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Remembering the best of a bad year in 2016

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I don’t think many people will be sad to see the back of 2016 — a year which has basically sucked out loud. I spent most of it recovering from some illness or another. And nothing gets a person thinking of your own mortality and the fragility of human existence than losing musical icons and childhood idols we grew up listening to like Glen Frey, David Bowie, Prince and  Waylon Jennings to name a few. Heck 2016 even claimed beloved TV dad Allan Thicke from Growing Pains, who was also a songwriter.
The old curse “May You Live in Interesting Times,” seems more apt than usual in a year fraught with terrorist attacks, wildfires, atrocities and tribulations of all kinds. I’d rather accentuate the positive though.

Hollerado returned to Lethbridge in June. Photo by Richard AmeryI’ve been to a lot of great shows, visited great friends and interviewed some of my favourite musicians.

A lot of fantastic local acts performed throughout the year and I only caught a fraction of all their shows.

As usual, Lethbridge has stepped up to help those in need with fundraisers and I’ve met many wonderful people. So here are some of my favourite  memories.


 The Owl Acoustic Lounge had most of the month‘s highlights.
Peter and the Wolves rang in new year on a toe tapping note at Owl Acoustic Lounge.
Up and coming Calgary area singer / songwriter and guitar picker Carter Felker played the first of several shows in Lethbridge this year, with a show at the Owl Acoustic Lounge  Jan 8 with Peter Gardner.
But the Lethbridge Folk club also managed to heat up  winter with a great bluegrass show with Go Ask Earl, Jan. 16 at the Lethbridge College Cave.
For folk with more energy, the always entertaining Greg Rekus returned to the Owl Acoustic Lounge, Jan 11.
Lynn Jackson played a sweet show of heartfelt blues tinged folk at the Owl on Jan. 28.
The month ended with a whole lot of catchy ’80s rock, Jan. 29 as Doug and the Slugs brought upbeat ’80s hits like “Too Bad” to Coyote Joes.

The month opened with a great new duo Winnipeg brother and sister pop/ folk duo Roger Roger playing the Slice, Feb. 1
The Geomatic Attic  was in a mellow mood in February , allowing rockers 54 40 and the Trews to show their slower sides at Southminster United Church, Feb. 2 and Feb. 24 respectively.
On a sadder note as it was one I was really looking forward to,  Montreal based blues musician Cecile Doo Kingue had to cancel her show at at Plum due to a van breakdown and the death of her mother.
But the Slice continued to be a mainstay of the local music scene. They hosted another fun show from Geoff Berner, Feb. 5. Berner would return in September to be a profanity laden highlight of Love and Records.
The first of of several big fundraisers in 2016 took place in February as the U of L Opera workshop helped resettle Syrian refugees with a fundraising concert, Feb. 7.
 The Lethbridge Folk club put on another fun show in February with Boots and the Hoots at the Lethbridge College Cave, Feb. 6. They’d be a highlight throughout the year for people who love old school country music and quirky humour.
Indie rockers enjoyed a show from Yukon Blond who returned to Lethbridge for a Feb. 11 show at Average Joes.
An early incarnation of Jay Bowcott and Brady Enslen played the Owl Acoustic Lounge.They would return later in the year as Enslow.
And speaking of old favourites, Elliott Brood returned to Lethbridge played for full house at Studio, Feb. 12.
David Bowie was one of many great musicians to pass away this year, so a group of local musicians including Jon Martin, Taylor Ackerman, Jason Oakes, Clayton Smith and Paul Holden, to name just a few,  banded together to pay tribute to his music at the Slice, Feb. 20.
For big name country stars, George Canyon returned to Average Joes, Feb. 22 to play a hit filled set.
Some bands just click with Lethbridge audiences. Saskatchewan based roots/ bluegrass collective the Dead South have been an immediate hit since playing South Country Fair last year. So they made one of their first visits to Lethbridge, Feb. 25 with an outstanding sold out show at Coyote Joes. They would return in November for another great show.

