There’s something about the live concert experience that is quite magical.
Music is something that knows no boundaries and when people get together to see their favourite bands live, there is a connection between audience and performer that one cannot experience by listening to a recording. Hearing an arena full of people singing along to the songs they love is a great experience.
I grew up in a house where music was a big part of life. At the family get togethers, the guitars would come out after dinner and the relatives would have sing-alongs.
I caught the live concert bug at the age of 10 in 1974 when my mother brought me to the first Winnipeg Folk Festival. That same year she brought me to the Winnipeg Centennial Concert Hall to see Gordon Lightfoot. Shortly after that, my older sister brought me to the Winnipeg Arena to see The DiFranco Family.
By the time I was 13, I saw my first big rock show. Rush’s Farewell to Kings tour with Max Webster as the opening band. I bought my 5th row ticket on the floor at Thrifty’s Jean Store for $3.50. What an amazing spectacle that was.
Then came the bus tours in the 80’s to Grand Forks and Fargo to see bands like Ozzy Osbourne and Ratt. Some of the bigger bands like Deep Purple and Pink Floyd were only going to Vancouver and Toronto, so I would plan holidays around those shows.
Concert tickets started going up in price in the ’80’s. I remember seeing Alice Cooper’s very elaborate stage show where the backdrop looked like a massive TV which started off with a scene of a man running towards the camera on a dirt road. As soon as he was life-size we realize it’s Alice himself, he jumps through the screen and onto the stage. In between songs there were some very humorous commercials. Tickets for this show were in the $30 range by then.
Forty years later, I’m still going to concerts and with the new arena built here 10 years ago, many bands that would have passed by Winnipeg years ago are now making stops here.
The tickets are costlier these days, with some fans shelling out upwards of $300 for meet and greet packages. The sound systems have improved over the years and so have the stage shows. It’s quite amazing the kind of show that Roger Waters brought to town when he performed The Wall album in it’s entirety.
2014 saw quite a number of shows here, not only at MTS Centre, but the smaller venues like the Concert Hall, The Burton Cummings Theatre, and Pantages Playhouse.
The previous year (2013) even saw Paul McCartney playing at the new Investors Group Field stadium at the University of Manitoba.
And let’s not forget the even smaller (but intimate) venues such as The Pyramid, West End Cultural Center, The Park Theatre, The Garrick Theatre and the Union Sound Hall.
MTS also hosted the Juno awards this past year where BTO received a Juno.
Winnipeg has a vibrant arts and music scene with very appreciative audiences. Having been to concerts in places like Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, when I saw the Headstones at the Pyramid a couple months backs, when singer Hugh Dillon said that he’d like to bring a busload of us to Toronto on a Saturday night to show them how to rock, I think he was serious. It seems like some of the people in the bigger cities almost take the bands and concerts there for granted.
Some of the highlights for me this year were seeing Yes perform three of their albums in their entirety at the Playhouse. Three quarters of the original Black Sabbath band played MTS Centre also. This year also saw Christine McVie reuniting with Fleetwood Mac and I must say it was so nice that they were able to play her beautiful Songbird once again.
One of the more humorous shows I saw this year was David Lindley at the Park Theatre.
One of the biggest surprises for me was the Lisa LeBlanc show at the Pyramid, with the 24-year-old and her trio playing trash folk music. Hearing them play Motorhead’s Ace of Spades on a banjo was a nice treat.
The Pyramid invited her back a few weeks later and Dave, the owner, had made a request at the end of the first show for her to play Neil Young. For the encore this time she did a solo version of Old Man. For this talented young lady the line in the song “24 and there’s so much more” really rings a bell. I think we’ll be hearing more of her and her band in years to come.
Another amazing concert was also at the Pyramid, Nik Turner’s Hawkwind delivered a fine performance playing classics from the space rockers’ Space Ritual live album.
Gary Numan also put on a powerful show at the Garrick Theatre putting a much heavier slant on his 80’s synth classics.
Former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty brought 1969 to MTS Centre where he played songs from the three albums the band released that year. He also played songs from his solo career.
After getting shafted from record companies over the years, Fogerty refused to play any CCR tunes live until Bob Dylan said to him that if he doesn’t play the songs, everyone will think that Proud Mary is a Tina Turner song. Great advice and it’s so good to see because the man wrote some real classics after they had a hit with Suzie Q in 1968. Apparently he was worried about becoming a one hit wonder and got real serious about song writing.
Another great venue was introduced this year. Club Regent opened up their doors in May bringing in bands like Slaughter, Great White, Loverboy, Bret Michaels and The Doobie Brothers. The venue holds 900 in a dinner setting or 1400 in a theatre configuration.
And we mustn’t forget the Winnipeg Folk Festival, which turned 40. This year saw the likes of Buffy St. Marie, Sara Guthrie (Woodie’s granddaughter), Ani Difranco, and The Sheepdogs.
Although bad weather, especially on the last day, saw the attendance figures drop, it didn’t stop Joan Baez from delivering a spectacular show on the day stage to a packed field of diehards who braved the rain to hear her perform. She was supposed to be the last act on the Main Stage also but the organizers let her go on earlier after she said that if it got any colder she wasn’t going to play.
Ukele wizard Jake Shamabukuro dazzled the audience with his solo renditions of Bohemian Rhapsody and While My Guitar Gently Weeps among other songs. Nothing short of remarkable.
The River City Rumble, held at the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre, was also very interesting with various Rockabilly bands rocking the parking lot in the afternoon and then the stage inside at night.
Another interesting event at the old movie house was a screening of Phantom of the Paradise followed by a concert by local band Swanage who played the entire soundtrack album in its entirety live. They even added bits of dialogue from the film in between songs.
Besides Paris, France, Winnipeg had the largest audience for the film when it came out in the ’70’s. The soundtrack to the movie was also a huge seller here.
There’s a lot do do in this wonderful city of ours. As well as the above mentioned annual events we have the Festival du Voyaguer, New Music Festival, Playwright Fest, Folklorama, Fringe Fest, Jazz Fest, Sherbrooke Street Festival and many other terrific diversions to keep us entertained.
Winnipeg has spawned some pretty successful musicians over the years. Neil Young started playing in bands here. Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings played the community centres and schools in Winnipeg before making it big with The Guess Who. Fred Penner had a very successful career entertaining children worldwide after starting out here.
I attended a lecture at the U of M in 2001 where Bryan Adams’ manager, Bruce Allen, was speaking about the talent that came out of Winnipeg. He said, with crappy weather outside for a few months of the year, what else are you going to do if you’re a musician but practice your craft.
Having reviewed many of the shows mentioned in this article, I put together a little slideshow of some of the bands that played here in 2014. Hope you like it.
1. Winnipeg concerts in 2014 (slideshow)
2. Swanage performing The Hell of It at the Metropolotan Entertainment Centre (video)
3. BTO and The Sheepdogs perform Taking Care of Business at the Junos
4. The Farrell Brothers at The Pyramid Cabaret
5. Mariachi Ghost perform Rider at The Pyramid Cabaret
6. Ziggy Marley performs One Love at The Burt
Keep on rockin’ in the new year. Wishing you all peace, love and happiness in the 2015.
All photos by Doug Kretchmer