Photo by Andrew Clowater
By Keith Sharp
The 6th Annual McBowl Concert, in support of Ronald McDonald House promoter Ed Sousa can usually tell how well his annual concert festival is doing by how many tickets are sold nationally and throughout the United States.
“Last year, we sold tickets to 20 U.S. states and every province in Canada. So far this year, we are at 13 U.S. states (including Missouri and Tennessee) and 8 Canadian provinces. We’ve already sold out our VIP allotment,” notes Sousa on the phone from the Mississauga Classic Bowl location, which will stage its sixth annual event (excluding the two years they were shut down due to the pandemic) with concerts on Thursday, May 25, Friday, May 26 and Saturday, May 27 with a secret show set to be staged on Sunday, May 28.
Due to heavy demand, Sousa’s McBowl Concert Series will be expanded to three nights instead of the two nights from previous years, with all proceeds going to Ronald McDonald House. The opening night on Thursday, May 25th, features Vancouver’s Strange Advance, Carole Pope & Rough Trade, and Toronto’s Chalk Circle. Friday, May 26th will see a Canadian Classic Rock Night featuring co-headliners Honeymoon Suite (back for their sixth consecutive headline appearance), Vancouver’s Chilliwack and Toronto, with the Saturday, May 27th show featuring Minneapolis-based Information Society, Grapes Of Wrath and Strange Love – The Depeche Mode Experience.
With all $85 VIP tickets sold out and only a few $55 nightly tickets still available, Sousa is asked how so many people throughout North America are aware of his (now) three-night festival that is staged indoors on a major concert stage set up the middle of the facility’s massive bowling lane layout.
“Our fans are our best sales force,” Sousa announced. “I have a phenomenal social media set up, but it’s the people who attend our shows that best promote the event. They come back, year after year, they tell all their friends what a great time they had, and even the bands themselves have a great time and go on their own websites to spread the word.”
“And where else these days can you see three great bands each night for $55 total, and because it’s a charity event, all the proceeds go directly to Ronald McDonald House. I sell all the tickets directly (see link below), so there is no ticket surcharge,” Sousa boasts.
Sousa’s initial connection with Ronald McDonald House was forged in 1987 when one of his nephews was diagnosed with leukemia at 12. He was in and out of the hospital for five years before passing away at 17 in 1992. “ I told him I needed him to get well for him to be part of my wedding party in 1993, but sadly he didn’t make it,” Sousa noted.
“During that time, his parents stayed at Ronald McDonald House whilst he was at Sick Kids Hospital, and they only lived in Brampton, so you wonder how other parents do it when they have to travel from other parts of the country or even from overseas,” Sousa noted. “So far, we have raised over half a million dollars through the concerts, but more importantly, we have created a lot of publicity for that organization which is invaluable for their exposure.”
Sousa makes no excuse that the talent he selects are artists he personally enjoys. With a penchant for 80’s techno-pop bands like A Flock Of Seagulls, Jesus Jones, When In Rome, ABC, XTC and domestic talents like The Spoons, The BOX, Images In Vogue and Saga, Sousa usually adds one or more of these types of bands to his lineup. This year it’s Strange Advance (who debuted last year for the first time in 30 years), who will return as a headliner Thursday along with former Minneapolis band Information Society on Saturday, whose 80’s hits; “What’s On Your Mind” and “Running” were massive dance hits at that time.
“My attitude has been; Who would I want to see and as organizing this show is a labour of love for me, it’s great that I can attract bands that I personally like,” Sousa noted. In staging a series of intimate shows throughout the year, he has benefitted from witnessing great performances by the likes of Grapes Of Wrath and Chalk Circle, so it was a no-brainer to invite them back for the 2023 McBowl Concert Series main event.
The band Toronto may not have any original lineups (with lead vocalist Annie (Holly) Woods departing last year). Still, her replacement Michelle Truman has toured with Toronto in a support capacity previously and is a star in her own right. She is featured as Stevie Nicks in her own tribute band and performs in an ABBA tribute band that tours worldwide.
Tribute bands may not be Sousa’s forte, but he is thrilled to be booking Strange Love, a Depeche Mode tribute. “Word is, these guys are better than the original Depeche Mode band,” bubbled Sousa. “I just want people to experience Depeche Mode, and this is as good as it gets. I’ve had people call to book tickets specifically to see them.”
Sousa takes pride in that Honeymoon Suite has headlined every one of McBowl’s six-concert series and says they will keep coming back until they don’t want to do it anymore or people get tired of it them. “Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet,” he boasts. “How many other bands can come back as often as they have? They’ve always gone down well.”
With Bill Henderson’s Chilliwack also set to appear, it’s no wonder that the McBowl is a perennial sell-out, and to add to this mystique is a Secret Show, staged on Sunday, May 28, where the identity of the band is only revealed once they step on stage.
Ticket requests can be made by linking to http://www.classicbowl.com/mcbowl/