MarchMwansa Mwansa was one of several excellent local acts making an impression this year. Photo by Richard Amery

Continuing with the classic rockers go acoustic vein, Ed Kowalczyk of Live played a solo show for the ’90s moment of the month at Average Joes, March 7. He played a whole bunch of hits and Live’s hit album Throwing Copper in its entirety with a spectacular video display.
Good things happen to good people. Samantha Martin played an exceptional show of blues at the  Geomatic Attic, March 8 with local soul/R and B singer Mwansa Mwansa opening. She made such an impression on the audience and Martin, that she would join Martin on tour in  the summer.
March was marked by a March 11 fundraiser at the Galt Museum  for the U of L food-bank featuring Dory and the Weathermen.
The next day featured another fundraiser at the owl Acoustic Lounge,March 12. The Cheeky pig Studio Grant event featured Dojo Workhorse, one of  Danny Vacon’s many Calgary bands including the Dudes and High Kicks at Owl.
And there is always lots of fun during CKXU’s FUNDrive, so it featured several great shows at the Slice and Attainable Records.
My favourite part of March is St. Patrick’s Day celebrations so Vancouver Celtic punk icons the Real McKenzies gave a great head start to St. Patrick’s Day March 16 at Studio with the Boids, who I missed  and Lethbridge Firefighters pipes and Drums
There was lots of local music for St. Patricks Day including The Silkstones who continue to make an impression on new and old fans alike.
And, March ended on a high note as blue rock behemoths ZZ Top played an amazing show at the Enmax, March 31.


April opened with with jazz fuelled blues from the Bluesland Horn band at the Slice, April 2
Lauren Mann played an exceptional show of roots and folk at the Slice as well.The Groove Apostles made an impression this year. Photo by Richard Amery
And bagpipe fans and rock fans enjoyed the return of the Mudmen who played a fun show at Soundgarden, April 8
For ’90s rock fans, Sloan played a great show , April 11 At Average Joes and played all the hits and more.
The day before that, Average Joes  hosted country rock musician Cory Marquardt,  April 10 who was last here opening for  Aaron Pritchett.
April 16 was a tough night for attendance. Jen Lane played a great roots show at the Slice.
 Fernie stoke folk band Shred Kelly, who usually draw a crowd in Lethbridge, didn’t get one April 16 at Studio, but they’d return to play a packed  Freshfest at the university  in September.

On the other hand, people packed the Owl for local jazz/ pop band the Groove Apostles around the corner on the same night. They are quickly becoming one of my local favourites.
Also on the poor attendance note, Zoo Riots played the greatest indie rock show that nobody saw at the Slice on April 20.
Calgary’s Foul English played one of many excellent punk shows at the Moose Hall on April 22.
April was a big month for fundraisers.
On April 23 the Smokehouse hosted a big, day long fundraiser for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's featuring Eric Braun, a new Southern Alberta band, Suit Jacket Society, Mark Hall band, Tres Hombres and more.
The Girls Rock Camp held a fundraiser the same night, April 23 at the Slice which featured several bands forming in a  week and coming up with a short set  including bands made up just for the show, including me.
People remembered the South Country Fair, so they packed into the Slice for country/ roots band Good Ol’ Goats, April 29 at Slice who were a highlight of the fair last year.
April ended with the annual visit from Winnipeg blues rock trio the Perpetrators who played the Slice with a super set of blues and blues rock , April 30.

May was a big month for live music.
 Vancouver indie rockers Said the Whale opened May at Studio with an excellent show, May 1.
Inferno featured an excellent punk show, May 7 with the Golers, Sick Ritual and World Class White Trash.
Fort McMurray was devastated by wildfires in May, so local bands chipped in to play a pair of big fundraisers for the Red Cross to help wildfire victims
Trevor Panczak and Shane Chisholm raised $14,000 for the Red Cross with a show at Coyote Joes,  May 14.

