. “We have state of the art audio and video equipment with the ability to capture, record and live stream high-resolution content to a global audience. With all of these COVID-19 virus restrictions, this may be the future of live concerts as we know them.”
With shows by 54:40, Andy Curran’s Coney Hatch, Big Wreck and comedy shows by Ron James and Carla Collins already performed, the El Mo is set for live stream concerts by newcomers The Monowhales on November 26th and 27th.
Ultimately, Wekerle would love to bring back some of the major names which put the original El Mocambo on the map, once this virus subsides and he can start filling his 500 seater – Under The Neon Palms – main stage (he had made overtures to the Rolling Stones for a return performance last year). And with the ability to live stream concerts internationally, don’t put it past him to stage other major events in the future.
As Curran summarized; “It’s bittersweet that we are in the present position but I do believe one of the best advantages we have is that we have the brand and the venue to make this concept work. It’s an amazing facility, and at a time when we are all challenged and attending live concerts isn’t a realistic option right now, live streaming concerts may be our only option.”