By Keith Sharp
Every summer young Zis Parras would wait expectantly for Toronto’s CNE Grandstand to announce its summer concert lineup knowing that for the price of tickets to top name music attractions, he would also get free admission to The Ex.
“The first band I ever saw there was the original Guess Who in 1971. I also saw The Clash and Supertramp, the CNE was THE place to see great bands,” Parras informed over the phone. For the past 15 years, Parras has been the artistic director at the CNE, responsible for booking talent into the CNE’s Bandshell and other on-site venues.
Considering that even going back to the 1980’s when Michael Cohl’s Concert Productions International ruled the roost, every summer saw the likes of The Rolling Stones, Queen, Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Supertramp, The Eagles and Elton John appearing at the Ex along with top Canadian talent like April Wine, Loverboy and Trooper.
These days, the summer lineup at the CNE Bandshell isn’t quite as star studded as it once was. With the closing of the CNE Stadium in 1989, to be replaced by the Toronto Skydome the same year and the opening of the Molson Ampitheatre in 1995, this means that major big-ticket concerts are now playing just across the street, booked by concert giants like Live Nation.
“Yet we don’t see these venues as being our competition,” allowed Parras. “Our biggest competition is that big black box called the television set or laptop computer. It’s getting people outdoors to go to concerts or festivals. Even if we have people going to see a big show at the Ampitheatre, there is always the chance they will come to the Ex afterwards.”
The fact that, in a reversal of the original format, visitors now get free admission to the Bandshell when they pay admission to the Ex. This still puts an onus on Parras and his staff to produce a strong enough lineup to fill the Bandshell each year.
“As early as March or April, we have people who are planning to attend the Ex enquiring to know who is playing at the Ex this year,” Parras informed. “They want to know who is playing before they plan their trip.”
Parras notes that the objective is to appeal to a wide variety of demographics and tastes with special theme nights like a `Teen Night’ and “Eighties Classic” nights to go along with adult contemporary artists and a strong country music contingent. Strangely enough, country music has only caught on in the past couple of years.
“We tried it about seven years ago and it didn’t work but then we booked Gord Bamford about three or four years ago and we got a strong response,” allowed Parras. “Now country music is really popular and we have the likes of Dean Brody, Jess Moskaluke, George Canyon and High Valley performing on this year’s schedule.
The 2016 schedule is especially strong on Canadian talent with the likes of Randy Bachman, The Headstones, Alan Frew, Walk Off The Earth, 54:40, The Downchild Blues Band, The Trews, Scott Helman and indie favourites Ria Mae and Coleman Hell all waving the Maple Leaf flag.
“Obviously, the situation with the fluctuation against the American dollar limits what we can do with U.S talent,” Parras confimed. “It is our objective to go with a totally Canadian lineup next year to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday but the talent was also available this year so we went with increased Canadian content.”
The U.S is represented by the legendary Jefferson Starship, and a Ricky Nelson Remembers Tribute (featuring his two sons, Matthew and Gunnar Nelson), Jamaican reggae star Luciano is also on the bill and there’s even an Elvis Presley Tribute featuring Milton Ontario’s Steve Michaels.
Parras also announced major changes to the Midway Stage (next to the Enercare Centre) which traditionally featured tribute bands playing in front of the beer garden patrons.
“Tribute bands do well playing to a beer-drinking crowd but we wanted to give new bands a chance to play on a big stage so we have worked with the major booking agencies to give some of these bands a chance to gain exposure beyond just playing clubs,” said Parras, explaining the new initiative. “Hopefully this will encourage new talent and give their careers a boost.”
Parras, who formerly worked with the Toronto Opera Company and the National Ballet Company, sees the CNE as launching a new era in the promotion of domestic and key international talent at the Ex. “There is such a great ambience at the Ex,” he allows. “You can relax, enjoy a beer in your seat and spend a great summer’s night watching great talent, all free with your Ex admission.”
For further information link to Theex.com.
[styled_box title=”Walk Off The Earth – Hello” color=”black”][/styled_box]
[styled_box title=”Final Hip Concert To Be Broadcast Live At The CNE” color=”black”]
(Toronto, ON) — Marking a CNE-first, Canada’s largest fair has confirmed plans for a live broadcast of “CBC and The Tragically Hip present The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration” on Saturday, August 20th from the Canadian National Exhibtion to the delight of thousands of spectators and music fans alike. Ontario’s beloved sons, The Tragically Hip, have embarked on a sold-out celebration tour across Canada, which will culminate in their hometown of Kingston, ON, later this month.
“The CNE is proud to be one of the sanctioned events to broadcast The Tragically Hip concert live from Kingston, ON,” said Virginia Ludy, CNE General Manager. “This concert is destined to be one of those great Canadian music moments in time. It’s going to be a monumental event to watch and be a part of a national celebration.”
The highly anticipated concert event will air live on the CNE’s Bandshell Stage on Saturday, August 20 at 8:30pm ET, immediately following an energy-packed concert by Jefferson Starship beginning at 5pm ET. ALL concerts, including the CBC and The Tragically Hip event, are FREE with admission
[styled_box title=”The 2016 Canadian Exhibition Bandshell Lineup:” color=”black”]
Aug. 19 Randy Bachman /The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer
Aug. 20 Jefferson Starship/Jane’s Party
Aug.21 Headstones/Poor Young Things
Aug 22 Aloha Elvis (Steve Michaels)
Aug 23 Rick Nelson Remembered/The Heartbroken
Aug 24 Luciano/Jay Douglas
Aug 25 Alan Frew/The Spoons
Aug 26 George Canyon/Jordan McIntosh
Aug 27 Dean Brody/Jessica Mitchell
Aug 28 High Valley/Jess Moskaluke
Aug 29 The Legendary Downchild Blues Band
Aug 30 Scott Helman/Dan Talevski/Tyler Shaw
Aug 31 A Great Big World/Repartee
Sept 1 Ria Mae/Coleman Hell
Sept 2 54:40/Junkhouse
Sept 3 The Trews/The Lazys
Sept 4 Walk Off The Earth/The Beaches[/styled_box]