Edmonton rockers Striker opened this year]s Electric Eye Music Festival with a whole lot of rock. Photo by Richard AmeryAnother fundraiser at Smokehouse brought in over $3,000 for the Salvation Army to help fire victims with performances by Tres Hombres, Shooting For Mars and Dory and the Weathermen who played a lot of fundraisers this year plus Kelly and the Bastards and the Mark Hall band.
The Electric Eye Music festival continues to be  a success with plenty of metal, alternative rock, punk and just plain strange music happening all over downtown, May 11-15
A few of my favourites from Electric Eye were Advertisement, Physical Copies, Striker, Napalmpom (who would return to Lethbridge in November), Outlaws of Ravenhurst, Durban Poison, Fist City and Blü Shorts.
The Slice featured another candidate for best show nobody came to as the Decoys played a wicked set of addictive pop and rock music, May 18 , immediately appealing pop tinged rock.
Royal Tusk, who would visit Lethbridge three times this year, wound up  their tour in Lethbridge, May 27 at Studio 54.
The Owl Acoustic Lounge featured some choice rockabilly shows including Miesha and the spanks played several great Lethbridge shows this year. Photo by Richard AmeryCalgary’s  Hi Strung Downers, May 27 and Hamilton’s wonderful Ginger St. James, May 28.
She was competing with a big country show with Emerson Drive at Average Joes. They played their many hits.
Another show I was looking forward to , but which was unfortunately cancelled due to a  car accident, was Tallest to Shortest who were to play the Slice, May 28. They will be returning to Lethbridge in the new year on Jan 27.
 Duos showed how to do rock and roll right, by kicking off June at the unusual location of the Top Hat, June 1
Miesha and the Spanks played an incendiary show with HighKicks  and local duo Cope, who I missed
The always fun Calgary rockabilly band Peter and the Wolves opened June on a high note, at the owl Acoustic Lounge June 4.
For something special, CKUA featured Dave McCann and the Firehearts for a live broadcast of the Trans Canada Music West concert series, June 10 at Geomatic Attic, which was packed, though their show the week before at the Slice was dead.
The Lethbridge Jazz festival expanded this year, unofficially beginning  early on June 13 with gypsy folk duo Blue Moon Marquee who played a great show to a decent sized audience, especially for a Monday.


Eleven years of great memories with the Slice

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I never thought I’d be writing a eulogy for my favourite hangout — the Slice, which officially closed its doors, Aug. 22 after 11 amazing years. There was also one final, final bash on Saturday, Aug. 27 which was a blast which brought back a lot of my favourite familiar faces including a tweener from Megan Rourke, Shaela Miller and a rejigged Tin and The Toad with special guest Dave McCann and Rancho Deluxe and several others which I missed due to trying to catch parts of all the other shows happening on Saturday.Shaela Miller playing the Last Slice. Photo by Richard Amety

There were hugs, handshakes and high fives aplenty and more than a few tears at the four wakes for the Slice last week (including the Saturday, Aug. 27 show)  including Petunia and the Vipers, a spontaneous last minute Saturday, Aug. 20 open stage and the Moon Runner/ Moon Tan/ Rainbow Patrol show on Aug. 22.

Is it wrong to shed tears for a bar like so many did during the Petunia and the Vipers’ Aug. 19 show? I don’t think so. The Slice was more than a just a bar, it has been a godsend and a second home for the Lethbridge music community, especially since the Tongue N’ Groove closed it’s doors about the same time the Slice started taking off and Henotic was just beginning in the old firehall.

Petunia and the Vipers at the Slice, Aug. 19. Photo by Richard Amery
When I arrived, everybody I talked to raved about their adventures and misadventures at the Tongue N’ Groove, but I only arrived in time to catch the last couple of shows there so I never really understood the magic people seemed to find there until I learned the Slice was closing.
 In 2007, I had just moved back to Lethbridge from Kenora, Ontario where I spent a lot of time in Winnipeg, hanging out at the Times Changed. When I found the Slice, which reminded me a lot of Times Changed, I thought I found my home away from home. And as soon as I had their pizza, I knew I had.

