A Torontonian turned Sarnian has ambitious plans to turn an historic nightclub into a major concert hall.
Stuart Manchee, 30, purchased Rustic on June 1 with plans to convert the former Campbell Street Station into a destination spot for live music lovers.
“I am doing a full rebrand. I really want to focus on live music and I plan to attract big name acts,” he said.
Manchee has connections in the music world. He’s close friends with Canadian rocker Sam Roberts and has ties to a pair North American booking agencies — The Agency Group and the Feldman Agency.
Manchee cut his teeth working at the Kee to Bala, the famed Muskoka concert hall that opened in 1942 and has hosted some of the world’s top acts.
Instead of staying in a hotel, many of the bands were accommodated on the Manchee family property in Muskoka.
“I’ve grown up with bands who played Kee to Bala. I learned the ins and outs of the industry from an early age and I am going to be modeling (Rustic) after Kee to Bala,” he said.
Manchee didn’t plan on settling in Sarnia.
Growing up in Toronto, he worked at MTV Canada, moved to Vancouver and returned to the GTA. That’s where he met Catherine Grondin, a Sarnia girl who stole his heart.
Expecting their first child, they moved to Sarnia to be close to her family. They now have two, Harrison, 2, and two-month-old Malcolm.
“I fell in love with it,” Manchee said of Sarnia, as workers setting up a 54/40 show moved gear in the background.
“It became my focus to bring world class live entertainment to Sarnia.”
Two recent sold-out shows featured the Arkells and Lights, both multi Juno-award winners who have played stadiums like the Air Canada Centre.
So what would draw emerging and acclaimed artists to Rustic, which has a capacity of 510 patrons?
Connections, networking and good routing, Manchee said.
“You have to strike at the right time, get the bands to piggyback on other dates in the area.”
Upcoming dates include a July 10 show with former Bayfest headliner Scott Weiland, one-time lead of the Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver. The Tea Party is confirmed for September.
Manchee said he hopes to build on the energy created by previous owner Jason Winter, but with the focus on live music.
He’s already booked 20 concert dates and is planning a pub with a new menu geared to attract more industry workers.
“With great risk comes great reward,” he said.
“I want to make sure I show respect to the former owners. I want to transform this back to an iconic destination in Sarnia.”