REAR END IN VIEW: Stick a fork in it

Purple City GigCity EdmontonFor the fourth year running, a story about Purple City was one of the most widely read articles on GigCity. It’s an Edmonton thing.

Among all the weird attractions in a weird town is this time-honoured ritual of getting high and going to stare at the lights outside the Alberta Legislature at night. After a minute, look up at the buildings of the city, whose windows will appear purple – purple city. We sure do know how to have fun here!

Speaking of fun, here’s a list of the highest trafficked stories on GigCity in 2015. It was a weird year:

Angus Young GigCity Edmonton AC/DCAC/DC rocks Edmetalton

It was a joyous déjà vu in September, complete with crappy weather and a sold-out crowd of deliriously excited rock fans of all ages as the great AC/DC once again delivered the goods at Commonwealth Stadium. Edmonton is such a hard rock town that we must rename it “Edmetalton.” What say you, Mr. Mayor? This was the biggest draw of the year by far, yes, bigger than One Direction, and also one of the most honest displays of live performance in rock ‘n’ roll. Photojournalist Eden Munro captured all the action with both journalism and photos, reporting a predictable yet deeply satisfying concert experience.

Read his review HERE.

We got a buttload of traffic from AC/DC stories – the best from a rewritten press release: “Additional AC/DC Tickets Released.” Apparently a lot of people wanted additional AC/DC tickets.

Roxy Theatre GigCity EdmontonDead Venues

When Eden Munro isn’t reviewing rock concerts, he’s a filmmaker, part of the team that produced a grim little documentary called Dead Venues. It managed to explore the history of Edmonton’s favourite defunct bars – the Sidetrack, New City, etc. – while at the same time active destruction of the local scene was in progress enough for sequel.

The year started with the 100-year-old Roxy Theatre burning to the ground. It was a devastating loss for the resident Theatre Network company, and for the many theatre and music groups that used the building over the years.

Soon came news that The Artery was going to shut down to make way for the LRT. They’re trying to open a new location as the “Aviary” in the old bird shop on the ghost strip of 111th Avenue, but the city denied the application due to parking issues. Hey, why can’t we park in the vacant lot next store? Or that other vacant lot? Maybe in front of the abandoned grocery store, or the derelict bottle shop. When the bottle depot goes out of business, you know times are tough.

Meanwhile, on Whyte Avenue, the Pawn Shop closed, its interests merged with Union Hall under the same owners. And finally, Wunderbar, after a valiant struggle that saw a reprieve from a crowd funding campaign that tripled its goal, finally went down on Halloween night. Owner Craig Martellica remains a social media rock star and is now the booker for another cool little club, Bohemia, that came within a hair’s breadth of shutting down, too.

People shouldn’t worry too much. This has been happening for decades in Edmonton, and in every other music scene. When one venue closes, another picks up the slack. It happens more or less in tune with the public demand for live music. Still, the trend is a bit alarming, and 2015 was definitely an anus horribilus (Latin for “pain in the ass”) for the local club scene. Measures are being taken, like the formation of the Live Music Initiative by Councillor Scott McKeen and the City of Edmonton, but nothing concrete so far. Just what we need: more concrete.

It’s still sad when your favourite hangout closes.

Mack Lamoureux – another Edmonton photojournalist who works for the CBC and writes for Vice magazine – chimes in with a personal heartfelt essay about the Artery.

Jason Lee Norman, publisher of the 40 Below book series and former Writer-in-Residence at the Edmonton Public Library, offers his take on the whole Wunderbar saga.

Pepper and Dylan GigCity Edmonton

Spoiler alert!

Radio Wars Take Their Toll

The most read story of 2015 on GigCity was about Edmonton radio.

The year started with a cataclysmic shake-up in on-air personnel. Casualties included Pepper and Dylan (who have since found a new home back at the Bounce 91.7 from whence they came, after getting fired from Virgin 104.9 due to poor ratings).

This story explores the emotional cost of such a cutthroat business. Sure, commercial radio may suck in Edmonton, and in many other places (for reasons too ranty to get into here), but these announcers turn out to be real people with kids to feed and mortgages to pay. Ratings determine ad rates, so it’s a jungle out there. All radio personalities know their days are numbered from the moment they take a radio job that puts their personalities on the line. You have to have a big personality – read: ego – to succeed, which makes getting fired hurt even more.

Also widely read was this interview with Ryan Jespersen – who didn’t wait to be fired, saw the writing on the wall and made the jump from City-TV’s Breakfast Television to the nine-to-noon slot on 630 CHED radio. The long-running TV morning show folded shortly thereafter, morphing into the downsized Dinner Television, while Jespersen thrived in his new role as a news radio-man. On the political implications of the switch, he said, “I believe a lot of life is lived in grey areas, and this show is going to exist in those grey areas. The show won’t lean left, it won’t lean right. It’s about this opportunity to explore real issues with real conversations.”

He’s kept his promise so far.

