Country music artist Duane Watson performed at Gabby’s Country Cabaret in 2019. (Duane Watson/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Kelowna country bar staff saddened over the permanent closure Langley cabaret

Nightclub showcased local talent, connected friends, and even hosted a wedding during its 34 years

After more than 34 years in business, Gabby’s Country Cabaret has succumbed to the mounting financial pressures of the coronavirus pandemic.

Owner Steve Gallagher took to social media on Tuesday, May 26, to announce the permanent closure of the bar and live entertainment venue in its current location on Fraser Highway.

READ MORE: Gabby’s Country Cabaret announces ‘heartbreaking’ permanent closure

A silver lining packed within that time are the memories of countless country artists who got their start performing live at the nightclub, including Dallas Smith, Chad Brownlee, Washboard Union, and Aaron Pritchett – to name a few.

Mitch Merrett, a Langley producer, songwriter, and performer said he literally got his very first start there.

“Back a few, well, quite a few years ago, every Wednesday was jam night and I was a regular there,” he recalled. “I started performing there when Aaron Pritchett was looking for a new guitar player. And we spent a good number of years as one of the regular bands.”

Merrett said he met many good friends and colleagues because of “that Honky Tonk.”

“So many great memories in that bar… and a few foggy ones…” Merrett laughed.

Former Clayton Heights resident and country artist JoJo Mason thanked the nightclub for the array of memories.

“To see this legendary B.C. country music staple having to close due to the hands of this virus is absolutely heartbreaking,” Mason told the Langley Advance Times. “I’ve had the opportunity to play this stage, to be a judge for competitions, to party my face off, and even once to sing karaoke. I know our country fans will rally and follow where ever they land.”

Shawn Meehan, of the country-rock band Me and Mae, shared with the Langley Advance Times that this is certainly a sad day for the Langley country music community.

“Gabby’s was a breeding ground for up-and-coming talent. Me and Mae spent a lot of time there learning and growing,” Meehan said.

Award-winning Langley musician Karen Lee Batten recalled that she had the opportunity to both DJ and perform at Gabby’s for more than 15 years.

“Everyone knows Gabby’s, even if country music isn’t your favourite, and you said ‘I will never go there,’ you have and you did! It was a great party, and had amazing staff,” she recounted.

Gabby’s was one of the last standing country-themed nightclubs in the the Lower Mainland that regularly featured live artists perform.

David Wills, the current president of the BC Country Music Association (BCCMA), called the lose of Gabby’s a major hit to the B.C. country music and overall live music community.

“It’s going to be hard to see people not doing what they do. Generations of people knew Gabby’s – it’s going to create a big hole in Langley,” he said, referring to the bar as a community partner.

Wills noted the building itself provided a timeless kitch atmosphere that appealed to television and film productions seeking to capture a long gone feel.

“If B.C. residents don’t have a place to go dancing and to go out, there is going to be a longer term effect on their mental health,” Wills expressed, hoping for something to fill not only the country music void, but live entertainment as a whole in the near future.

Linda Corscadden, former president of BCCMA for 16 years, said Gabby’s was like the bar from Cheers.

“At any given time I could walk into that bar and be greeted by everybody I knew,” she said.

“I’ve been going to Gabby’s for 35 years, since Ron Barkwell opened it up after Peppers closed down. Never had to wait in a lineup, I’d walk in and take my perch in Cowboy Corner,” Corscadden continued. “It’s where I learned to dance and it’s where I met my ex-husband.”

Langley resident Kim Loof shared that she had met her husband at Gabby’s in April 1994, and married him inside the actual bar in 1999 – a ceremony she claims will now remain as the only wedding to take place in its confines.

“We planned it in two weeks and there was about 75 people there. My husband worked in the back filling beer and I was up front as a door girl,” she added. “I’m going to miss all my friends and family.”

Regulars and friends of Gallagher have expressed their appreciation for the owner and the hope that the beloved country cabaret will take on another form.

“Steve Gallagher and I are still very good friends, and I know how much he loved Gabby’s, live music, and everyone who came through the doors,” Merrett said. “If I know Steve, I wouldn’t doubt there maybe a new Gabby’s open up down the road. I sure hope so. Gabby’s was a staple in the community and was a great place to hang and listen to live music.”

”Cheers to Gabby’s,” Lee Batten added. “Cheers to all the staff over the years, cheers to all the wicked bands that have played that stage and the techs that made the music heard. To everyone who poured a drink, [and] most importantly to everyone who drank them, cheers!”

“So many great memories…my heart is broken…” Corscadden added, “but I look forward to hopefully kicking up some dust on a new dance floor if Steve opens up another Gabby’s. Long Live Gabby’s crew and family.”

The OK Corral Cabaret in Kelowna has been in the city for more than 35 years, and while has not reopened due to COVID-19, it is not expected to permanently close.

Managing partner of the OK Corral Angie Clowry said she and the Corral staff were saddened to hear of the closing of Gabby’s Country Cabaret.

“It was a warm atmosphere with very similar appeal to our cabaret – filled with down to earth people that enjoyed dancing, fantastic music, cold ones and each other’s company,” she said.

As for the OK Corral she said said the bar needs immediate help finding ways to partially open with health and safety at the forefront or they will be forced into bankruptcy.

Clowry stated, the bar would adhere to social distancing, cleaning and safety protocols if it reopened.

“We would love to open up, hire back staff, support local musicians and entertainers by hosting them in our parking lot with a food truck set up to provide food similar to pubs and restaurants,” said Clowry.

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Is there more to this story?

Email: ryan.uytdewilligen@langleyadvancetimes.com

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Karen Lee Batten, Aaron Pritchett, and Lisa Prince at Gabby’s Country Cabaret in 2005. (Karen Lee Batten/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

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