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Empty Spaces helped fill void in local music scene

Published on

Troy Shantz

As Sarnia’s downtown undergoes a cultural renaissance a small indie music concert series has kept pace.

Empty Spaces was born when Artwalk and First Friday were young and the core was redefining itself as a cultural district.

Two city natives — Eric Woolston and Danny Alexander, hatched the idea — during a long drive home from B.C. in Sept of 2007.

“There wasn’t really a circuit for touring bands to consider Sarnia as an option,” Alexander said.

“It was like a totally blank canvas.”

The Sadies perform during an Empty Spaces show at the Industry Theatre in Sarnia.
The Sadies perform during an Empty Spaces show at the former Adam’s Apple cafe in Sarnia.

Woolston, who came up with the concept, envisioned performances by semi-established local bands combined with independent acts from across Ontario — the kind of acts not seen or heard in Sarnia.
“We wanted to bring touring bands from out of town to downtown Sarnia. Not just bar bands doing covers, but independent, original artists,” said Woolston.
“At the time, no one was doing that.”
In 2008 a new generation was descending on the downtown and interest in curating local arts spawned a new crop of creative start-ups, cafe’s and boutiques.

The Empty Spaces name referenced the many vacant buildings at the time, and the first show that April took place in a courtyard near the Bayside Mall on property owned by entrepreneur and Artwalk founder Shawn McKnight. Toronto’s Ruby Coast and local favourites the Chocolate Robots, Nick McKinlay and Brock Dale took the stage.

The underground concert series found residence at the Trinity Lounge and various other downtown venues and today, almost a decade later, is still going strong.

Canadian acts such as Mac DeMarco, Grimes, The Sadies and Lemon Bucket Orkestra are among the nearly 150 shows staged since its inception. Woolston said many bands they booked have gone on to make names for themselves.
“It’s cool to see musicians who started playing Empty Spaces touring Canada and playing in established bands, like Nick McKinlay, who played our very first Empty Spaces back in April, 2007.”

In January of 2016 the Refined Fool brewery became home to Empty Spaces, with shows often held twice a month.

The two co-founders live in different cities now with families and careers to manage. But they still book the bands and are dedicated to its success.

“I personally love live music and really enjoy bringing people together to experience interesting, unique bands that wouldn’t usually come to Sarnia,” Alexander said.

“It’s addictive to some degree.”


Empty Spaces celebrates its ninth anniversary with Empty Fest 9


WHAT: Concert series featuring more than 15 independent bands including Indian Handcrafts and My Son The Hurricane.

WHEN: May 4th @ Paddy Flahertys (free show)

May 5th @ Liquid Johnnys

May 6th @ The Trinity Lounge

Doors open 9 p.m., music begins at 10 p.m.

TICKETS: Unless specified, $10 before 9:30 p.m., $12 after. All shows are 19-plus.

After party and early show at Refined Fool TBA. For more information, visit

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