Super Fan Meets Sass Jordan
The Four Seasons Waterfront Complex located on the banks of Lake Huron in the township of Spanish is an idyllic location for a rock music festival. Situated equidistant between two main Northern Ontario hubs of Sudbury and Sault Ste Marie, the stage backs up against the edge of the lake, providing a cottage-like atmosphere to the sixth annual Come Rock N Roar event.
Except that when the sun descends below the horizon, any unfortunate act which happens to be on stage performing at the time, needs to prepare themselves for `The Attack Of The Killer Shad Flies’. Like some second-rate horror story, a cloud of these pesky mites target the on-stage floodlights before falling en masse on to the band’s equipment, coating band members in the process.
The unlucky victims Friday August 15th were techno-rockers Saga who battled bravely against the elements, keyboardist Jim Gilmour and vocalist/keyboardist Michael Sadler, furtively towelling down their instruments as they belted out their set list of golden oldies.
Following night, Saturday August 16th, Sass Jordan drew that dodgy second on the bill spot just as the sun descended, but having been tipped off about Saga’s fate, went on stage armed with several OFF repellant clips, yet still had to battle the shad flies and mosquitoes and concluded her performance by remarking “I’ll remember this night, hot and buggy”.
Opening acts for both nights; Carole Pope on Friday and Brighton Rock both avoided the bug plague and the insects were out of the picture when 54:40 and Platinum Blonde concluded their respective evening headline slots to conclude another successful annual event for promoter Ron Stolar and his organizing committee.
Stung by last year’s event, which witnessed a decline in attendance, despite having a lineup that featured Trooper, Randy Bachman, Honeymoon Suite and Helix, event organizers were operating this year on a reduced budget yet still managed to attract a solid core of 80’s rockers. Stolar still insists on promoting local area talent with the likes of Driver, Horned Ace, Forget The Circus and Conflicted Minds all getting a chance to perform on the main stage as opening acts over the two days.
It’s a laudable gesture from Stolar but unfortunately, festival attendees, for the most part, ignore these artists and only descend down the hill from the camp site to the main stage when the headline artists appear. In the case of Carole Pope on the Friday, they didn’t even bother with her and only 60 or 70 people were on hand to see her go through her repertoire of Rough Trade hits including “High School Confidential” “Fashion Victim”, “All Touch and “Weapons”
Saga then commenced their battle with the bugs but gained an upper hand with a hit-filled set that included such staples as “Wind Him Up”, “On The Loose”, “Scratching The Surface” and “You’re Not Alone” before saving “The Flyer” for an encore. Lead vocalist Michael Sadler, the Crichton brothers; Ian (bass/keyboards) and Jim (guitar), keyboardist Jim Gilmour and drummer Michael Thorne emphasised that the band is still a powerful live entity.
Vancouver’s 54:40 proved to be a popular headliner with lead vocalist/guitarist Neil Osbourne, bassist Brad Merritt, guitarist Matt Johnson and drummer Dave Genn rattling off a string of hits including “She La”, “Radio Luv Song”, “Lies To Me”, “Love You All”, “One Day In Your Life”, “I Go Blind” and even previewed a new song “Keep On Walking” from a forthcoming new album. The set highlight was their rendition of “Ocean Pearl” which got the 1,000 plus fans singing along.
Saturday’s audience appeared to be much stronger with a healthy turnout on hand for Brighton Rock’s first concert in three years. Lead man Gerald McGhee, guitarist Greg Fraser, bassist Steve Skreebs, keyboardist Johnny Rogers and drummer Mark Cavarzan were surprisingly polished after such a long layoff and steamed through a set that featured most of the hits from their three studio albums including “Unleash The Rage”, “Barracade”, “Hangin High and Dry”, “We Came To Rock”, “One More Try” and their big hit, “Can’t Wait For The Night”.
High point of the set came when lead vocalist McGhee was serenading by a “Happy Birthday” chorus from the crowd.
Next up was Sass Jordan who, when not swotting away the mosquitoes, won the crowd over with her sense of humour and gutsy southern rock styling on tracks like “You Don’t Have To Remind Me”, “I Want To Believe”, “High Road Easy”, “Make You A Believer and her encore “So Hard”.
Platinum Blonde then closed of the festival with an energetic set which reflected the pop hysteria they generated in the 1980’s. Back to a trio with lead vocalist/bassist Mark Holmes, guitarist Sergio Galli and drummer Dan Todd, the Blondes ran through a spirited set which comprised of classic hits like “Not In Love”, “Situation Critical”, “Standing In The Dark” , “Contact” and “Doesn’t Really Matter”, a couple of tracks off their latest 2012 release `Now & Never (“Valentine, “Garden”) and even an ode to their Police Tribute roots with a version of “Message In A Bottle” before encoring with a trio of hits from their `Alien Shores’ release; “Somebody, Somewhere”, “Hungry Eyes” concluding the set with their classic “Crying Over You”
One glaring problem with the festival is a virtual lack of security, especially in front of the stage. At one point, a lady ran up the slope to the stage, totally unimpeded to offer Saga lead vocalist a beer and someone did likewise to deposit a tray full of jello shots on stage during Brighton Rock’s performance.
Worse was to come on Saturday, when Platinum Blonde’s Mark Holmes, noticing a row of empty seats in the VIP section at the front of the stage, invited the crowd to move forward and occupy the seats. Suddenly about 300 people charging through the fence between general admission and the VIP section and many kept on coming, heading up the slope towards the stage itself. Stolar and a group of volunteers jumped in front of the crowd to stop their assault on the stage, and the fans being a good-natured bunch, eventually returned back to their positions – but under different circumstances, things could have turned out quite nasty.
Overall, the people that did show seemed to have enjoyed themselves yet the annual attendance seems to be stalled at around 1,500 per day, which is fine for a local community, but you would think that a festival which regularly attracts big names and is staged in such an idyllic place (bugs aside) should pull a much larger audience.
As for the bugs, short of draping the stage under a gigantic mosquito net, there isn’t much the promoters can do except make sure their artists are prepared to combat the airborne pests with sufficient supply of insect repellant.
Ted Van Boort – Platinum Blonde
Paul Kazulak – 54:40’s Neil Osbourne
Gordon Sharp – Super Fan and Sass Jordan