Canadian Music Trade - October-November 2022 Canadian Music Trade - October-November 2022 | Page 20


By Michael Raine


Coming of age in St . John ’ s , NL , it ’ s not an exaggeration to say Dave Rowe grew up in the music store he now owns , O ’ Brien ’ s Music . It ’ s been in his family for generations , going back more than 80 years , and has become a cultural landmark in the local community , taking on a role of cultural ambassador for Newfoundland as it draws a lot of out-of-province visitors and is a go-to stop for recordings and songbooks of traditional Newfoundland music .

“ The family has actually been in business in this same location since 1906 , but didn ’ t start selling musical goods until 1939 . Originally my great , great aunt was here , and then when my grandfather , Roy O ’ Brien , inherited the building , he started to sell musical goods because he was pretty obsessed with music and had a strong passion for it ,” explains Rowe . That family legacy kept going through the decades as Roy ’ s sons , Gordon and Roy Jr ., grew up working in the shop and became owners in the 1990s . Eventually Roy Jr . left for another career and when Gordon retired , he left it to his nephew .
“ I kind of take after my grandfather . I grew up really passionate about music and really just had a natural interest and curiosity about it . When I was a kid , my grandparents lived above the store , so my whole life , whenever I ’ d go visit my grandparents , it was going to the music store . Really , the music store and my grandparents ’ house were one in the same . So , I ’ ve been around the store my entire life . Actually , when I was 11-yearsold , I started to ‘ work ’ around here for a few hours because I just liked being around the place . I liked talking about musical instruments and learning about music in general , but also the local , traditional Newfoundland music . So , just learning how to restring a guitar and how to tune all the different instruments and that , it appealed to me right from the get-go .”
Rowe ’ s father was a musician , too , “ but my mom ’ s side of the family has always been musical and when we ’ d have family get-togethers , there ’ s always a jam session / singalong component to that , and so the music store was really essential to the whole family culture and experience ,” Rowe adds . “ When you go to a party at your grandparents ’ who live above a music store , you have a lot of options of what you want to try out !”
In the fall of 2014 , Rowe ’ s uncle was about to close the store for good because of financial issues . When Rowe learned of the situation , though he was only 33 years old , he took the necessary steps to purchase the building and business and keep it going . “ Those first few years were both exciting and educational . I had worked in the store previously , but there was a steep learning curve associated with taking on the responsibility of ownership ,” he says .
In the roughly eight years he ’ s owned O ’ Brien ’ s Music , Rowe says there ’ s been a lot of highlights . “ It ’ s very satisfying when you help someone find an instrument that they connect with and are inspired by , especially when it ’ s a young musician . It ’ s also fun to sell instruments to notable musicians . So far , we ’ ve sold a guitar to Mavericks lead singer Raul Malo , a mandolin to Anthony Field of The Wiggles , and a button accordion to Ray Johnson .”
Ultimately , the thing that makes any stresses and hassles worth it to Rowe is serving and connecting with other passionate
musicians . “ Music , to me , is a form of spirituality and seeing folks find an instrument that they connect with and that will bring them genuine joy is definitely my favourite part of musical instrument retail .”
At the same time , one of the keys lessons he has learned is to not assume customers will share his same aesthetic and musical preferences when it comes to instruments and gear . “ Just because something doesn ’ t appeal to the folks that work in the shop , doesn ’ t mean it won ’ t sell well . There really is no accounting for taste ,” Rowe attests .
Away from work , well , Rowe is still never far from it — quite literally . “ I live above my music shop , the way my grandparents did before me . I live alone but I spend my leisure time performing music professionally with family and friends . I also enjoy spending time outdoors hiking , swimming , and riding my bicycle ,” he says . “ I ’ m looking forward to traveling somewhere sunny over the winter after staying put the last couple of years .”
Michael Raine is the Editor-in-Chief of Canadian Music Trade .