Madonna GigCity EdmontonMadonna Rama

A whimsical what-if essay about what Madonna might do on her day off in Edmonton drew some interest – despite the fact she spent the whole time in her luxurious Hotel Macdonald suite and wasn’t seen out once. As for the two sold-out shows at Rexall Place – making her the third biggest event of the year (after One Direction) – they were just swell. She sang on her own (imagine), did most (not all) of her big songs, used creative arrangements that didn’t sound like the records, played the tough New York chick who swore a blue streak, goaded a gay couple in the front row into getting engaged, was a little condescending in her stage patter, and generally lived up to her status as the Queen of Pop.

You have to have a big ego to succeed in this trade, too. Madonna said at one point, “I get to do what I love – I’m a lucky girl!” She added, “You’re lucky, too!” Yes, we are!

Blinded by Science

It’s always fun to use science to answer silly questions.

If you’ve ever wondered why “circle pits” seen at punk rock shows always spin counterclockwise, you may be interested in this highly scientific study – which includes quotes from one Gabrielle “Gabby” Riches, who wrote her Master’s thesis in music at the U of A on mosh pits, and is studying for her PhD on the same subject at Leeds University in England. Was Dr. Mosh any help answering the question? You’ll have to read to find out.

Scientific method of a sort was deployed in this article about hats and music, the thesis being that unless you’re embarrassed about being bald or protecting yourself from the elements, if you wear a hat on stage, you’re a show off. There was found to be a similar correlation between music and smiling band photos in this story. Both of these articles seemed to annoy a lot of people – all the bearded be-hatted frowny faces, probably.

A poll to find out how many federal NDP supporters could be found at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival yielded unpredictable results. That was about it for political content on GigCity this year.

Anger fueled this piece about lip-syncing, which outlines a Quixotic quest to get warning labels printed on concert tickets: “Please be advised that portions of tonight’s ‘live’ concert will contain pre-recorded backing tracks, including lead vocals if the dancing is particularly strenuous.” No one went for it. Don Quixote – his quests were always doomed to failure, yet he never gave up! – was also the inspiration for a story about Motley Crue and how they should offer refunds for tricking fans into seeing two “final” shows in Edmonton. That didn’t go over very well, either.

More unpopular problems

When black people get offended at the antics of white people who make fun of black people, white people are generally clueless because they come from a place of “privilege,” as has been pointed out a number of times in 2015. It’s true. Incidents of alleged unintentional cultural appropriation continue, and the argument goes on.

In Edmonton, Sonic radio’s high-minded quest to bring good manners back into public discourse with the “Manners Movement” backfired when local musician Brett Miles complained. The son of Eskimos football hero Rollie Miles objected to what he called a “racist” video of white rappers doing an NWA parody with lyrics about saying please and thank you. Miles and other people who shared his view were interviewed, but Sonic’s corporate head office declined any comment whatsoever. How rude! The resulting attempt at a fair and balanced story managed to piss off both sides of the debate. Well done, Damocles!

The Bear morning zoo, meanwhile, had no problem getting on the phone to talk about one of their stunts that went over the line: A “Dirty Deeds” contest to win tickets to AC/DC. The first stunt was to phone your wife at work and tell her your dog died. Yukon Jack said he thought it was too much, but he was outvoted. Paul Brown says, “It was pretty rough. Get it? Ruff? … I’d say the line of the morning from her was, ‘You better come home so we can cremate Tigger.’”

Of course nothing bad happened and the dog-owners not only still had Tigger, but also AC/DC tickets! Still, one of these days, a radio prank could go horribly awry. These sort of things keep radio station lawyers awake at night.


Shuyler Jansen of Old Reliable

Shuyler Jansen of Old Reliable at the North Country Fair

Reports from the front lines

Running an entertainment news website isn’t all about trolling for facts on Wikipedia. Sometimes you have to get out into the real world.

Intrepid music journalist Derek Owen – who recently completed a documentary on the Edmonton metal band White Wolf – got down to the Big Valley Jamboree in Camrose, though he doesn’t have a country bone in his body. Read his full unbiased report here. Later in the year he was embedded with the classic rock troops at the Edmonton Rock Music Festival. He filed the following dispatch: “Supplies low … they’re coming … send … troops … trooper … can’t … hold … out … much … longer … or … talk … complete … sentences …” The full story is here.

To end our Year End in View, here’s a tale of a lost waif at the North Country Fair. The poor girl suffered a “bad psychedelic episode” from self-medication, wandered into a stranger’s campsite, and proceeded to make herself at home inside the car that just happened to owned by local writer-performer Trent Wilkie, who was pulling double duty emceeing and covering the event for GigCity. She ate his crackers and became engrossed in a children’s book for several hours. It was a “zany experience,” Wilkie says.

Everything turned out fine, of course. The girl sobered up, found her friends and went home. Would she be OK if she’d done the same thing at any other outdoor festival?

Says Wilkie, “I’d rather not think about it.”

Just one prediction for 2016: It’s going to be another weird year.