At the age of 13, Paul Loewenberg experienced a youthful epiphany listening to community radio in Sarnia that would spur his desire to explore, play and promote a diversity of musical styles.
“I found WSGR 91.7FM from the campus of St. Clair Community College, Port Huron, Mich. The first song I remember hearing was Kill the Poor by Dead Kennedys and something called The Party Broke Up by Was (Not) Was…Oingo Boingo, Husker Du, Devo …and some new wave synth pop.
“The music I heard that day wasn’t about cars and girls. This music was saying something about what I now recognize as politics, about how society is organized, about its inequities. It hit me hard. It seemed darker and heavier and more important, I was listening to punk rock for the first time,” said Loewenberg, who turns 40 in October.
Loewenberg is living his dream. He is the booker, promoter and manager of the Towne House Tavern, artistic director of Northern Lights Festival Boréal, host of a popular radio show, and a songwriter/performer with some of Sudbury’s most popular garage bands.
He also has a social conscience. He has performed at fundraisers for various causes, and most recently organized the music performances for the rally in support of CBC Radio in Northern Ontario held at Tom Davies Square in late March.
He was 19 years old before he actually picked up his first musical instrument, a guitar. It was an obvious ruse by the father of his then-girlfriend who loaned it to him, he laughs, to get him interested in something other than the daughter. With a 50-cent how-to manual in hand, his musical career was launched. Today the self-taught Loewenberg plays guitar, bass and organ and can accompany “almost anyone” on harmonica, banjo and mandolin.
In the late 1980s, after playing a few coffeehouses, he worked in Lake Louise and thumbed his way around the country, landing at Laurentian University and enrolled in sociology. It was “just far enough away from Sarnia.” He immediately got involved at CKLU, Laurentian’s community radio station.
He will celebrate 20 years on air this October. Since 1993, he has been hosting the playfully named radio program, Monster A Go Go. Every Wednesday morning from 10 to noon, he spins a mix of roots, blues, jazz and soul to a loyal audience.
Loewenberg met his wife, Kaili, at the campus radio station. She is professor in sociology and labour studies at Laurentian.
To keep musically fit, Loewenberg generally takes one acoustic night per month at the Towne House with a couple of well-known local garage bands, The Havocs or Life Blown Open. On these nights, patrons gather to enjoy everything from reggae, ska, rhythm & blues and bluegrass to tributes to Bob Dylan, The Band, The Beatles and Bob Marley.
Loewenberg penned the lyrics and played bass for The Havocs’ first release in 1996, Hit Songs for Bowlers, an album that he says appeals to both young and old punks. Fuelled by working-class backgrounds and high energy music, The Havocs’ second release in 2003, Bad Day, is a raw and fast rock record.
In 2007, Life Blown Open, a group in which Loewenberg plays bass and sings vocals, released Goodbye Heart, a soulful hybrid of lo- and prog rock. The second album, The Industry, offers up an introspective and energetic mix of songs about lost loves and misplaced trust.
Everything on the music scene changed, says Loewenberg, when in 1991, grunge band Nivana released Nevermind, which was to become the pivotal point for a new era in alternative music and for establishments like the Towne House.
“The Nevermind album spoke to everything, from punk to metalhead, college rock’ n’ rock and roll. The Towne House was presciently poised to take advantage of the ensuing explosion of college and university students who began to flock to venues like the Towne House.
Students, fans of indie rock and even goth found a place to share their love of music.”
Loewenberg started working at the tavern in 1993. The Towne House is an historical Sudbury landmark, full of delightful contradictions and survivor of many incarnations. Originally built as a stable in the late 1880s to serve the new mining community, it now rocks and tosses a full 363 nights of the year amid a constant flow of pints and pleasure.
Loewenberg confirms the truth about such urban legends that world-famous lyrics to Sudbury Saturday Night were penned by Stompin’ Tom Connors in the lounge of the Towne House, and that Nickelback signed their first record contract “right at that table.” Nickelback went on sell more than 25 million albums sold worldwide, and were this year’s biggest winners at the Juno Awards.
Is it the Towne House or the Townehouse? The sign on the building says The Towne House.
“I’ve been using Townehouse (in advertising)…although the owner always wanted me to use Towne House,” says Loewenberg.
In 1999, Loewenberg volunteered to serve on the Northern Lights Festival Boréal’s board of directors and, a month later, was invited to fill the position of artistic director. He was and still is responsible for booking the musical acts.
NLFB is the longest running festival of its kind in Canada, hosting a wide range of performers including such luminous talents as Randy Bachman, Natalie McMaster, Bruce Cockburn and Leahy.
Since becoming artistic director of NLFB in 1999, Loewenberg has booked more than 4,000 acts.
Sandra Harris, executive director of NLFB, praises Loewenberg for booking unique and interesting musical groups, and for introducing festival fans to new national and international talent.
“Paul brings some great music to our city, groups that wouldn’t necessarily come here if we didn’t book them. We also, through Meltdown, support and promote local/northern talent. We give them their big break, so to speak,” Harris says.
A current board member of the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals, Loewenberg is often called on to share his expertise at music industry workshops and to participate in panel discussions.
He is newly involved in the organization of the upcoming Sudbury Jazz Festival. Quick to applaud others, Loewenberg cites the Reeds, the Pukaras, Guitars in Action, Music in Motion and the Towne House’s owner, Bernie Desjardins, as impassioned contributors to the international reputation of some of Sudbury’s finest musicians.
“If we are going to make art happen, we have to open ourselves up to different sounds.
Commercial music is just not the medium by which we can share our cultural and trans-generational identities. As for me, I just love to make music, to bring it to others and to perpetuate the culture. I’m just here to make sure the music happens.”
About the writer: Lynne Reynolds is a lifelong resident of Sudbury. She was raised in the Flour Mill and Val Caron. She worked previously in broadcasting, and Ottawa as a political assistant to former Sudbury MP Diane Marleau. She is a former city councillor.