05/24/2013 10:47 EDT | Updated 07/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Halifax Shaped My Musical Evolution

When I was growing up in Halifax in the early 1980's, good concert opportunities were few and far between. If you wanted to see a band playing original music, you often had to do a bit of digging and be willing to venture to recreation centres or churches. In some ways, if you wanted to see a band, you basically had to start a band.

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DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 09: (L-R) Patrick Pentland, Chris Murphy and Jay Ferguson of Sloan perform at St. Andrews Hall on November 9, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Paul Warner/WireImage)

The first concert I ever went to was the tribute act known as Beatlemania! performing at the Halifax Metro Centre in 1981, but I'm not sure that really counts. Nor does the time before that when I saw John Allen Cameron playing in a barn somewhere in rural Cape Breton. What actually should have been my first concert was KISS and Cheap Trick playing at the Halifax Forum in 1977, accompanied by my babysitter, Rhonda Joy. Sadly, my mom was having none of it.

Growing up in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the early 1980's, for anyone who had not reached legal age, good concert opportunities were few and far between. Our city on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean was not really a regular destination on most band's tour itineraries, likely due to being a full day's drive from Boston or Montreal and it wasn't on the way to, well...anywhere. Perhaps the size of the population in relation to most major touring markets made it a bit of a financial gamble for artists as well.

If you were of age, of course there were acts playing in bars weekly, but it always seemed like they were more often than not playing covers or plundering the catalogue of well worn and wooly sea shanties. If you wanted to see a band that was playing original music, you often had to do a bit of digging and be willing to venture to recreation centres, small university venues, churches or abandoned storefronts that were rented out for the weekend. It was community based. In some ways, if you wanted to see a band, you basically had to start a band. As a result, I think it was due to this isolation that a healthy and supportive underground music scene was fostered in Halifax.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, another outcome of Halifax's relative isolation was that it seemed like every arena concert that arrived in our hometown was a bit of an event, whether you were underage or not. You might end up going to a show whether you were a total convert or a casual fan. I can only really speak for myself, but I think this would explain my seemingly random ticket stub accumulation at the end of the mid to late 1980's, containing names such as :

The Beach Boys (1982 with Dennis Wilson...and Brian(!!) who wandered on and off stage from behind his white grand piano, randomly, sometimes in the middle of songs)

Frank Zappa (Recommended by my guitar teacher. Mr. Zappa walked onstage in grey sweatpants/ white tank-top ensemble and proceeded to play guitar with his back to the audience. Not a fan.)

Billy Idol (On the Rebel Yell tour, hence not a giant catalogue to pull from just yet. Therefore we got lots of Generation X songs, which was a major bonus. Opening act = Platinum Blonde.)

Paul Young (I drove around Europe with my Dad in 1983 for 10 days with only 2 cassette tapes. Paul Young's "No Parlez" and R.E.M.'s "Murmur." I became intensely familiar with both. R.E.M. were never coming to Halifax, so watching Paul throw and twirl his mic stand 20 feet in the air would have to suffice. Good singer.)

Tina Turner (Private Dancer tour. I have no idea who would have accompanied me to this concert.)

Stevie Wonder (The loudest concert I've ever been to. I only knew one song at the time, but converted immediately. I bought a fashionable light blue sleeveless tour shirt.)

Neil Young (Of course, I wish I'd seen a show with Crazy Horse, but this time his backing band were the Country Harvesters with bib overalls and straw hats...coming hot on the heels, logically, of both his rockabilly and synth pop LP's. So predictable. )

Public Enemy (Post-"It Takes A Nation Of Millions...," but pre-"Fear Of A Black Planet." Professor Griff and the S1W's had their fake uzi's confiscated at Halifax International Airport. They had to make do with just pointing their fingers in the air. More Canadian in a way, but a bit less menacing. All members of Sloan in attendance two years before formation. Still likely the only band we can wholeheartedly agree on.)

I'm not sure the exact point that I'm making here, but it really seemed that due to the weekly star attractions in bigger centres such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, one might just decide to go to the concerts by acts you were already familiar with. And rightfully so. Yet in Halifax, with only a handful of concerts per year due to our geographical position, you might venture out to a show by an artist with which you were less familiar due to less entertainment choice, and thus perhaps becoming a fan of an artist you may not have given much consideration before.

Or, alternately you just went and started your own band.

Sloan play the Music Festival on May 25 at Echo Beach in Toronto.

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