The Cabana

By Sacha van den Berg

At the Cabana on a Friday night people mill outside on Shakespeare Road, talking to one another, lots of them smoking – yes, that’s what you do here; it’s old school. At the legendary Cabana you can step back in time to when music ruled, and sweat and nicotine dripped from the ceiling.

As the oldest live-music venue in the country, this place is steeped in history, and it’s history that defines the bar; its conception purely to serve as a venue for gigs, good gigs, great gigs, world-famous-in-New Zealand gigs. To quote Midge Marsden: “The Cabana was the mother lode, NZ’s finest rock and roll finishing school.”

Even though the Cabana now has air-con, the musicians still sweat and in the peak of summer so does the crowd – a musician and groupie rite of passage. It’s got two toilets in the ladies, and too bad, that’s it. Join the club of those who have gone before you, busting whilst trying to decide if they can wait it out because their favourite song has come on and they want to dance. There’s the same safe sex poster on the back of the toilet door that was asking my much younger self: “If you were too drunk to remember did you remember to use one?”

This venue’s not about styling, it doesn’t care about being “on trend” or the latest Karen Walker palette of paint, it doesn’t need too. Posters cover these walls, posters that span over half a century of gigs. The Cabana is simply a rectangular room, with a low ceiling and one window, and a carpet the shade of many spilled drinks.

Hugging the wall between two stages (one big, one small) is the sound booth. Sometimes you’ll see ‘the guvnor’, Roy Brown, in this booth but mostly it’s left to his sound technician, because the sound tech does it best. Now and then my untrained ear thinks the sound sounds a bit off, but I don’t care, I’m at the Cabana and I know I’ll get what I want: a genuine music experience, no frills here, mate. Sometimes you’ll see the guvnor serving at the bar, but mostly it’s left to the bar staff because they do that best, and bloody well. The drinks are standard issue at a standard issue price – no selling your first born in order to pay for your Auckland-priced beverages here.

Now I don’t know if this is Cabana custom, but every time I’ve been here over the years the door person always opens the door with a smile and I love it! The memory of this courteous gesture certainly helps later on in the night when it comes to hushing us rowdy outside folk so as not to upset the neighbours.

As the Cabana turns 60 this year, it’s important to remember that the Cabana is also about the guvnor, about Roy looking out for the musicians – yeah, there’s the crowds that come, but the musicians come first. It’s about Roy keeping this important piece of a bygone era alive – for it’s his true determination and dedication that keeps these doors open and gigs coming. It’s always about the music, and Roy always brings the goods.



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