ROCK REBORN: REGENERATION FOR A NEW GENERATION
Article & Photography by Michael Worthington
Some get a kick out of hiking, others get a kick out of attending major sporting events. Me? I get a kick out of live music and a killer atmosphere alongside it, which is exactly what Rock Ambleside Park 2017 delivered.
Three days of pure bliss for fans across Canada; Ambleside’s first multi-day festival provided some of the best in entertainment to thousands here in Vancouver. And despite featuring bands from before my time, at 22, I was far from the youngest fan present.
AND SO IT BEGAN.
The transition from the calm into the storm was nothing short of a flash of excellence, as music lovers, fans, families, friends, and loved ones flocked the venue in anticipation for the lineup on Day 1. The gates opened, and the crowd was quick to spring to action, filtering in the line that seemingly had no end. People gathered around in anticipation for Harlequin to take to the stage.
And take to the stage they did.
In the best possible fashion, the Rock Ambleside Park festival truly began. Thunderous applause and joyous cheers erupted from the audience as the first act of the weekend was introduced.
And what an act it was.
The crowd sang, the crowd danced, the crowd cheered, and the crowd glanced up at the talent on stage. Harlequin performed with flow so flawless it was like magic to watch. Up close and personal with the artists on stage, the crowd and I could almost feel the sweat drip from George Belanger when he waltzed over to the edge of the stage to wipe his brow.
That, coupled with the effervescent guitar solos bestowed unto us by Derrick Gottfried, was enough to blow any festival-goer away.
But it was more than just a series of songs; it was chemistry at its finest. Bassist Paul McNair, Gary Golden on the keys, and even (though confined to his kit) drummer AJ Chabidon – as well as our noted guitarist and lead singer – all interacted on stage. Everyone – whether on stage or not – was having fun.
And while they couldn’t remain on stage forever, we were soon graced with the presence of the Stampeders, who gave nothing short of a breathtaking follow-up to an already-stellar start to the weekend.
Fans cheered, cheered, and cheered some more as classic after classic was brought to life, even, at one point, bringing the classics of Ray Charles to the stage once more with a suave rendition of Hit the Road Jack.
Needless to say, I was jumping for joy with everyone else.
Vocalist and lead guitarist Rich Dodson rocked a double-neck guitar in the Stampeders set, with drummer Kim Berly, and bassist Ronnie King doubling – even tripling – the rich vocals on stage.
And while they say that all good things come to an end, the evening was far from over as the sun finally set.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
The suns departure marked the arrival of the final act of the day. If the music and cheers weren’t loud enough for anyone present, as Platinum Blonde took to the stage, there was certainly a noticeable increase in decibels.
With Mark Holmes leading vocals, with his bass in hand (despite having once been relieved from said duties in ’85), Platinum Blonde brought the audience back to life as the sunlight died down in Vancouver, partnered in the foreground by Sergio Galli on guitar.
But it wasn’t over until the bass dropped, which Mark Holmes effortlessly delivered, hoisting his bass high in the air and catching it as it fell, marking the end of Day 1.
(Single photo credit: Alex Lee)
The crowds filtered out, eager to get home, sleep, and brace themselves for Day 2.
THE CROWDS RETURN
As the weekend booted up once more for the return of some classic rock, I had the chance to talk to fans of all ages. From 20s to 40s; from 40s to 60s; from 60s to 80s. Fans were excited – some beyond words – to see some of the bands they grew to love.
One man in particular I remember saying that back when he was young and the performing bands were rising stars, he chose not to listen to them, thinking he wouldn’t like them, and believing he’d found ‘better’ music (whatever that may mean).
But as the years went on, he returned to the classics of rock that he’d once neglected only to find just how much he loved their music. So there he was! Living through experiences he’d once brushed aside, and creating long lasting memories that he can cherish forever.
In contrast, I also got to speak to a young and recent university graduate, fresh out of the University of British Columbia. Now, naturally, one might assume that a young man like himself came for the atmosphere, perhaps to enjoy some music – regardless of how familiar it may have been – and to have a good time with some friends out in the park.
And what an inaccurate assumption that would have been.
Much to my surprise, I had stumbled upon another fan who, like me, listened to the beautiful classics of the 80s and 90s. This was a soul ripe with passion for the resurgence of rock in our beautiful Vancouver sunshine.
And though Prism didn’t take to stage until Day 3, I think this is as fitting a time as any to call upon the words of Al Harlow, lead guitarist and vocalist for Prism, whom I got to talk to on Sunday:
“All our friends and fans make it possible for us to continue. If the audience is there, I feel like we’re all in this together.” – Al Harlow
And believe me when I say everyone came together that weekend. Even more so when Helix took to the stage, signifying the true start of Day 2 at Rock Ambleside Park.
ROCK LEVELS RISING
And with Helix’s entrance to the stage, the lives, the spirits, and the cheers were revived, as the crowd raised their arms and called for the rock to rise once more.
Through every air kick, every leap on stage, and every swing of the mic, the charisma of lead singer Brian Vollmer was instantly felt, and amplified with the cheers of the crowd as he continued to entertain.
Alongside Darly Gray on his stand-out bass, Chris Julke and Kaleb “Duckman” Duck on guitar, and Greg “Fritz” Hinz on the drums, the stage was graced with the heavy metal feature of the weekend, marking a strong beginning to Day 2 of Rock Ambleside Park.
