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Vancouver's Rickshaw Theatre Celebrates 15 Years of Live Music Fandom

How the legendary concert hall maintains its reputation as one of the city’s best venues.

by Hollie McGowan

Running a successful music venue is not just a job, it’s a labour of love. Just ask Mo Tarmohamed, owner of Vancouver’s Rickshaw Theatre and genuine music aficionados. 

The legendary concert hall turns 15 this month and Tarmohamed says the secret is in the passion for music that he and his staff carry. “For me, it’s the people who work at the Rickshaw,” says Tarmohamed. “They are genuine live music fans and if they’re not working a shift at the Rickshaw, you will often see them enjoying shows not only at the Rickshaw, but also at other venues. They have a passion for this industry and it shows in how they interact with patrons and musicians.”

Throughout the years, the venue, which is located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, has seen its fair share of big touring acts: the War on Drugs, Eagles of Death Metal, Sharon Van Etten, Future Islands, Deerhunter, Kurt Vile, Napalm Death, The Human League, Sepultura, Mayhem, Propagandhi, Skinny Puppy, Misfits, Dead Kennedys, and Ghostface Killah. The list of both out-of-town and local musical talent is lengthy and demonstrates the Rickshaw’s eclectic music taste. 

It’s all about creating a comfortable space for everyone, explains Tarmohamed. Booking one-of-a-kind acts is only one piece of the puzzle in running the Rickshaw. “We strive to create a positive and enjoyable experience for all and I think we are able to deliver on that more often than not,” he says. “The most common thing I hear from bands and patrons is how much they appreciate the good natured demeanor of our staff while still being professional at their jobs.”

Simultaneously showing the audience and the bands a good time at the Rickshaw has always been a pleasure for Tarmohamed. Reflecting on the last 13 years since he took over as owner back in 2011, Tarmohamed says that running the venue has allowed him to fulfill some of his own wishes from his live music bucket list like Bob Mould, Buzzcocks, Thee Oh Sees, White Denim, IDLES, Screaming Females, NoMeansNo, Pointed Sticks, and English Beat. “I also enjoy the unexpected,” he says. “Bands that I wasn’t particularly familiar with, but who ended up blowing me away after I saw them on our stage. Bands such as Russian Circles, Zeal and Ardor, Toy Guitar, Protomartyr and more recently, FONT, who opened up for Yard Act.”

“Then there is, of course, Bif Naked,” adds Tarmohamed. “Spending time with Bif while curating our first show together at the Rickshaw in 2015 will always be a cherished memory for me.”


Bif Naked performing at the Rickshaw Theatre on June 29, 2023 (Photo: Michael Caswell | sceneinthedark.com)


For those who have not had the Rickshaw experience yet, Tarmohamed’s description of the venue checks out. Upon pulling up to 254 East Hastings, you will be greeted at the door by both courteous and welcoming box office staff and bouncers. 

The building itself has its own unique history. Opening in 1971, it was originally a movie theatre called the Shaw Theatre, an offshoot of Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers movie empire. The theatre played Chinese language movies, predominantly Kung-Fu, which was very popular at the time. By the time the eighties rolled around, Kung-Fu movies were losing their popularity and Vancouver’s Chinese speaking population was starting to move out of the downtown core so the Shaw Theatre closed its doors.

The theatre primarily sat dormant for more than 25 years until it was finally repurposed as a live music venue in 2009 by local entrepreneur David Duprey and renamed the Rickshaw Theatre. “In 2011, I purchased the business from Duprey and have been here ever since,” explains Tarmohamed. “The venue has become a vital cultural institution in the ongoing revitalization of the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown.”

Beginning this weekend, the Rickshaw will be celebrating its 15 year anniversary with four nights of live music (June 15, 20, 21 and 23). The musicians selected for the mini-festival include a number of local favorites who are no stranger to the Rickshaw stage like Black Wizard, The Pack A.D., and Colleen Rennison. 

Having pride in his venue is always top of Tarmohamed’s priority list and another one of the reasons he says it has remained successful for so long. From the sound system, to the lighting rig, to the washrooms, he says they are constantly upgrading and improving. “We constantly strive to do better,” says Tarmohamed. “While we don’t have the deep pockets of major corporations who own other venues, we are always re-investing our resources into the business.” 

So let us raise our glasses and salute Tarmohamed and his staff for a job well done. Here’s to many more years to come!


Rickshaw Theatre 15 Year Anniversary Events

Saturday, June 15 


Thursday, June 20


Friday, June 21


Saturday, June 22