The first time I saw April Wine in concert there were 30,000 people who came out to see them. Or so their manger claimed in a series of advertisements he took out after the show to promote the band.
The whole truth was a little different. Yes, there were 30,000 people there. However no more than a handful were there to see April Wine, who were playing their first ever show outside the Maritimes.
It was Canada Day 1970, at Montreal’s Place des Nations, a free show to celebrate Canadian music, with bands from all over the country. April Wine were first up and received polite applause for songs like “Fast Train” and “Bad Side of the Moon” from their about to be released debut record.
The crowd was there to see The Guess Who, riding high on the success of “American Woman,” their first show with new guitarists Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw, who had joined the band to replace Randy Bachman.
Fast forward 45 years to last night at the Spencerville Fair, and there was no doubt, the crowd was there to see April Wine.
Early September is country fair season in the Ottawa Valley. This weekend alone there are fairs in Russell, Renfrew and Spencerville (and I’ve probably missed a couple). Most of them have live entertainment; frequently that means Canadian rock bands with enduring popularity that may be no longer on the pop charts. Artists like Trooper, Loverboy, Honeymoon Suite, Kim Mitchell, David Wilcox and, of course, April Wine.
The Entertainment tent at the fair was jammed. At least 3,000 people, maybe 5,000. Not a bad gate at $25 each. I suspect that for Spencerville, about an hour’s drive from Ottawa, this is as big as it gets. The audience was a wide mix, from people in their 60s to a surprisingly large teenage contingent.
For me this was an evening of nostalgia. That Canada Day show in 1970 was the first major rock concert I attended. But it wasn’t the last time I would see April Wine. Over the past 45 years I have seen them at least half a dozen times, starting off as opening act and then, by 1980, as major headliners.
The last time I saw them was a decade ago, an outdoor show. Rock bands get used to playing outdoors, but this show was exceptional. It was January, about minus 15, and snowing. Yet the band delivered a powerhouse set.
As they did again last night. April Wine play the hits, that’s what the crowd has come to hear. It’s tough to be critical when you are reliving your childhood – for the most part I had my music critic’s hat turned off. However, I did note that the vocal mix was muddy, which made the words hard to pick out. Not that it matters – the crowd already knew every syllable of songs like “Drop Your Guns,” Roller,” ”I Like To Rock, “Enough Is Enough” and ”Ooowatanite.” The set list was predictable, but I don’t think anyone was complaining. Some of the instrumental solos were a bit long, but I think that may be to allow singer Myles Goodwin to pace himself vocally.
An April Wine concert does bring up mixed emotions for me. I think of them as a young band, almost a new band, because by 1970 I already had formed my rock and roll tastes. They muscled into that and became a large part of the soundtrack of my teenage years and young adulthood. Just about every song has a memory attached.
The music takes me back in time; the sight of the band on stage reminds me of the passage of time.
High school was a long time ago. I graduated in 1972. I was a good student, more or less. That wasn’t true for all my classmates. One of them didn’t graduate, he kept skipping school. He already knew what he wanted to do with his life and figured he didn’t need any more education.
I’ve run into him occasionally over the years. Sometimes we stop to chat, other times one or both of us is in a rush. I saw him last night, though didn’t talk with him. The concert ended late and I wanted to get home. But I didn’t need to talk to him to find out what he was up to. He was doing the same thing he has done since 1977 – playing lead guitar for April Wine. Brian Greenway is still rocking after all these years.