It's Great To Be From Here

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Between the significant number of local acts on the bill at JunoFest and awards show performances by Randy Bachman, Neil Young, and Chantal Kreviazuk, it’s pretty clear that the first weekend in April is going to be bursting at the seams with local pride.

There’s just something special about Manitoba, something that Manitobans love but that non-prairie people don’t always get to see. So what better way to show it to them than by throwing that most beloved of local institutions… namely, a social?

With that in mind, the 2005 Juno Host Committee is presenting the Manitoba Social on Thursday, March 31st, at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. But this isn’t your ordinary assemblage of cheese cubes, rye bread, and plastic cups… while they will be quite ubiquitous, this social is bigger than that.

Titled The Flatter the Land, the Harder the Rock: It’s Great to Be From Here!, the Manitoba Social is going to feature live performances from Randy Bachman, the Waking Eyes, Doc Walker, and the C-Weed Band and a silent auction featuring art from the Graffiti Gallery. Proceeds will go to support MARIA, CARAS’ MusiCan education program, and Winnipeg Harvest.

“It’s a kickoff and it’s a party for the Juno weekend. It’s also a chance for us to showcase the bands from different eras,” says Manitoba Film and Sound head and Juno Host Committee chair Kevin Walters. “It’s great to be from here not only because of our rich musical heritage, but also because of the current day music community. We have more than a scene. We have a community here.”

If there’s a single comprehensive source for details about why exactly it’s good for a musician to be from that community, that would probably be John Einarson. The music historian and Winnipegger has made a career out of cataloguing the history of homegrown acts like the Guess Who and other classic bands like Buffalo Springfield. Einarson’s new book, Made in Manitoba, profiles the life and times of sixty of Manitoba’s most enduring acts… and it’ll be out right in time for the social.

“One of the constants I found when I was doing interviews for the book was that all of the artists I talked to have a real affection for the province,” says Einarson, whose book celebrates artists as diverse as Bif Naked, Harlequin, Tom Jackson, and 1960’s Francophone sensation Lucille Star. “They recognize that wherever you go across Canada, Winnipeg occupies a rare and special place in the history of music.”

The key to the current success of Manitoban acts, Einarson notes, owes in part to the inspiration of its past stars. Even Celtic folk artist Loreena McKennit looks up to the Guess Who as an influence, he says. “She thought, if they can make it from the prairies, anyone can.”

So why is it so good to be from here? Einarson attributes it to a number of factors, but the spectre of Winnipeg’s cultural and geographical isolation looms large. “A lot of artists said that playing music in Manitoba is very real,” he says, pointing out that the scene in Winnipeg emerged organically in community clubs in the 1960‘s, creating a tradition of live music that lasts to this day. “It isn’t commercialized, there’s not a big industry presence in terms of major labels. There’s an honesty to the music scene here.”

Fred Penner would probably agree with that. He may be one of Canada’s most iconic children’s performers, but the Cat Came Back singer is first and foremost a Winnipegger. He considered moving once, but in the end, being strategically positioned in the middle of the country was the right place for him to be. “Winnipeg is a city of great beginnings, because we don’t have that immediate influence from any other urban centre,” he says. “Because we don’t have to compete on that level on a day to day basis, we can develop our own style.”

One of the things that strikes Penner and Einarson most positively about Manitoba is the diversity of the scene. While Einarson notes that it’s incredible to have a scene that can support everything from Lee Aaron to the Weakerthans, Penner says that “within a relatively small community, the range of musicians here is world class.”

Well, it’s certainly enough to make a splash on the national scene… and the Manitoba Social will be in part a celebration of that tradition. Since the Juno Awards began in 1971 (being renamed from the original 1970 Gold Leaf Awards), Manitobans have had an often disproportionately big impact on the event. Joey Gregorash was the first Manitoban to win a Juno, picking up Oustanding Male Vocalist in 1972. The Guess Who followed suit shortly thereafter, capturing two Junos and four nominations in the 1970’s. Burton Cummings would later earn 19 solo nominations and four wins; Penner himself has picked up two Junos after nine nominations.

Amongst the numerous ranks of other Manitoban nominees and winners includes Loreena McKennit, with two Junos and eight nominations, and the Weakerthans, nominated in 2001 and 2004 for Alternative Album of the Year.

“Manitoba musicians have always been at the forefront of the Junos,” says Einarson. “They haven’t been left out at all. Manitobans always support their artists and appreciate the recognition that comes with the awards. To finally have the Junos here now, it’s just tremendous. It’s a recognition of how significant the province’s contributions have been to Canadian music.”

Tickets for the Manitoba Social are $20, available through Ticketmaster at 780-3333.

Article by Melissa Martin, originally appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of the MARIATALK newsletter

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