They brought in some of my favourite Winnipeg performers like the Perpetrators and Romi Mayes, Manitoba Hal, the D Rangers and Scott Nolan (who also frequently played Kenora) which made the transition of a big move to a new community (though I went to school here back in the day) a lot easier.

 Like a lot of people, I always figured The Slice would always be there. They’ve outlasted a lot of local watering holes which featured music or bars that have moved away from live music because people don’t come out for it.
It’s easy to take an institution like the Slice for granted. If you were too tired, too poor or feeling too lazy to go out and see a show there, you always assumed you’d be able to catch the next one. All good things come to an end. I guess.

But to actually see it go is a devastating blow to everybody in Lethbridge’s burgeoning counter-culture community who was looking for a place to listen to live music you wouldn’t hear anywhere else; people who didn’t want to go a bar and watch a dozen TVs showing sports ( the one tiny TV in the Slice set unobtrusively in a quiet corner above the bar and kitchen usually featured a cooking show and sometimes a Flames game); people looking for a place to belong and perhaps meet other people a little bit off the mainstream. The troublemakers, sloppy drunks, scrappers and pick up artists who always seem to flock to bars, seldom found their way to the Slice. Not to say it didn’t happen, but it was the exception rather than the rule.

Was it a dirty, dingy, dive bar? Some people might saFireworks at the Slice. Photo by Richard Ameryy so, but so was CBGBs. More importantly the people at the Slice were always friendly and welcoming and the pizza was always delicious and the music was always excellent and often mind expanding.

The Slice has been a cornerstone of the Lethbridge independent music community since I arrived back here and was indeed one of the first bars I discovered while wandering the desolate, downtown streets simply looking for a quick supper during a few moments off at the Lethbridge Herald. I found a lot more, I found a place I felt I fit in. Because of the Slice I got to interview and write about and photograph bands I may not have otherwise given a second glance to.

 Everybody has their favourite memories of the Slice. Do you remember the time the Sheepdogs stopped by the Slice’s beloved Tuesday open mic and were convinced to jam after their Whoop Up Days show, last year? That was just one of many magical moments there. I’ve seen some of my favourite performers there like Shred Kelly, more unusual shows like Delhi 2 Dublin, which I might not otherwise have given a chance.Jesse Freed manning the bar. Photo by Richard Amery

Countless local bands formed there, broke up there, formed new bands there, had their first and last gigs there, formed bands just for special events for CKXU and fundraisers for the Girls Rock Camp and other worthwhile causes, and had plenty of adventures and misadventures there in between a lot of great music and occasionally way too many beers. People met their mates there and some have since married and had kids.

Over the past 11 years, The Slice has basically been the CKUA of bars, showcasing music you just wouldn’t hear anywhere else. You never knew what you’d get, but you knew it would be good, even if it wasn’t a style of music you’d usually listen to and you knew you would have a great time. You’d always find good people, good pizza and a lot of good vibes.

 I remember a lot of late nights and consequently long mornings due to late starting shows there. I’ve seen roots shows, country shows, rock shows and punk and metal shows and plenty of ambient indie-rock shows and other weirder shows which are more difficult to describe. Even a couple of rap shows. They have all been entertaining and have given me something new to appreciate.

 In addition to their own shows, they opened their doors to popular local music festivals including the South Country Fair, Electric Eye, Lethbridge Jazz Festival and CKXU Love and Records afterparties. There have been wakes there for beloved regulars like Frank Dooley and Murray Nelson who have passed on and fundraisers for other regulars fallen on hard times.

 The Slice was more than a bar, it was a community. A damned fine community of people who care about each other and care about supporting live music.
I got to see and support some of my very favourite Lethbridge musicians there. I couldn’t possibly list all of them. Somebody would be missed. I met some of my favourite people in this city at the Slice.



