Commercial Hotel-Blues On Whyte Pub
By Becky Hagan-Egyir

The Freedom to Create and Celebrate

On a hot Sunday in July, crowds gravitate towards a main stage, a few feet away from Blues on Whyte, on a section of Whyte Avenue that’s shut down for the day. Once known as Takin’ it to the Streets, this is the Blues on Whyte Block Party. On stage, a range of sounds from Scottish bagpipes, to electric guitars and drums, to powerful vocals can be heard, like that of Canadian bagpipe-rock band, Johnny Mccuaig.

Unexpected blends of sounds are part of the melodious surprise of not only the blues, but the blends of music, from folk and rockabilly to rock, that pass through Blues on Whyte. “We don’t only play blues music; we play a mix of everything,” says Denton Morrell, general manager.

Freedom of sound is connected to a belief in artistic integrity. “We let the artists play what they want, because we don’t want to restrict them,” says Denton. “We don’t want to restrict their art.”

We let the artists play what they want, because we don’t want to restrict them. We don’t want to restrict their art. - Denton Morrell, general manager
Blues on Whyte features a variety of musicians, ranging from blues to rockabilly and more
Blues on Whyte general manager, Denton Morell, says the people he meets are one of the highlights of his job. Photo by Becky Hagan-Egyir

The "Real-Deal" Blues

Growing up, Denton was more attracted to sports than art and the blues. “I [wasn’t] the biggest music guy!” he says. “I’m a sports junkie.”

But, five years of working at the historic music venue helped him connect to the blues; and that connection has only grown since becoming general manager in March 2015. “I’m more into music now than I’ve ever been in my life,” he says. “And, with taking over, I’ve had to listen to a lot more music, so it just kind of goes hand-in-hand.”

Looking ahead to the future, he has big plans for the venue. Denton hopes to have the space trend younger. “We’ve lost a generation,” he says. And, this means upkeep and marketing of the venue will be a major focus.

Blues on Whyte is a historic landmark for the live music venue, as one of the longest running music venues in the city
The beloved live music venue recently underwent renovations to modernize the space while retaining its charms.

Investing in the Art

Blues on Whyte is a historic landmark within the community. While many features have remained the same, changes have been made over the years, and renovations were “long overdue,” says Denton. “We haven’t had renovations since ’87, and we knew we were fading in the pack. So, we had to step up our game. When we started renovations, we went around to regulars and talked to them about what they wanted to see. The consensus was as long as we don’t lose that feel.”

It’s a feeling of “just having fun” that draws customers in from all walks of life. “I always say we’re 18 to 88 [years old], white-collar to no-collar,” says Denton. It’s made the venue known and loved among musicians across North America.

But, Denton has also had to pay attention to how consumers connect with music. The past two years have seen music and art-based venues take a hard hit in the city, with many well-loved venues closing down. “And, that’s, I think, to do with the consumer, and how they’re spending their dollar,” says Denton. “So, we invested in the artist, and we hope that it turns back, and the customer sees that.”

Blues on Whyte is located in the historic Old Strathcona district of Edmonton.
Blues on Whyte is located in the historic Old Strathcona district of Edmonton. Photo by Becky Hagan-Egyir
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