Nobody sings the bartender blues at the deCoste Centre.
It is a spirited trio who can be found at the bar most show nights. They are veteran volunteers who hesitate to call themselves bartenders but John Thompson is only too happy to take your money while Brian Burris and Dave Munro pour your drinks.
Thompson and Munro were recruited by deCoste staffer Nancy MacDonald and Burris, who began volunteering as an usher, eventually offered his services in the bar. Collectively, they think they have the best volunteer jobs around.
“It is not hard to find volunteer work but this job is particularly good one. I’ve been coming to the deCoste since it opened and I’m happy to help out any way I can,” said Thompson, a Michelin retiree who lives in Green Hill.
Because he also bartends at a curling club, his biggest challenge is keeping the price lists straight.
When Munro, who works for a fisheries co-op and lives in Pictou, was asked to join the bar he gave it a moment’s thought and decided he probably had the qualifications.
“I know the people who run it and the truth is I’m pretty comfortable one either side of the bar,” he said.
After Burris retired from teaching, he and his wife moved to Pictou in 2002.
“The deCoste was one of the reasons we decided to come to Pictou so it was a natural place to volunteer and it introduced us to a lot of people in the community we might never have met otherwise.”
They see themselves as front-line ambassadors for the facility so they pride themselves on friendly service, which includes a greeting and, if it is a slow night, maybe a joke or two. Most nights two of them work together but if it is a big show Thompson and Burris will run the main bar and Munro will operate a secondary ball down the hall.
“For some reason I always get bigger tips than they do,” said Munro.
He is joking and for the record, people do tip and all tips go back into the operation of the performance centre.
One of the recent shows that required both bars was City and Colour which set a deCoste record by selling out in minutes.
“I don’t know if we ever had lineups like we did that night,” said Thompson, adding he enjoyed the excitement in the lobby before the show
With a younger than usual crowd, Burris pointed out there was more checking for IDs than usual.
“We have to be pretty careful because a liquor inspector can walk in at any time and we never want to have problems.”
There were no complaints about the lineups and Munro actually turned down many offers to help.
“I had to say no for fear of letting the fox in the hen house but seriously, I’ve never seen a better crowd. Everybody had their IDs out which was great because they all looked like teenagers to me.”
The big perk that comes with the job is getting to see shows at no cost which all three enjoy. When the fall program is set, the bartenders pick events they want to see and are then called in as needed.
“The talent that goes through here is amazing so it is quite nice when you can just look at a list and say I’ll go to this one, this one and this one. It is nothing to work a little while in the bar at and intermission,” said Burris.
Thompson said it often happens that shows he knows nothing about will end up making a big impression.
“Many times I am so amazed I go home and see what I can find out about a performer,” he said, citing recent performer Leisa Way an example. “I’d never heard of her but I sure know who she is now.”
Burris called it a privilege to see many performers early in their careers.
“The names stay with you and you remember when you saw them as you hear about them performing in bigger places and going on to win awards.”
Some of Munro’s personal favourite performers are comedians.
“When you have a comedian playing the crowd is having a real good time. Bette MacDonald will have everybody laughing and that means I’ll be good and busy at intermission. A night like that gives people a lift.”
All three are big supporters of local acts and the opportunities for county people to perform.
“I was here one day when a group of school were in some of them had never been here. One young fellow was commenting on the stage and the lights and the fact that we even have a curtain. “When you get somebody like Buffy Ste. Marie in Pictou, well, people just know she is a legend and it adds something,” said Thompson.
Thompson likes that the deCoste often sells local spirits.
“I don’t mind recommending Fisherman’s Helper because I switched to it from Captain Morgan myself.”
He added bar patrons who sample Caldera whisky from River John are usually pleasantly surprised.
“I don’t know why they’d be surprised. Coming from River John, I know there’s always been good liquor there. It is the water, no doubt,” said Thompson.