Budweiser Gardens 2016 Year In Review
If there's anywhere in London that I leave an extra deodorant and a hair brush, it's Budweiser Gardens. It's a second home to me at this point and I don't know why I haven't brought my spare slippers yet...
My name is Sarah Burke. I'm your local Afternoon Drive announcer at London's Best Rock FM96, and your in-game host for the London Knights this year. The staff at Budweiser Gardens asked if I would be interested in writing a guest blog for their website and the answer is yes! A thousand times, yes! To ring in the new year, I'm going to pick my Top 5 experiences at Budweiser Gardens in 2016 and we'll look ahead to some amazing shows that are coming in 2017. And like a friend who you refer to by their nickname, Budweiser Gardens and I are at the point in our relationship where I will refer to the venue as BG for short.
Before I start, there's something I have to say. No one is paying me to say this. No one is giving me a little nudge to say nice things about this venue. This is the truth and nothing but the truth, from the heart of a local concert-goer and sports nut. As someone who literally plans my vacation days around concerts and sports in fabulous destinations; I believe that Budweiser Gardens is the BEST live music and sports venue in our country. I've seen a Canucks Stanley Cup playoff game in Vancouver. I've seen the Foo Fighters at Fenway Park. Growing up in Toronto, I've been to the Rogers Centre and the Air Canada Centre too many times. With all of this in mind...the view and the vibe in London Ontario's Budweiser Gardens will win every time. The crowds are full of MY people, the seating map guarantees' a better view from wherever you may be sitting, and the London Knights dominate the Ontario Hockey League year after year. Dear Toronto Maple Leafs, maybe you could just take a page outta this book from just west on the 401...
We are so lucky to have this venue in London!
Now I have to decide where to start, the worst. There were so many great nights just down the road from the radio station, but there's a clear #1 thinking back to my FAVOURITE moment at BG in 2016...
1. The Tragically Hip - August 8th, 2016
It was the most emotional concert I’ve ever been to. My boyfriend and I caught each other with glassy eyes more than once on this evening with our old friends, The Tragically Hip. We weren’t alone. Gord Downie himself, knew this was a special city, admitting that London will always hold a special place in his heart as the city where he met his wife. It’s one of our favourite live bands. We rarely miss a show in or out of London. The Hip has played BG many times but this time was different. This time, we were watching frontman, Gord Downie perform in a new light. Terminal brain cancer did not stop this band from touring in support of their new record, Man Machine Poem. Terminal brain cancer did not stop Gord Downie from prancing around on the BG stage with his classic dance moves in a ridiculous metallic silver jacket, making that fedora and feather famous on this tour – a tour I’m so glad we got to experience at HOME! We had tickets to one of the Toronto shows too but this night was too magical for words. We gave them up with our hearts already too full.
From August 8th, 2016:
Do you know anyone who can’t sing along to Wheat Kings or Ahead by A Century? It’s hard to find someone who isn’t familiar with that unmistakable voice, and the sweet sounds of The Tragically Hip, a little bit country, a little bit blues, and a lot of rock and roll. The soundtrack for an entire country weaves through thirteen albums and a band with the same line-up now as in 1984 – Gord Downie, Rob Baker, Paul Langlois, Gord Sinclair and Johnny Fay. How many bands can say that, these days?
Maybe I’m just being all sentimental because it’s the Tragically Hip’s final show in London, Ontario today, but I think many Canadians have been feeling this way at some point this summer. I know I’m going to cry tonight. It’s hard to imagine that this band’s live run will come to an end on August 20th when they play their hometown show in Kingston, Ontario. Maybe I feel like I’ve taken the band for granted? Working at FM96 has given me the privilege of seeing this band live many times. Twice at Rock the Park since I’ve lived in this city. Twice at Budweiser Gardens. How many times have I seen this band live somewhere on Canada Day? I can’t count how many Tragically Hip shows I’ve seen on one hand and for that I am far too lucky.
Although I always knew of the band, this band’s true value didn’t become clear until 2007. I was living in a house on Mill Street, right beside the Ceeps, downtown London. You can still see what was once my bedroom window looking out on to the front porch of that ugly blue house that you can’t miss, on the south side of the street close to Richmond. Three girls lived upstairs…three girls lived downstairs. The girls upstairs were in their final year of university at UWO. The three girls downstairs, myself included, were only in our second year. For six girls from completely different backgrounds with completely different interests, we somehow found one thing in common. The Tragically Hip was a soundtrack we could all agree on to set the stage for a great night. Little Bones to start the night out with some beers, and Bobcaygeon to wind down after a night out at Ceeps. Age and background didn’t matter, the Hip was playing and we didn’t have to have much more than that in common.
The Tragically Hip is not just a band. The Tragically Hip is Canada’s soundtrack. The Tragically Hip has been playing around a backyard fire, a camping trip, and on a cottage dock at some point during your life, and mine. The Tragically Hip is both a comfortable and effortless background for any summer day, hockey game, or road trip. The Tragically Hip is my band, and yours. The Tragically Hip may not play live again as we know them, but we’ll have the music and memories forever.
I realize I’m being a little more sappy than you’re used to, but, tonight’s it. So sure, if you’re going to Budweiser Gardens for the show, take one picture. Take a short video. Give yourself a memory of a beautiful night in London, Ontario with one of the best live bands in the world and thousands of your closest friends. But, don’t you dare get lost in your phone. Not tonight.
For the record, we sang loud, we air-guitared, we wiped tears from our faces and hugged total strangers. I've never felt closer to a band or thousands of people. I will never forget this night.
2. London Knights Home Opener - September 23rd, 2016
The London Knights moved their broadcast rights over to Corus Radio London this year which means you can now hear every game live on AM980 with Mike Stubbs, and you can hear me between whistles live at every home game.
