By Keith Sharp
When Canadian National Exhibition’s Program Entertainment manager, Danielle Bourre began planning the 2017 Band Shell talent lineup, her obvious focus was assembling an all-Canadian lineup to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. Problem is though that every other major festival in this country had the same idea.
“Trying to get an all Canadian lineup when everyone else has the same idea was a real challenge,” allowed Bourre in announcing this year’s program. “We didn’t want to book artists that are appearing everywhere else and we always aim to reach the widest demographic possible so this year so getting the right mix was a definite challenge.”
CNE fans will be delighted to welcome back, perennial favourite Burton Cummings (August 18th) and classic rock fans are well served with an appearance from John Kay & Steppenwolf – with The Ascot Royals (August 27th) and I Mother Earth/The Watchmen (August 25th).
Country music fans will be treated with gigs from Aaron Pritchett (August 24th), Chad Brownlee (August 26th) and Brett Kissell (September 1st) and even movie/television star Kiefer Sutherland gets to show his Country music chops (August 20th).
Classic rock fans who enjoy a bit of a Francophone flavour will enjoy the twinning of Montreal’s Michel Pagliaro with The Box (August 21st) while more alternative fans are catered to with USS (September 2nd) and Dear Rouge with The Zolas (August 31st).
Saskatoon’s Sheepdogs (August 29th) and Shawn Hook (August 30th) represent current pop/rock favorites while blues/rock is represented by Regina’s Colin James.
“We’ve even got the Queen of Reggae, Marcia Griffiths with Jay Douglas (August 23rd) for our reggae fans and Pavlo will appeal to the Greek community,” continued Bourre. “And for a fitting finale, we have top indigenous group A Tribe Called Red with Desi Sub Culture.
“Every year, we work with the top agencies and try to secure our talent first,” Bourre explained. “I think artists consider playing at the CNE an honour and we are always conscious that with admission to the Band Shell being free, we have to cater to the widest demographic possible.”
The challenges which faced Bourre also affected other Exhibitions which faced the daunting task of booking bands over one or two week periods. With Toronto the only Eastern Canadian centre to stage an exhibition type event, Western Canadian centres like Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Regina continue to fight it out for the existing talent pool. When Pacific National Exhibition (August 19 to September 4th) president Mike McDaniel was asked why current popular recording artists were not being booked by his organization, he responded by saying “These are the band and artists who are playing this circuit. They either play it or they don’t.”
An observation borne out by the fact that classic rock veterans like April Wine, Colin James and Tom Cochrane pop up a number of times on both the Eastern and Western festival circuits while trendy, new bands tend to shy away from these all-age family gatherings.
Vancouver, in particular, seem to be going for classic rock legends with the likes of ZZ Top, Huey Lewis & The News, The Doobie Brothers, The Pointer Sisters, Rick Springfield and The B 52’s complementing domestic acts like Cochrane, James, High Valley and local sensations Mother Mother.
Edmonton’s K-Days (July 21-30) have gone almost totally Canadian with a lineup set to appeal to a wide demographic. Acts including April Wine, Corb Lund, Alan Doyle, July Talk, Cold Creek County, Sam Roberts and Alessia Cara, the lone U.S band being Uncle Kracker. There is also a shout out to local talent including Scenic Route to Alaska and rising Country star Dan Davidson.
Regina’s Queen City Ex (August 3rd to 7th) and Saskatoon’s Ex (August 8th to August 13) both feature major Canadian content. Regina boasts a lineup which features April Wine, Loverboy, Dallas Smith, The Arkells and The Glorious Sons while Saskatoon’s lineup features an all-star cast that includes Blue Rodeo, Johnny Reid, Big Sugar, Alessia Cara and The Strumbellas to Praireland Park.
Winnipeg’s Red River Ex has already taken place June 6-25 and featured April Wine, USS, The Glorious Sons, tribute bands; Hotel California and Don’t Look Back (Boston) as well as local teen heartthrobs, Panicland.