A Deck-sposition of Peace & Music: Talking Leveestock III with Gene Browne
Gene Browne, the owner and operator of The Levee, has been an essential part of the music culture and community in St. John’s since his arrival to the city in 2003. As an accomplished musician, Browne brought his talent and passion for music from Placentia to town, and his influence has been felt ever since.
When I first had the pleasure of meeting Gene, he was operating out of the legendary Turners Tavern – tending bar and booking shows seven days a week, bringing an eclectic mix of bands together for some of the most celebrated alt-shows of that time.
Browne’s work ethic and enthusiasm for the music community brought him to Holdsworth Court, where he built The Levee, a stronghold for musicians and patrons of musical talent alike.
Browne has advanced The Levee through his supportive mantra; his down-to-earth nature and genuine caring for every band and musician that passes through his doors have combined to help The Levee expand, resulting in the creation of its very own weekend-long celebration of local talent: Leveestock.
I sat down with Browne on a bright and sunny Tuesday to thrash out the conception of Leveestock, where the idea came from, and how it has grown into the most well-attended single-venue music showcase in the city.
Browne began describing Leveestock by recounting the creation of Deckfest, which failed because of the lack of participation and cooperation from the collective bars on the Deck.
“So I decided, next year I’m doing my own festival. We had to call it something, and the first year we did it the actual dates for Woodstock fell on the same dates in August. So I said fuck it, let’s do Leveestock, because the dates were exactly the same – August 14th to 17th,” says Browne, “Everything lined up. We’ll just keep it at our place, we’ll ask all the great bands in town.”
And all of the great bands in town want to play this little Levee festival; Browne says he is already feeling the pressure to try and fit all of the acts into the line-up that have expressed interest. Browne also let us in on a little secret – Kujo and The Cartridge Family are confirmed for Saturday August 16th.
Although Leveestock is a single-venue music showcase, Browne is not opposed to teaming up with other up-and-comers. Browne let us in on a rad team-up taking place this year between Leveestock and the emergent Shed Island fest. Because the two festivals coincide, Browne has decided to work with Micah Brown and Glen May in making the opening night of Leveestock a Shed Island show. For it’s third anniversary, what better way to show a willingness to build Leveestock into a community event than a collaboration with some of St. John’s finest?
As many musicians can confirm, the combination of both monetary gain and a good time can be a hard thing to achieve, so a bar owner who works hard to provide this among other things is coveted. Browne does just that – taking care of his own and all the while believing the bands and musicians are taking care of him. All too often bar owners get sucked into the “I run this shit” mentality, and can become the downfall of many music venues.
“The good thing about Leveestock is, you can come to the one venue for three or four nights and see something completely different each night, and know that it’s some of the best music in the city,” says Browne, “That’s the bonus of this. If you’re picking one night in your summer to go out, and you happen to hit a Leveestock night, you’re like ‘fuckin’ wicked.’ It’ll be four of the best bands in a genre or similar genres playing together, and you can branch off from that… So that’s kinda the goal, to build awareness and get as many people out as possible, and try to make everyone reap the benefits. We all have to work to live so why not do it in the areas that we enjoy working in.”
Browne won’t forget his patrons and regular customers this Leveestock, either. For Leveestock 3, there will be a customer appreciation night to celebrate the regular contributions from the St. Johns citizens who are grateful for some entertainment, while they enjoy their Tuesday to Sunday casual. This night will have a plethora of treats and treasures to look forward to besides the acts, including door-shots, beer tickets, and alternating drink specials for every hour of operation.
Leveestock is one of the many avenues Browne pursues to make a difference to both musicians and patrons. Having gone from scraping paint off the floors and washing nicotine off the walls of what was once Roxxxys to Leveestock 3, Browne has worked hard to build his musical sanctuary.
It doesn’t stop there, he has big plans. Leveestock is destined to grow so large that next year Browne will need an outdoor venue – and that’s exactly what he wants, to bring Leveestock to the next level.
Browne maintains that Leveestock was too big the first year, and has already outgrown the crowds the bands draw in. Although it is understood that the city of St. John’s makes it near impossible to successfully submit a permit for an outdoor festival, Gene believes that with community support and the promise of big crowds and big fun, anything is possible.
So, when August 14th rolls around and the end-of-summer blues kick in, do not fear friends; there is an absurd amount of things to look forward to, to ease yourselves into the fall season.
When you’re finalizing your *~goodbye summer~* schedule, keep in mind the hardworking folks like Browne who want to create a community just for you – and everyone – who enjoys our extensive Atlantic Canadian music culture. Be a part of the team that will insure the growth of festivals like Leveestock, and by default the continuation of the amazing musical talents which thrive here.