Lots of memories in 2015

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It has been another amazing year in Lethbridge with good news, bad news and a plethora of very cool shows, and 2016 is  already looking pretty amazing. We’ll look ahead next week, but now things have slowed down for a week or so on the entertainment front, now is a good a time as any to look back.Murray nelson passed away this year. Photo by Richard Amery

Lethbridge said goodbye to Murray Nelson, who passed away from cancer this year. Nelson was one of the scene’s more prominent performers on stage performing solo and with a variety of bands as well as busking on the streets all over Lethbridge. He was also a talented videographer and a respected music teacher who taught many prominent Lethbridge musicians. He had also been a prominent performer at fundraisers for other musicians. His memory will live on in the students he taught and the souls he touched on stage or just chatting at various local watering holes.

On another sad note, in the new year, the Lethbridge Folk Club will be looking for a new location for their open mics on the second and fourth Fridays of the month as MJS Cycle is apparently closing by the end of the year. It doubled as the location for open stages and smaller Lethbridge Folk Club shows.
On a somewhat lighter, but still unpleasant note, Lethbridge got a black eye, so to speak, and made international news in April after shock rocker Marilyn Manson was punched at Denny’s on Mayor Magrath after his April 4 show at the Enmax.

That’s the bad news, but there has also been a lot of good news in 2015.
Lethbridge hosted a pretty big event in the arts — The Lt. Governor’s Awards and SOAR Emerging Artists Festival in June, which not only showcased some of Alberta‘s most talented artists, but also featured the ever growing pool of talent Lethbridge has to offer.
It has been a great year for Victoria born, Lethbridge based songwriter Leeroy Stagger, who released a great new CD “Dream it All Away” and capped off a successful year supporting it by winning the Peak Performance Competition in November.

Stagger’s new CD was one of several excellent Cds released this year by southern Alberta talent including John Wort Hannam, Karen Romanchuk, Cosmic Charley, the Supervoid, Accalia and Papa King Cole and Zojo Black to name just a few off the top of my head.

 Another highlight this year was the formation of Attainable Records who are starting to do shows spanning a variety of genres. ThSNFU’s Chi Pig playing inferno in July. Photo by Richard Ameryey had a weekend of showcases featuring a variety of Lethbridge, southern Alberta and Calgary talent in November.
Casino Lethbridge has expanded their musical horizons a little this year form the usual crop of classic rock and cover bands to also include comedy, mentalism and Calgary rockabilly band the Hi Strung Downers.

Lethbridge’s punk scene really took off this year, mostly thanks to promoter Alex Currie. Currie and company put on a day long punk and metal show, The Burning Bridges Festival, July 25 at the Moose Hall, another good venue for punk.

 The  Burning Bridges Festival featured a lot of the Calgary Beer Core scene including Citizen Rage,  the Motherfuckers, Kroovy Rookers, Press Gang plus a couple of highlights from Edmonton including Grizzly Train and Rebuild/Repair.


Street Machine Weekend to dominate downtown

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Over the past 37 years, The Street Machine Weekend , July 10-12, has slowly evolved into a Lethbridge institution for car buffs, aficionados and gear-heads of all types. PJ Nadeau is looking forward to the Street Machine weekend. Photo by Richard Amery

Lethbridge gets influx of between 15-20,000 people from all over Canada and the United States for the event which brings in millions of dollars to the city every year.
“It’s a great to see people having a good time doing something they love,” said new Street Wheelers Club president PJ Nadeau.
“People spend countless time and money on their cars so this is where they get to show off all of their hard work,” he continued.

“And it’s a great place to meet old friends,” he continued.
Street Machines takes over the downtown core and Exhibition Park, July 10-13 beginning with Cruise Control, Friday night , July 10 at 8 p.m., during which 832 cars will be cruising around the city core on 3rd Ave. South and Mayor Magrath Drive, 7-10 p.m.