And while it’s near impossible to pick a stand-out performer, it’s always worth mentioning the exceptional performances of some of the newer band members.
Chris Julke, who had only joined the band back in 2014, delivered an equally as charismatic performance as long-time members Brian Vollmer and Daryl Gray, and a flawless act on his guitar on the far right of the stage.
But not only did Chris Julke prove himself worthy to any skeptical bystander in the crowd, “Duckman” continued to prove his worth as a member of the band, having been brought on stage with them back in 2009, with pure class, calm, and composure – guitar in hand.
MORE ROCKING, MORE ROLLING
The end of Helix’s set on stage marked the start of a 30-minute break for everyone to gather themselves, grab food, and grab drinks, before returning for the start of the next act of the day: Nick Gilder & Sweeney Todd.
Singer/songwriter Nick Gilder took point as the frontman of Vancouver-based Sweeney Todd once more, proving his vocal range and ability is still as pure as it always has been. Coupled with his vocals came the charming smile and charisma that so many had fallen in love with. He moved – nay – he glided across the stage, microphone and stand in hand, as he welcomed the audience as much as they welcomed him.
A band known for being active on stage didn’t fail to disappoint, as guitarist Dave Groves and bassist Mark Kenny took it upon themselves to climb onto the drummer’s stage and leap off of it – still managing to play their respective instruments flawlessly. But if that wasn’t enough for the crowd, each of them took it upon themselves to climb atop the speakers and inch their way closer to the adoring fans.
SUNSHINE’S SWAN SONG
Be sure not to let the subtitle fool you – the night was not over yet. But the final band to play in daylight came in the form of Honeymoon Suite, who most certainly continued the positive mood in the park.
Because as the sun went down, the smiles kept on shining – both on stage, and off – as the fans continued to cheer, and the bands continued to play.
And as has been the case with all of the performers, it wasn’t just the lead singer – in this case, Johnnie Dee – who was smiling up on stage as he moved around. Lead guitarist Derry Grehan sported a smile on numerous occasions as he, too, rocked the park.
BACH FOR MORE
And if the three bands prior were not enough, fans were sure to come back for more as Randy Bachman took to the stage as the darkness began to rise.
Bathed in the deep purple, the fluorescent yellow, and the calming blue of the stage lights, Randy Bachman delivered a performance so memorable to the fans that days after leaving the stage, I’m still left in the comfort of my home singing Taking Care of Business – which, fittingly, is exactly what he did.
Fueled by coffee and excitement, the crowds returned in even larger numbers for Day 3 of Rock Ambleside Park. To start the day, Prism took to stage, with Al Harlow sporting his deluxe golden pants and a suave series of jackets to compliment his performance on stage.
“It’s pretty special to be playing in your hometown. When you look out there and you recognize a few hundred of the people it’s a bit nerve-wracking – when all your friends are there, the scrutiny is on. So, what do you do? You roll with it.” – Al Harlow
And rock and roll with it they did.
The fans here in Vancouver did an exceptional job at welcoming home Al Harlow – North Van, born and raised – and having spoken to Al Harlow after his show, he was nothing short of grateful for the reception the fans from home gave him.
“Thanks to everybody for still being with us. Canadian rock lives! All our friends and fans make it possible for us to continue. If the audience is there, I feel like we’re all in this together. With the fans out there, lord willing, we’ll keep on doing it!” – Al Harlow.
THE ROCK LIVES ON
The acts that followed Prism on Day 3 of the 3-day music fest in Vancouver continued to lift people up.
The headpins took to the stage as the first of the final three. Having spoken to members of the audience after their performance, it was amazing to hear that despite the change in lineup, people couldn’t help but notice that their music has maintained its incredible quality, its raw heavy rock feel, and its authentic grace.
So much so that I even came across fans who, upon listening to the songs played on stage, hadn’t actually realized that the lead vocalist had changed!
And then came Glass Tiger to wrap up the music bathed in sunlight. Vocalist Alan Frew sported a cool and casual look, as the band was soaked in the stage lighting and the sunlight falling behind the tree lines at the park.
Calm and collected on stage, Al Connelly on guitar, and Wayne Parker on bass gravitated towards each other on numerous occasions, sporting smiles, and a calming aura in their performance.
THE CLOSING ACT
Last, but certainly not least, April Wine took to the stage to complete the Ambleside hat trick, and to bring Day 3 to a close.
Myles Goodwyn took center stage as the front man and lead vocalist since ’69, and as he delivered a vocal performance to remember and enjoy, the fans (and the cameras) got just as much love from lead guitarist Brian Greenway.
Who, despite the fun faces and smiles to the adoring fans, knew how to look like a real rocker too.
And as the cheers erupted once more, the lights on stage turned off for the last time, bringing an end to Rock Ambleside Park 2017. Fans were left smiling, and thrilled at the chance to see some of their favorite bands and musicians live, on stage, here in Vancouver.
Now, whether you noticed or not, I was very careful not to say that April Wine was the final act of Rock Ambleside Park. Because, while it may be true that they closed this year’s festival, Rock Ambleside Park will be returning once more in 2018 – prepped to be bigger and better than its opening year.
So, do your best to contain your excitement, but let the anticipation build as we ALL, once more, ready ourselves for a weekend to remember.
Rock Ambleside Park 2018 will return to Vancouver bigger and better than the last. And as for this year’s festival, I can safely say I’m happy to have been a part of the birth of such a fantastic weekend.