The St. John's bar that pushed away VLTs, and instead makes it all about the music

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The St. John's bar that pushed away VLTs, and instead makes it all about the music

The St. John's bar that pushed away VLTs, and instead makes it all about the music

There aren't any bleeps or bloops accompanying the bands at the Black Sheep in downtown St. John's.

That's because Don Maher, the bar's owner, likes to keep the focus on the music. He's kept the Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) and TVs out of the bar and put the focus on the venue's stage.

"[It's] silence in here sometimes when Jenny Gear's playing, or Sandy Morris is playing," Maher told CBC's Weekend AM.

To make up for the lost income from the VLTs, Maher schedules live music shows — lots of them.

He's got shows booked seven days a week, and twice a day on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

"I've learned early on to book in advance," he said, laughing.

And though it might seem tough to book that many shows in a small city, St. John's has a lot of musicians to choose from. Maher said he's booked up until May so far this year.

"I've got to the point where people are seeking us out," he said. "[It] takes some of the strain off trying to dig 'em out."

Good sound, small room

He said the musicians love the sound in the room, and he's not just talking about the quiet: the bar's sound system was recommended by Sandy Morris.

And in a small venue like the Black Sheep the audience and musicians get to enjoy that sound in a more intimate environment.

"When you're able to be up close and personal — and a small room means a small rent check, come to think of it — but it's just intimate," he said. "And people just really, really get into that."

Earlier shows a big hit

Maher also starts some shows earlier, giving people who might need to be up in the morning a chance to be in bed before midnight.

That, he said, has been a big boost to his business.

"There's a big market out there for a lot of people in their 40s, 50s, even some younger people too," he said.

"We've got a good array of different age groups. The underlying thing that ties them all together is their love of music."

Open mic in honour of Ron Hynes

Maher has also started regular Sunday night Ron Hynes open mic jams at the Black Sheep. He's got a three-piece band lined up to play favourites from Hynes' repertoire and volunteers from the audience can step up to sing them.

Musicians are also welcome to join the band and play along.

"There's one thing about Ron, he's got such an amount. And it's such different amount of types of songs, there's some good rockers and there's lots of good ballads and there's such a good array of different styles of music of Ron's," he said.

The first jam was on Sunday and Maher said the room was silent except for the music.

"Literally, complete silence, with more than half the room full," he said. "People got emotional about it."

A portion of the jam night proceeds will be going to the Hynes estate, he said.

Other than Ron Hynes, Sandy Morris and Jenny Gear, Maher said he tries to keep a good selection of different music on the books to appeal to any and all music lovers.

"It's a presentation of really good live music and it's a lot of musicians who [play] original music," he said.

"I've always been over the years going to see these live shows. I never thought it would turn into a business, but sure enough it did."