You’ve probably read the title of this post and thought: “Whhaaaaa??”. It’s an unlikely combo at first glance: the film Star Wars: A New Hope coupled with the TSO (Toronto Symphony Orchestra). Not so weird actually.
What a brilliant idea. Over the span of the next couple of years the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is performing the John Williams-composed Star Wars soundtracks live while the movies are projected larger than life in the background. These concerts take place in the still-somewhat-elegant Roy Thomson Hall.
Starting with the 1997 re-release versions of the “original three” (as I like to call them), the first concert up is Star Wars: A New Hope; this is the production we went to last night. It was fantastic to hear that amazing John Williams soundtrack *really* brought to life by the TSO.
You don’t realize how much music, both prominent and incidental, there actually is in a Star Wars film; this concert really brought the music to the forefront. The TSO were absolutely superb and every musical detail was faithful to the original motion picture soundtrack (except the “Cantina” scene in the Mos Eisley bar – the filmed version was played here). Sarah Hicks did a brilliant job conducting the orchestra, who played to an absolutely packed and very enthusiastic house. No less than three encores were called after the performance/film completed.
Here’s a few shots from last night’s performance. These were taken before the performance began and during the 15-minute intermission at the movie’s halfway point:
Star Wars: A New Hope played on the nights of January 23, 24, 25, 26, 2019. The rest of the Star Wars Film Concert Series is scheduled as follows:
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – March 20, 21, 22, 23, 2019 Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – October 2, 3, 4, 5, 2019 Star Wars: The Force Awakens – May 6, 7, 8, 9, 2020
I’m sure more are to follow as time goes by, and I can hardly wait.
There were two memorable events in Toronto during the summer of 2003: one was the massive power blackout covering most of northeast North America and the other was SARStock.
Held on July 30, 2003 at Downsview Park (previously a former military air base in the north end of the city), the event was a gigantic, marathon rock concert to benefit Toronto’s economy and help it recover from the SARS epidemic. The concert was organized in about a month upon the suggestion of concert headliners The Rolling Stones. The Stones, by the way, love Toronto – they have played in our city many times and, utilizing small clubs like the Phoenix or the Palais Royale, they frequently practice and perform here prior to setting off on their major tours. Toronto has some not-so-fond memories, though, for Keith Richards; this is where he got busted, tried and sentenced for heroin possession way back in early 1977.
This massive concert in Downsview Park went by many names – Toronto Rocks, Stars 4 SARS, Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto, SARSfest, SARS-a-palooza, the SARS concert, The Rolling Stones SARS Benefit Concert – but I affectionately call it SARSstock as it seems the most apropos. The Rolling Stones donated 50 percent of the proceeds (an estimated $1.3 million) from their merchandise sales to two relief funds set up for the event, and $1 per ticket was also donated towards the funds. The net proceeds of official merchandise was also donated towards the relief funds.
Official crowd estimates put the number at 500,000 people attending the concert, but it felt (and looked) like far, far more than that. The unofficial crowd estimate was over a million people so I don’t know who to believe. Regardless, SARStock made the record books as the largest outdoor ticketed event in Canadian history, and one of the largest in North American history.
It was an all-Canadian event: vendors sold Alberta beef in support of the Canadian beef industry, which had recently suffered because of a case of mad cow disease. In gentle, polite, mannerly, well-behaved Canadian style, there were no major security incidents that day, which was amazing given the crowd size.
Co-hosted by Canada’s own Dan Ackroyd and Mike Bullard the band lineup was a mish-mash of Canadian (English & French), American and English talent, mostly retro acts but good retro acts if you know what I mean. The day’s lineup was:
The Have Love Will Travel Revue
The Tea Party
The Flaming Lips
The Isley Brothers
The Guess Who
The Rolling Stones
And all of this for only $21.50.
Each band (full concert setlist below) performed for about 15 to 20 minutes but stage/equipment teardown and setup for each act seemed to take forever. There was a lot of people scenery between acts, however, to keep anyone occupied. The Stones and AC/DC sets each took over 90 minutes, so you could certainly tell who the headliners of this gig were.
This was one of the best and most fun days of my life. My memories of that day are:
In my entire life, I’ve never been in a crowd this large – that in itself was an experience. You can imagine the chaos of over a half-million people sprawled pell-mell on the grass with no organization whatsoever. If you had to leave your group for whatever reason, the only point of reference for your return were the numbered speaker stacks in the audience. If you failed to notice the number on your speaker stack there was little chance you’d ever find your group again. I remember it taking me over an hour just to get to the water and toilets – I missed Justin Timberlake’s set entirely (oh noooooo!) while I was gone, so I failed to witness firsthand the legendary water bottle-throwing incident (more on that, below).
It was one of those rare summer days in Toronto where, instead of haze and humidity, the sky was absolutely clear and deep blue, not a cloud in sight, and it was HOT, very hot!
Party. Absolute, sheer party. Period.
I spent this day with my good friends Janice, Richard and his son Pete. What a great time we had. I’ll never forget Janice smuggling in her bottle of vodka. The security line we were in at the entrance gates was conducting frisk-searches, so Janice hopped over one line and – as luck would have it – they bypassed her for a frisk search. Happy days.
Here we are as we stepped out of Downsview subway station to make our way to the concert grounds:
Justin Timberlake was booed by the crowd, who were anticipating the harder-rocking second half of the concert. Throughout his performance he had to dodge water bottles, toilet paper, muffins, and other items thrown by the audience. This was definitely a hard rock/classic rock crowd and Timberlake was the odd man out with his lightweight pop styling. He later returned to duet with Mick Jagger on Miss You; at that time the crowd was scolded by a visibly pissed off Keith Richards for their earlier treatment of Timberlake.
