Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

SARS concert didn't benefit the right people

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AFTER a three-week holiday that saw me paddle around beluga whales in Churchill, hike past waterfalls near Thompson and sink my greedy little teeth into succulent smoked meat in Montreal, I oughta be one relaxed little puppy.

But the fact is, I can't get over the most infuriating event of the summer: The so-called "concert of a lifetime" held in Toronto last month in the name of saying goodbye to SARS.

SARStock, which starred The Rolling Stones, AC/DC and a pile of other classic rock bands who play Toronto every other year, was supposed to help a city traumatized by dozens of horrific deaths and the resulting loss of tourism.

Psychologically, I'm sure it helped. Judging from the TV coverage, the concert appeared to be cathartic for many of the 450,000 people in attendance.

But let's a call a spade a spade, folks -- this was no benefit show.

All of the bands got paid, from Canadian newcomers Kathleen Edwards and Sam Roberts to the multimillionaire Stones, whose undisclosed paycheque had to have been large enough to make it worthwhile to interrupt an immensely lucrative European tour. We're talking no less than $500,000, but more likely more than $1 million.

The total cost of the concert, pegged at $10 million to $12 million, was funded in part by the federal government and the Molson brewing empire. According to news reports, Molson assumed the risk of any losses, while any profits tallied after all the accounting is done are supposed to be dispersed to SARS-related charities.

That's all very nice, but if the big-name talent would have accepted honoraria instead of the kind of massive paycheques performers usually get for one-off shows, this concert might have had a more tangible effect on the people most affected by SARS: The families of victims and the people who work in Ontario's overburdened and underfunded health-care system.

This was no feel-good denouement to a summer of despair for hundreds of people who had just buried their relatives. This was no "concert of a lifetime" for Ontario nurses facing layoffs that might have been avoided with some of the money paid for this show.

As Winnipeggers know all too well, this kind of feel-good production was a classic case of a government providing circuses instead of bread. But adding to the insult was the inane, almost Orwellian blather about how much The Rolling Stones love Toronto.

"No other band would have interrupted a European tour to come here," CBC and MuchMoreMusic television announcers kept repeating.

Come on! Flying on a jet for seven hours might be annoying, but it's hardly a big chore when you're getting a couple of bulging suitcases full of U.S. greenbacks at the end of the night.

Sadly, it seemed like the Toronto-based media was acting just as parochial as small-town press, as they tried to build this show up into some kind of historic musical gathering.

Sure, it may have been the largest assembly of paying fans in Canadian history. Government-subsidized tickets saw to that.

But musicologically, a concert featuring The Stones, AC/DC, The Guess Who and Rush is no more than a fantastic nostalgia revue. The Flaming Lips, Edwards and Roberts added an element of currency, but this was not the kind of event that was going to make many people outside Canada care too much. And by and large, they didn't.

Don't get me wrong: I'm happy the show happened and that so many people enjoyed themselves. But if anybody -- and that includes Liberal MP Dennis Mills, the show's mastermind -- believes SARStock accomplished anything more than that, they are lying to themselves.

One year from today, nobody will remember much about the show, other than the Stones performed and Justin Timberlake was pelted with the garbage he deserves.

If you want proof, ask yourself the following question: Who performed at Toronto's tribute to New York City a couple years earlier?

That, too, was supposed to be a "concert of a lifetime." Let's stop with the hyperbole, end the doublespeak and leave the talk of benefit concerts to shows that actually do raise money for people in need.

* * *

Closer to home, the people behind Winnipeg's Balanced Records have finished their second compilation of locally produced electronic music, Northern Faction Vol. 2.

The disc, which highlights the city's rapidly improving downtempo scene, will be unveiled Saturday at the Bull & Bear Tavern on Lombard Street, with music provided by DJs Grant Paley, Brent Phillips, Spencer K and live P.A. Solidaze.

Tickets for the CD release party are $8 in advance at Urban Bakery and Nyce Records, or $10 at the door. The disc itself is lighter in tone compared to the first volume, but also more diverse, as artists like instrumental band The Hummers and producers Gentle (formerly Type One) and Fascade@137db hook up with the Balanced crew.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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