Pop the Gator returns to K-W after 25 years

BY KELSEY DUNBAR

Walking up the long flight of stairs into a smoky room with huge 15-foot tin-tiled ceilings and blues posters plastering the walls, you would have never thought this cool blues club would be remembered after 25 years.

Pop the Gator opened March 1, 1989 so it is fitting that the 25th anniversary will be held on March 1 of this year at THEMUSEUM. Hosted by Glenn Smith, the original owner, Otis Clay will attend the event as he performed at the club on its opening night.

“It is sort of a tribute to the music scene and history of Kitchener … People know the blues festival and in a way Pop The Gator started that,” said David Marksell, CEO of THEMUSEUM.

“Pop the Gator comes up miraculously in conversation now and then … people just have this fond memory of Pop the Gator. If someone brings it up, very quickly people are talking about how great it was to go there and all the good and bad things they did there …  there is this huge fond memory that surrounds it.”

Tickets to the event were sold at THEMUSEUM, Encore Records and at Ethel’s Lounge. However, all 400 of the tickets to the anniversary sold out within 48 hours.

Marksell said he hopes this will encourage Smith to host one of these events once or twice a year.

Back in the days of acid-washed jeans and denim jackets, the club was located on the second floor of the building where Encore Records is located today, on Queen Street in downtown Kitchener.

Pop The Gator used to showcase successful as well as up-and-coming artists and this trend will continue at the reunion. In addition to Clay,  Wesley Bright and the Hi Lites will be preforming and  Marksell said there will be some surprises and artifacts from the club at the event.

“Everyone talks about the club and its long set of vertical stairs leading up to the smoke-filled room where everyone was kind of jammed into,” Marksell said.
Smith said, “It wasn’t a problem going up the stairs, it was coming down drunk that was the problem.”

He added Pop The Gator had the right atmosphere for a blues club. Unfortunately,  he said, there aren’t any more places like that around here, although New Orleans probably has a few.

“I was a pretty young guy in Kitchener collecting blues records, and it went from a point of a guy collecting records to having a club, and instead of just listening to these guys I could phone them up and have them come up here and play in my club. On that level it was really cool,” Smith said.

For one night, Pop the Gator will return to its home in Kitchener and bring back tons of memories for all who attend.

“I’m just thrilled that people can revisit their youth and those fond memories of 25 years ago and I am really looking forward to seeing them all gather together to celebrate Pop The Gator here at THEMUSEUM,” Marksell said.

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