THE GUESS WHO
So awesome to see the original lineup back, if even for a precious few numbers. To me, the Guess Who is synonymous with growing up in the early 70s on the Canadian prairies – their music was everywhere and was entrenched in our culture. My older brother was a big influence in my memories and impressions of the Guess Who; he had a few of their earlier records and played them often around the house (strains of Albert Flasher, No Time and New Mother Nature drift through my mind when I think of those days).
THE FLAMING LIPS
The Flaming Lips invited artists from backstage to dance on stage with them dressed in fuzzy animal costumes. I, for one, was never a Flaming Lips fan… I just don’t get them…
I am not an AC/DC fan by any stretch of the imagination (OK, OK, I owned a copy of Back In Black as a teenager… who didn’t?), but they put on a show like the city has never seen; they absolutely stole the entire concert. AC/DC played a balls-to-the-wall (as they used to say in the ’70s) 70-minute set. Most of the crowd were there expressly to see AC/DC and didn’t really care so much about the previous acts. AC/DC were onstage just before the headlining Rolling Stones, but the AC/DC set absolutely blew away the crowd, driving them into a frenzy. I’ll never forget Angus Young dropping his pants and mooning the audience with an enormous Canadian maple leaf emblazoned on his shiny boxer shorts.
When the Stones finally did take the stage it was anticlimactic, almost bordering on disappointing, compared to the live bolts of lightning that was AC/DC. It was truly an odd thing: a huge amount of people began to leave during the Stones set (sorry, I can never get this thing of leaving in the middle of a performance to beat the traffic home – such an annoying Toronto thing).
Here’s a YouTube that shows the intensity of AC/DC as they played for the massive audience that day:
CLOSING OF CONCERT & THE JOURNEY HOME
As you can imagine, it takes quite a while for a crowd of half a million or more people to disperse. People were slowly drifting away halfway through the Stones’ performance but Richard and I stayed until the very bitter end to see the last cannon fired, so to speak. I believe it was somewhere around 1:00AM when we made our way out in the departing wave of humanity (Janice and Pete had left earlier in the evening, long before this mass exodus). It was absolutely impossible to get back on the subway at nearby Downsview station, so we walked all the way across Sheppard Avenue West from Downsview Park to Yonge Street where we somehow were able to get on the Yonge line with tens of thousands of other people heading home.
I’ll never forget that walk Richard and I took across Sheppard Avenue with so many of the other concertgoers who also decided to walk to Yonge Street. It was a crowd tens of thousands strong, and there was such a crazy party vibe in the air – absolute jubilation, with everyone still on a high from the heat and music of the day. When we did finally reach Sheppard station on the Yonge line it was jammed beyond comprehension, so we waited in queue for about another hour until we could stuff ourselves on one of the trains (the TTC had arranged to run all night that night in order to get everybody home). We finally got out of the packed subway at Yonge and Bloor and made our way home across Bloor Street East. All told, it was about 3:00AM when I stumbled through my front door. Luckily Richard and I both had the next day off work, which was a Friday.
Here then, for posterity’s sake, is the setlist for the entire day. I’ve tried to be as complete as possible but there may be one or two songs missing here and there. I compiled the setlist from my own DVD copy of the concert and several miscellaneous Internet sources, so there could be some inconsistency. For the most part, though, the day’s music ran as follows:
The Have Love Will Travel Revue (Dan Ackroyd, Jim Belushi & supporting band) Intro With Skybox Ballroom Pump
Sam Roberts Don’t Walk Away Eileen Brother Down Where Have All The Good People Gone?
Kathleen Edwards One More Song The Radio Won’t Like Mercury 6 O’clock News
La Chicane Viens Donc M’voir Le Yâb De St. Nitouche Le Fil
The Tea Party Temptation Sister Awake Heaven Coming Down
Blue Rodeo Trust Yourself Hasn’t Hit Me Yet Lost Together
Sass Jordan High Road Easy You Don’t Have To Remind Me Brand New Day Make You A Believer (with Jeff Healy)
The Flaming Lips Race For The Prize Do You Realize?
The Have Love Will Travel Revue I’m Gonna Dig Myself a Hole
The Isley Brothers Fight the Power I Want to Take You Higher It’s Your Thing Put Yourself In My Place Who’s That Lady Summer Breeze Shout
Justin Timberlake Señorita Cry Me a River
The Have Love Will Travel Revue Time Won’t Let Me
The Guess Who Hand Me Down World No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature Takin’ Care of Business (BTO cover) American Woman No Time
Rush Tom Sawyer Limelight Dreamline YYZ Freewill Closer to the Heart Paint It Black The Spirit Of Radio
AC/DC Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be Back in Black Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap Thunderstruck If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) Hells Bells The Jack T.N.T. You Shook Me All Night Long Whole Lotta Rosie Let There Be Rock
Encore: Highway to Hell
Rolling Stones Start Me Up Brown Sugar You Got Me Rocking Tumbling Dice Don’t Stop Ruby Tuesday You Can’t Always Get What You Want It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It) Miss You (with Justin Timberlake) The Nearness of You (Keith Richards, lead vocals) Happy (Keith Richards, lead vocals) Sympathy for the Devil Rock Me Baby (with Malcolm & Angus Young from AC/DC) Honky Tonk Women (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Encore: Jumpin’ Jack Flash
A DVD of the day’s concert was released later in 2003, although it has omitted quite a few of the original tracks. I assume this is to fit the concert on a 2-disc DVD release. That’s a pity, as I’d like to relive the concert as a whole, regardless of how many physical discs are required. The DVD is probably no longer produced and marketed, so it remains a keepsake item for me.
There has never been a crowd and concert like this in Toronto, before or since. It was truly a unique experience and I’m so very glad I was a part of it. I’ll never forget that hot, cloudless, wonderful day in Downsview Park.