— Burton Cummings, Your Back Yard
Burton Cummings may want to show you what's happening in your backyard, but his namesake theatre in downtown Winnipeg wants to show you what's going on in the Burt's Backyard, starting Tuesday night.
True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd., with the support of the City of Winnipeg and the Downtown Winnipeg, West End and Exchange Business Improvement Zones, is opening a new gathering place in the triangular park across from the Burton Cummings Theatre.
Called the Burt's Backyard, it all begins when Smith Street, just north of Ellice Avenue, is closed off to vehicle traffic at 4 p.m.
By 6 p.m., what has been really nothing more than a patch of weeds, unpruned trees, broken park benches, and litter will play host to bar service, food, and music on an outdoor stage in the triangular park, officially named Odeon Triangle.
The area, inspired by the mid-1970s Cummings song Your Back Yard, will be open for concert-goers or just people passing by who want to have a drink and socialize. It will close 1 1/2 hours post-concert.
Kevin Donnelly, True North senior vice-president, venues and entertainment, said the Backyard will be open Tuesday for the accompanying Steel Panther concert. It will reopen in the coming weeks for Blue Rodeo, Slash, Bobby McFerrin, and Bad Religion shows, ending with the Godspeed You! Black Emperor show Aug. 29.
Donnelly said the theatre's usual outdoor space — a patch of grass beside the front doors — was more to allow smokers a space before shows and during intermission, but the Backyard will be different.
"We wanted to build a landing pad outside, so people know inside or outside there is something going on (in the theatre). And this is a park that doesn't get attention from anyone. It is surrounded by vehicular traffic." – Kevin Donnelly, True North senior vice-president
"We'll never be done with the inside of the theatre, but we want to extend the inside to the outside," he said Monday.
"We wanted to build a landing pad outside, so people know inside or outside there is something going on (in the theatre). And this is a park that doesn't get attention from anyone. It is surrounded by vehicular traffic.
"We're willing to pay attention to it, and get some blood, sweat and tears into it."
The intention is to also pair music at the outdoor venue with music playing inside.
Donnelly said, for an example, with an act such as Steel Panther — mixing comedy and glam rock with original songs including Party Like Tomorrow is the End of the World, Death to All but Metal, and The Burden of Being Wonderful — True North will schedule rock music at the temporary venue.
Tracey Umali, project administrator with Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, said the organization supports the plans.
"We wanted to close the street for a pop-up park, but it didn't go forward, so we're so happy it is happening now with True North," she said.
Umali said True North successfully applied to the BIZ for a grant to help pay for the costs involved with the park and closing the street.
Michael Jack, City of Winnipeg chief corporate services officer, said he was pleased to see organizers had a crew pruning and raking in the park Monday in preparation for Tuesday's event.
Jack said the city is looking at the park plan this summer much like a pilot project.
"We wanted to at least imagine what it could look like, and to see if it enhances the neighbourhood," he said. "We've got a number of dates this summer and we agreed to go forward with this. Public works will keep a keen eye on it to see if there are traffic issues."
Meanwhile, Donnelly said he'd like to see the Odeon Triangle renamed in honour of Kevin Walters, who was instrumental in organizing the city's major music events, including the Juno Awards, Canadian Country Music Awards, Culture Days, and Manitoba Homecoming 2010. Walters died of cancer at 54 in 2014.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.