Rock around the block Burt Block Party returns with two weekends of gigs
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Holding a summer festival or any outdoor event in Manitoba can be as unpredictable as the province’s fickle summer weather — one moment it’s hot, and the next it’s not.
Organizers of the Current Festival, which was to make its debut this weekend but was cancelled on Monday, found out how challenging producing a weekend-long event can be, even in a festival-crazy city like Winnipeg.
Burt Block Party
Smith Street, in front of the Burton Cummings Theatre
● Friday, 5:30 p.m.: Peach Pit, Yukon Blonde, Jaywood, Living Hour
● Saturday, 5:30 p.m.: The Watchmen, I Mother Earth, Bif Naked, Hello Fiasco
● Aug. 19, 5:30 p.m.: Nazareth, Streetheart, Headpins, The Pumps & Orphan
● Aug. 20, 5:30 p.m.: Rise Against, Pup, Cancer Bats, Death Cassette
● Tickets: $71.50- $98.25; VIP pass: $120-$174.25, including fees, Ticketmaster. “Me +3” four-packs of tickets for each show are also available at reducted rates.
Prior to the pandemic, Manitoba’s established largest not-for-profit music festivals, Winnipeg Folk Festival and Dauphin’s Countryfest, were like ducks on a pond — what you could see was placid and unbothered by all the commotion, while all the hard work mostly went unseen.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed how fragile the entertainment world can be. The virus and provincial restrictions against public gatherings wiped two years of shows off the books, and 2022 events have been hampered by volunteer shortages and last-minute schedule changes after performers or their road crews contracted COVID-19 while on tour.
Putting on a summer event is a formidable task even for a large corporation such as True North Sports and Entertainment, Winnipeg’s largest concert promoter.
While its staff has amassed years of know-how and has the resources and staff on hand — having presented countless events big and small — the risk of holding an outdoor festival remains when it hosts the Burt Block Party, a four-night series of shows that begin Friday and continue Saturday as well as Friday, Aug. 19 and Saturday, Aug. 20 on the street, surface parking lots and bits of greenspace in front of the Burton Cummings Theatre.
”It’s not for the faint of heart,” Kevin Donnelly, True North’s senior vice-president for venues and entertainment, says of producing outdoor festivals.One of the two lineup gates to get into the Burt Block Party event in 2021.
”You have to know how to put them on safely, effectively and profitably. Even the not-for-profit festivals make a profit they put towards operations.”
True North began hosting the street festival in the early 2010s when it hosted the Winnipeg BBQ and Blues Festival, and the company obtained city permits to close one block of Smith Street that runs in front of the theatre.
The event morphed into the Burt Block Party last August, and the outdoor space with room for a stage and 4,000 ticketholders was to be a safe way to hold entertainment events during the pandemic.
”You have to know how to put them (outdoor festivals) on safely, effectively and profitably. Even the not-for-profit festivals make a profit they put towards operations.” – Kevin Donnelly
It all went all according to plan until rainstorms forced the first weekend of shows to be held inside the Burt, inadvertently creating the city’s first large-scale indoor concert in more than a year when 54-40, Jim Cuddy and the Northern Pikes played before an audience who had to show proof of vaccination to attend.
Weather played a part in this year’s Burt Block Party lineup too. Two of this year’s headliners, Peach Pit and Rise Against, were supposed to play the Burt and Canada Life Centre respectively on April 14, but a three-day blizzard closed Manitoba’s highways and forced both shows to be called off.Bif Naked will be performing at this year's Burt Block Party.
Unlike many festivals, which encourage fans to purchase passes for an entire event, True North is treating each Burt Block Party as a separate concert, with themed lineups of acts to match different musical tastes and demographics.
That means Vancouver’s Peach Pit headlines an evening of contemporary indie rock Friday that includes Kelowna’s Yukon Blonde and two local acts — JayWood, whose new album Slingshot came out in July, and Living Hour, which has a new LP, Someday, dropping Sept. 2.
“We purposefully and deliberately made a show for a different population each night,” Donnelly says. “For a lot of these bands, summer festivals, that’s when they make their hay.”JayWood, whose new album 'Slingshot' came out in July, will be performing at Burt Block Party.
Saturday has two former Winnipeg artists, the Watchmen and Bif Naked, on a ‘90s-era bill with Toronto’s I Mother Earth and Winnipeg group Hello Fiasco.
Next Friday, Aug. 19, is classic-rock night, with Nazareth and the Headpins joining two longtime local favourites: Streetheart and the Pumps & Orphan.
The Pumps, which changed its name to Orphan in 1983, re-released its 1980 album Gotta Move on CD in 2021 and are making a rare appearance in concert, although its members perform with other bands. Frontman Chris Burke-Gaffney, for instance, also performs and tours with Harlequin.
”There’s still a community out there that likes the band, and it’ll be great to get out and play again because it’s been a couple of years,” Burke-Gaffney says. “The guys from Streetheart are our friends, so it’s always a good hang.”
Rise Against tops a hard-rock bill on Saturday, Aug. 20 with Pup, Cancer Bats and Death Cassette.Rise Against will be performing at Burt Block Party.
The parties have no indoor safety net this year. True North has obtained a larger and sturdier stage to withstand bad weather, and Donnelly advises ticketholders to dress according to the weather and bring their lawn chairs because the Burt stage will not be used.
He says ticket sales for each of the parties have exceeded the Burt’s 1,638-seat capacity.
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.