On Aug. 12, Sir Paul McCartney dropped by Winnipeg's shiny new Investors Group Field and performed nearly three hours' worth of hits, covering his singular career, to 31,200 adoring fans.
To say it was one of the year's most anticipated concerts would be an understatement; this is a man many Winnipeggers had not seen perform live in 20 years, and many others had never seen before.
The audience spanned generations, but everyone in it, young and old, sang along. After all, the man -- nay, the Beatle -- they'd come to see is responsible for some of pop music's most enduring songs. Tickets didn't come cheap, topping out at $275, but Macca's five-star show delivered in both breadth and quality; there's good reason he was recently ranked No. 15 on Rolling Stone's 50 greatest live acts right now.
At 71, Sir Paul is a mere mortal, but his music will live on forever. And that's why his performance at Investors Group Field is the Entertainment Story of the Year, as voted by Free Press readers.
McCartney was the second act to play Winnipeg's newest and largest concert venue, after Taylor Swift in June. With room for 33,000 fans, Investors Group Field has the cachet to bring big-name acts to our mid-sized market.
"It plays a huge role," Kevin Donnelly, vice-president of True North Sports & Entertainment told the Free Press last December. "In a lot of cases, it's the deciding factor. (Acts) will change routing to accommodate a new building, where in other instances they may not even look at a market of that size."
Donnelly was one of the 31,200 who saw Investors Group Field make good on that promise.
"It was thrilling, for sure," he recalls. "That's a show we'd pursued for many years, to be frank. To see it happen on a beautiful summer night in a beautiful new stadium was a real thrill."
For many years, our geographically isolated town was skipped over on major North American tours. That began to change with the arrival of the MTS Centre, and will continue with the new stadium. "It's been exciting, for sure," Donnelly says. "It's a lot of work by a lot of people to change it over, night to night, but it's been exciting to see how the market has responded."
The concert calendar for 2014 is already filling up, with acts such as Arcade Fire, Cher and Lady Gaga slated to play the MTS Centre.
And Donnelly says Winnipeggers can also look forward to more exciting stadium shows.
"You always try to sell what you've accomplished as a framework for what the next act could achieve," he says. "A new stadium still holds a lot of water."
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From one master to 100 masters, the runner-up for Entertainment Story of the Year was a big deal, too.
The Winnipeg Art Gallery's 100 Masters: Only in Canada -- a blockbuster exhibition that featured 100 works by canonical artists such as Matisse, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso and Warhol, and spanned six centuries -- was not only the gallery's most ambitious show but also its most successful, smashing attendance records.
"We had well over 60,000 people that engaged from every corner of our city," says WAG director and CEO Stephen Borys -- enough, he good-naturedly points out, to fill the stadium twice.
It's a classic "If you build it, they will come" tale. Borys knew the WAG could do something extraordinary for its centennial as long as it had a little help from its friends. All but 10 works featured in 100 Masters were loaned from 28 museums in Canada and two in the United States.
"(The exhibition) couldn't have happened without our sister organizations," Borys says. "Institutions bent over backwards for us, lending things they don't ordinarily lend out. It was a party for the WAG, but everyone was celebrating with us. The generosity was outstanding."
In addition to earning the WAG 2,000 new members, 100 Masters put the gallery in the black, contributing to a $162,419 surplus for the 2012-13 fiscal year. "It was a financial success we don't take for granted," Borys says.
The new year will bring new marquee exhibits to the gallery, such as the just-opened Looking Up, which runs until March 16. That show explores the influence that the WAG's Inuit art collection has had on the city's art community over the past four decades. Another big-ticket exhibition is 7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. -- a celebration of Canada's groundbreaking Group of Seven -- which will run May 10 to Aug. 31.
"We also have some big, big plans for 2015 that I can't divulge just yet," Borys hints. "But it'll be a historic year for the WAG and Winnipeg."