Where Musicians Can Be Heard, Not Ignored

Kristin van Vloten

If there’s one thing Ryan McAllister knows, it’s Fraser Valley talent.

As a singer-songwriter-musician, he’s shared the stage with stars like Carly Rae Jepsen. As a producer and owner of Five Acres Studios, he’s recorded hundreds of artists since 2004. As the founder of the Valley Music Co., he’s presented up-and-comers like The Crescent Sky though live events and Listen Local Spotify playlists. And most recently, he’s been putting his creative and technical skills to work—super hard work—in a collaboration with the Rail District.

The vision? We’ve seen it unroll over the last few months: a multi-purpose venue that can accommodate small to medium-sized concerts with world-class production values. In other words, a space for cultural experiences like the Fraser Valley is crying out for. It’s housed within the Rail District building, the same one that the Rail District Thursday Market has been bringing to life each week.

We spoke with Ryan about the 14-hour days, fruit baskets, and familiarity with Craiglist that pulling off a vision like this requires.

What’s the vision behind this project?

I know about 10 to 20 musicians in the Fraser Valley who are gigging regularly, but they’re mostly playing in bars. It’s funny because there are so many stages and so much musical equipment in Abbotsford because of all the churches. But there’s nowhere for artists of a certain size to play. Being tucked away in a bar as a background musician can be really hard, because you’re being vulnerable but you’re not set up to connect with people.

We thought, “Let’s create a space where music can be the show. A multipurpose venue where musicians can get on stage with a world-class sound system and be heard and not ignored. A turnkey operation where they don’t need to organize everything themselves.”

How challenging was getting the building (a 9,000 foot warehouse) renovated for great sound?

(Ryan laughs) I’ll be honest, it was…a bit much sometimes. We had a shoestring budget, so it ended up being a lot of 14-hour days for me, since I’m still running my studio. We had a lot of musicians volunteering their labour. I spent many hours on Craigslist sourcing stuff. Vintage sound panels, lots of cedar, whatever we could get that would work and look great. We even built a temporary wall out of fruit baskets so we could adjust the size of the space.

You’re pleased with the result?

Yes! By the time we had our reopening on March 16 and I performed with the North Country Gentlemen, I thought, “Yup, this sounds great.” It felt really good to share that with the hundreds of people who came to celebrate with us.