TRUCKIN’: The Truck Stop Concert Series in Vancouver, British Columbia, is put on by Red Truck Beer Company. (Courtesy Event)

This article first appeared as part of the June 2024 VenuesNow Market Focus feature on Vancouver, British Columbia.

Vancouver, British Columbia, may be sometimes overlooked, being the third-largest metropolitan area in Canada (behind Toronto and Montreal) and third-largest in the Pacific Northwest (behind Seattle and Portland). However, the city and immediate vicinity’s 2.6 million residents boast a proud history, a big appetite for sports and entertainment and a healthy venue landscape.

“We have an incredible music community here,” said Eli Wener, an artist manager and talent buyer from and based in Vancouver. He rattles off a handful of “legendary” rock clubs where fledgling artists can develop their fanbase locally or while on tour, like the Fox Cabaret (310 capacity), Hollywood Theatre (600), Biltmore Cabaret (500) and The Wise Club (250) before moving up to mid-size venues like the 1,000-capacity Commodore Ballroom, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vogue Theatre, the Orpheum and the Centre in Vancouver For The Performing Arts.

Along with big-league arena and stadium venues, there’s a healthy festival and outdoor scene, which includes the Coast City Country Festival at BC Place, topped by Luke Bryan, Nickelback and Dierks Bentley, April 19-20, produced by Live Nation Canada.

“The problem with Vancouver that I identify is you’ve got a lot of competition from the great outdoors,” said Wener. “You got the mountains, the ocean, all the outdoor sports and beaches, and it’s so accessible. At any given time, you’re competing with all the great things that you could do just out your doorstep.”

He says the city still recognizes it is somewhat isolated and not quite a metropolis on the level of Ontario capital Toronto, for instance.

“We’re still a small town. The growing indie music industry here knows you have to leave Vancouver to grow, but there’s such incredible talent that’s been through,” he said, noting Grimes, Mac DeMarco, Michael Buble and Nickelback among the major artists from or spending a lot of time in the city.

Another problem is the city’s geographic location — beautifully nestled on the coast of British Columbia and only a couple of hours drive to Seattle across the U.S. border. However, touring domestically can be a logistical and financial challenge, with the closest major Canadian city being a 10-hour drive to Calgary.

That’s why so many in the Canadian music industry point to nonprofit and government organizations as crucial for artist development and venue support.

“We have an incredible support system that goes and flows,” said Wener. “I like to say that we have a record label: It’s our government, and we really tap in to help artists.”

He mentions FACTOR, which stands for Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings and helps fund marketing and touring and record labels.

“Then you’ve got The Canadian Starmaker fund, which is another one. If an artist has a certain amount of sales, they get more touring and marketing money,” Wener said. “We’re in a country of 30-plus million people where you’re at 300 million. We can’t scale like you. From Vancouver to Calgary can take 14 hours, so they wanted to give us a chance to build quality music that can go into the States and compete.”

Strong private-public partnerships like FACTOR come in handy when trying to build artists at home and break abroad, which Wener says is crucial to artist development.

“The domestic market is the American market; you have to tour America,” says Wener, who manages artists including Merkules, Ollie, Dj Shub, Five Alarm Funk and others, with varying styles and geographic appeal. “Either you’re cycling Canada never getting out, or you’re going to break in Europe or the States and Canada will catch up later. When you’re trying to strategically build your artists, you want to do it outside of Canada. I grew up in an era now where all I’ve needed is a computer and my phone, and we could break every barrier. They didn’t have that (in previous generations).”

Along with his Wener Management stable of artists, Wener is also a talent buyer, and for the past seven years has filled the lineup for the Truck Stop Concert Series put on by Red Truck Beer Company in the city.

“They own the brewery and they turn the parking lot into a festival site three times a year,” said Wener. “It’s a licensed venue with high quality music in the heart of the city outdoors. We’ve had Lee Fields, Jon Pardi before he blew up, Drake White. We’re going to have Jeremie Albino this year.” The event, taking place in June, is about 1,500 capacity with two stages.

“It’s nice to work with someone like Red Truck who really don’t cut corners. They understand the artist, the fan, the crew, the staff. It’s tough. They don’t make money on these events. This is a loss leader, so it always makes my job lots of fun,” Wener says with a laugh.

A student of the music business and admirer of notable Canadian-born concert promoters such as Michael Cohl, Michael Rapino, Gerry Barad and others, Wener says he considers himself part of the international music community but an expert in Canada and the particulars of doing business there.

“I’m a Canadian manager, I’m proud to be Canadian, I’m proud to work with Canadian talent, and I think I’m positioned to be an expert in understanding how Canada works,” said Wener. “So I can give my artists the best opportunity for funding opportunities, to understand tax planning and to understand visas, because it’s complicated and expensive to tour in the U.S. That’s kind of my niche.”