25th anniversary show
Friday, 8 p.m.
West End Cultural Centre
Tickets $20, available at the WECC, Music Trader, Into the Music and online at Ticketfly.
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/11/2017 (1400 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s easy for Dust Rhinos frontman Blair McEvoy to mark the anniversary of the start of the Celtic rock band — during their first show, his then-wife went into labour with his first daughter and she was born a day later.
That was 25 years ago, and the Dust Rhinos have since developed a reputation as a bombastic, "butt-kickin’" party band that can always be counted on to get everyone on their feet.
To celebrate the milestone, the Rhinos have planned an anniversary show at the West End Cultural Centre on Friday, Nov. 17, which McEvoy says will include songs from their entire catalogue (all nine albums), as well as crowd-pleasers that were played live but never made it to tape and a few covers of artists who were especially influential for the four-piece.
"It was really hard to make the setlist," McEvoy explains. "We wrote out all the songs we thought were must-songs to do and then we realized we’d have to play for four hours, so we had to cut some back. There was a lot of arm wrestling and people making pitches for why this song or that song, so we spent a couple hours putting it together. But it was really a fun thing to do... It was a bit of a walk down memory lane.
"Be prepared to dance," he adds. "It may be a 25th anniversary show, but it’s not going to be a sit down, quiet thing."
The Dust Rhinos came from modest beginnings: McEvoy’s two Irish grandmothers introduced him to the classics of Celtic music as a young kid. In his teens, he wavered into the worlds of rock and punk music, but found himself pulled back toward Celtic and taught himself to play a few songs. It wasn’t long before he got connected with Sam Baardmann and Graham Leathers, who were also dabbling in the genre, and they began busking as a trio at the then-newly built market at The Forks.
Their first consistent gig was at the Toad in the Hole pub on Osborne Street — they played a short, two-song set and the owners loved them so much they were asked back for a three-night stand.
"We had to learn ten songs in order to have enough to get through the night," McEvoy laughs.
Eventually, the Rhinos took over the popular weekly Celtic night at the Toad on the last Saturday of every month. They dutifully held that gig for 13 consecutive years.
During that time, more bars with a Celtic flair began to open their doors — the King’s Head Pub and Shannon’s Irish Pub, for example — so the Rhinos had a packed schedule, playing at various venues around Winnipeg every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night for nearly four years.
"We were the busiest part-time band ever," McEvoy says.
Despite the high demand for their music, the Rhinos always remained a part-time band and never had much of a desire to re-root themselves in a larger market and dedicate all their time to the band.
"Most of us had families so this was just... I guess if someone had come to us and said, ‘Hey, you can keep you lifestyle exactly how it is and be big in the music industry,’ we would have taken that. But we really enjoyed what we were doing, and we did get a lot of amazing opportunities and I guess we never really felt that we wanted to live that lifestyle of living out of a suitcase," McEvoy says, noting the band has varied from four to six members over the years, and is currently rounded out by Darren Wittmann, Dan Cannon and Dale Brown.
And another reason to stay — Winnipeg has been very kind to the Dust Rhinos.
For 25 years, local fans have been consistently supportive of the band and that fact has not gone unnoticed.
"We wanted (the anniversary show) to be an homage to the people who have come to see us over the 25 years, because without them we wouldn’t be doing it, right? We wouldn’t have kept going," McEvoy says.
"Especially for the people who have come for that long, we wanted to tip our hat to them."
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Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.