From day one it's been a thrill. The opening ceremonies at the home opener (which I was really nervous for, by the way), a Remembrance Day salute for our Veterans, fighting for #1 in the Ontario Hockey League and collecting thousands of teddy bears for the Salvation Army annual Teddy Bear Toss, what a start to my first season with the team. It doesn't matter how tired I am at the end of a long week. When I turn the mic off at Corus at 6pm and head to the BG for your typical Friday KNIGHT in this city, the crowd gives me and this team more energy than a coffee ever would. There's only been a few times that the guys have lost at home and that's because of the incredible fans that push them to keep going.
It's kind of fun wearing a hockey helmet during intermission games on the ice, too. I would be lying if I didn't say I kind of like it, despite helmet hair (please refer to hair reference at top of blog).
3. Elton John - September 29th, 2016
My friends make fun of me all of the time because I'm a 60 year old man inside - and by that I mean my soul yearns for classic rock. This was my second time seeing Elton John at BG and thankfully this memory replaced one in which I took a guy as my date who basically broke things off a week later. AFTER I TOOK YOU TO ELTON JOHN!? By now, you've heard that my girl Sherrie Rains is leaving FM96 to focus on some new things in 2017 - this was the last concert I saw with her and I know it won't be the last. It's funny how you can tell yourself you're going to stay in because you've been out too many times in one week and you're broke, and all it took was a text from Sherrie to convince me we can't miss SIR Elton John. I'm so glad she sent the message...his performance was stellar. There aren't too many guys who can still sing with the quality of voice that he has at 69. And, this city offers another special connection for an international artist - his partner, David Furnish went to University at Western. It's pretty cool that I can say, "me too!"
4. Canadian Country Music Awards - September 11th, 2016
What a week and what a night! There I was, rockin' & rollin' along, when we heard that Budweiser Gardens would play host to the 2016 CCMAs, a HUGE week for the Canadian music industry. I thought to myself...I'm not sure if I care but man, this will be a busy city that week! Little did I know, that attending a few events and listening to some of the hardest working musicians in the country would ignite a little country music flame in me. It was the LAST thing I expected of myself. I found a way to embrace the week leading up to a magical night at BG when fully engulfed in songs about whiskey and trucks, I realized I had to find a way into the sold-out, live-to-air broadcast. Thanks to Country 104's Brad Janssen for letting me be his date, it was my first time watching a live TV broadcast as a member of the audience and I am so lucky I was able to attend in the city I call home in a world-class venue!
5. Win It All 5 Give Away - November 18th, 2016
It's been a tradition for five years now at FM96 - every year we've given away two tickets to everything at Budweiser Gardens for a year including Knights & London Lightning tickets, broadways events and concerts, maybe even an NHL Pre-season game or Rookie Tournament! It's a little contest we call WIN IT ALL. With five editions in the books, here's what I can tell you. The winner becomes an extended member of the FM96 family. The winner becomes our go-to concert reviewer. The winner has a story from every event (which they've enjoyed with a fabulous view, as close as front row). The winner becomes the most popular person in their family and circle of friends with those two weapons - tickets to everything. Congratulations again to our 2016 winner, Brian Fraser, who will enjoy 2017 at Budweiser Gardens. It was such a rewarding experience to show up at a listener's home who wasn't expecting us to give him the good news.
Shout out to Brad Minnice who won it all back in 2015 and got to enjoy everything from The Tragically Hip and Elton John to a Memorial Cup run for the London Knights this year!
Our Lady Peace, I Mother Earth & The Standstills - October 27th, 2016
Three bands that I love, one stage. Just the right amount of 90s nostalgia complete with a big moment for a local band. This would be the first time that Jonny and Renee from The Standstills would perform on the Budweiser Gardens stage, in the city where they became a band and a couple back at Fanshawe College.
Renee also grew up in London...I'll never forget this email I received from her father ahead of the show:
I would appreciate any help you could offer me. I also wonder if I could ask one other small favour from you. Please know that nobody asked me to do this. In fact Renee gets really annoyed with me when I "try to help". LOL!!
When you are talking about the show on air, could you try to encourage fans who are going to the show to come out early to catch The Standstills' performance. I have many ideas for doing that but I have to keep reminding myself that you are the professional and I am NOT. Would it be asking too much to encourage your "brothers-in-arms" to do the same? Simply put it would be great to see the kids play to a full house or at least a fuller house in Renee's hometown. (sorry about the bad grammar!!). I promise you will not be disappointed by their show except to say that it wasn't nearly long enough!!
Thanks again Sarah for your time and I look forward to hearing back from you.
Jeff Couture, aka Proud Dad
Brit Floyd - March 21st, 2016
Because Cam Grant (the Bud Gardens Sound Guy) would scold me if I didn't include it, and rightfully so. As close as I'll ever be to Pink Floyd with Roger Waters & David Gilmour. I swear it was just as good as the real thing.
And before I wrap this thing up...a special thank-you to Cam Grant in the sound room, who not only let's me stash my deodorant and hair brush for Friday Knights when I'm going out after a hockey game, but even allowed me to use his comb before I was comfortable enough to make the sound room my personal dressing room! Aren't those the best knights to go out in the forest city, anyway? (For the record, he has better hair than I do).
2017 is looking mighty fine with Billy Talent and Monster Truck, Green Day and the Lumineers on tap for the first few months of the new year!
See you sometime in 2017, in the best venue of its kind in London and the whole country! I’m telling you, cheap seats or front row; there ain’t a bad seat in the house. Happy New Year!
Budweiser Gardens Enthusiast