“There’s something for everybody — people who like muscle cars, Mustangs, Japanese cars, Volkswagens…,” said new Street Wheelers’  president PJ Nadeau.
“We hand select the cars so there is something for everybody— Corvettes, muscle cars, European cars, Japanese cars. They have to be show ready,” he said, adding the entries must have something unique about them.
“Unfortunately we have to turn a lot of people away and it fills up in an hour,” continued Nadeau.
“Watching the Cruise is an amazing experience, but it doesn’t even compare to the feeling of actually being part of it,” he said.
There is a $10 entry fee to enter. They only have room for 832 cars in the cruise.


Great combination of big acts and valiant newcomers in 2014

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There were a lot of highlights happening this year from big names you young and hungry up and comers and a couple really exceptional music festivals.
Old punks had favourites D.O.A and The Real McKenzies on March 14 who are always great to see. I wanted to hear the  Boids opening for them, but had to choose between them and criminally under-appreciated gypsy folk  group Blackberry Wood, who I always like to see.The Wet Secrets were one of the highlights this year. Photo by Richard Amery

 And while I don’t usually travel to see shows as it means I miss everything in Lethbridge, I made a point of hitting Sidelines in Coaldale, April 19 to hear hockey punks the Hanson Brothers who played a lot of hockey themed hits and even premiered their own beer. As an aside, The Hanson Brothers’  Tom Holliston later returned to Lethbridge on his own to share his quirky folkie side at the Owl Acoustic Lounge , Aug. 28.

  I  also checked out several all ages punk shows at the Moose Hall this year and was  blown away by the raw power, energy and yes, even musicality of some great Albertan punk bands. I was commuting to and from South Country Fair this summer. I had to this time as my long time camera died after six years and I had to get a new one,  but it meant  I caught an amazing show at the Moose Hall from Edmonton bands MSA and Abuse of Substance.

 MSA were off the hook. They stripped down to their shorts and even brought out an didgeridoo for an brilliant punk cover of Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning.” Fellow Edmontonians Abuse of Substance came back a couple of times this year.

 The Moose featured some excellent punk shows including a couple from The Rebel Spell and some great new discoveries for me including Copsickle and Knuckledown.

Lethbridge’s resident street punks the Scallywags were involved with most of these shows  as were another new discovery, the Mangy Mutts, the only acoustic/ country act to play a lot of these.
 The Mangy Mutts were a highlight of one of several excellent festivals happening this year as they opened up the Slice stage during the day long Electric Eye music festival on May 10, which featured garage rock, electronica, punk, country and hip hop at five different venues.

 This  also featured another great new discovery — The Outlaws of Ravenhurst— a medieval, classic metal metal trio who dressed up as knights  for their set.
 They returned for another great day long music festival — the fifth annual CKXU Love and Records in Galt Gardens, Sept. 13 as well as at several venues
 They were among many highlights of the day and even  got the University of Lethbridge Mediaeval club to duel during their afternoon set at Galt Gardens.

 Yet another great new new discovery returned to Lethbridge for Love and Records — Edmonton’s Wet Secrets, a side project of headliner Shout Out Out Out Out.
 The West Secrets (who later won the PEAK  Project competition for Alberta) stole the show, sporting vintage band uniforms band playing upbeat pop music with a horn section, bass and  keyboards. They played earlier in the year at the Slice with another favourite — the Gay ’90s who played Lethbridge several times this year.

 While Love and Records had after-parties at several different venues, I only made it to the one at Plum featuring Edmonton’s Marshall Lawrence and Paul Kype and Texas Flood, mainly because I organized it.
 I thought it was amazing.
 Blues rocker Marshall Lawrence  never gets the turnout he deserves in Lethbridge, though he had a full house rocking until midnight, when everybody mostly cleared out to either go home or to go to the metal after-party at the Slice.
 Blues music itself never seems to get the turnout it deserves in Lethbridge, though we had some excellent local blues shows including excellent shows from Paul Kype and Texas Flood and a couple different versions of Papa King and his band.

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