Last week, residents from across Southwestern Ontario, and beyond, gathered to attend the return of Start.ca Rocks The Park at Harris Park in London, the popular music festival that began back in 2004 when bands like Blood, Sweat and Tears, Alice Cooper and Steppenwolf were the headliners.
Skip ahead 18 years and we come to the 2022 festival with multi-genre headliners Alanis Morrissette, The Glorious Sons, TLC and Dierks Bentley.
The festival began Wednesday with a solid lineup of alt rock including Alanis, Garbage, The Beaches and Crash Test Dummies.
While the Alanis performance will go down as a celebration of angst and as one of the bigger artists to visit the festival, her show was plagued with a few hiccups at the start, including the intro video abruptly stopping, her band coming out sounding as if they didn’t have a soundcheck, her microphone not working for two songs, and so on. Fans quickly forgave Canada’s hitmaker as she plowed her way through a large repertoire of songs swaying back and forth as she crossed from one side of the stage to the other. Once the sound was fine-tuned and all was well, her band performed phenomenally and Alanis began showing off the traits that the fans came to see and hear.
Garbage was a total surprise to many. The female fronted Madison, Wisconsin band was excited to be in London for the first time and showed it with a passionate set loaded with a career spanning set, mostly featuring songs from their popular 1998 album Version 2.0, as well as a few from their latest album No Gods No Masters. The band was stellar from top to bottom and vocalist Shirley Manson was remarkable, not only with a solid voice, but with a charm that won the crowd. It was a clever set that included their big hit Stupid Girl early on, telling fans that the best was still to come. Still containing all its original members, Garbage won the night with their strong performance and powerful songs.
The Beaches were one of the highlights of the entire festival. The Toronto all-female pop-punk band nailed it. They had energy, passion, style and they kicked some serious ass. Each member dressed in their own in bright colour, giving their presentation a strong sense of unity and excitement. The 2018 Juno Award winning Breakthrough Band of the Year left little doubt as to why they’re the band to watch for.
DAY ONE PHOTOS by Dan Savoie
Day two was rock night and featured a star-studded line-up of Canadian talent beginning with singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Conor Gains. Gains’ music is a combination of multiple genres such as R&B, southern rock and pop and his solo set was a nice warm up for the evening playing to the early crowd.
Next up were Antigonish, Nova Scotia natives The Trews who are always a crowd pleaser with their energetic shows and sing-a-long songs that had the crowd singing along. Singer Colin MacDonald told the crowd it had been 9 years since they last played the festival on a bill with The Tragically Hip and Gord Downie at that time had said how great it would be to stage a tour like Bob Dylan’s Americanarama Tour with all Canadian bands. “Well, tonight it finally happened! We have the greatest bands in Canada playing together in one show!” MacDonald declared to loud cheers from the fans.
Big Wreck took the stage next for a ten-song set featuring some of their biggest hits. They opened with Fear and Cowardice off their latest EP 7.2 and also played Bombs Away from last year’s 7.1. Big Wreck was the heaviest act of the evening and Ian Thornley can’t help but remind me of the late Chris Cornell with his powerful vocal ability.
July Talk is a real treat to see live. The chemistry between singers Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay is like nothing I’ve ever seen and their stage presence is just amazing. Musically the juxtaposition of Dreimanis’s gravely baritone and Fay’s light and airy vocals really works to great effect and I’ve become a very big fan of their music. It’s musical theatre when they perform and they command attention on stage along with some pretty great visuals projected on the large screen behind them. At one point Fay sang while balancing a bottle of beer on her head for quite a period of time. I can’t wait to see them again; they’re an exciting live band!
The Glorious Sons kept the energy up for their closing set of the night. Singer Brett Emmons walked out alone with an acoustic guitar to start the show under four white spotlights with the rest of the band coming out shortly after to jump in and crank the energy up. Emmons in denim jacket and pants and barefoot was every bit the rocker bounding back and forth across the stage and jumping from subwoofer to subwoofer in front of the stage to get up close and personal with the fans. The band got some of the loudest reaction for hits Mama and S.O.S. (Sawed Off Shotgun). Towards the end of the show Emmons asked the crowd if they wanted the band to go off and wait to get called back for an encore or to just keep going. Well of course they just kept going. The crowd was lifting them this night and they didn’t want to ruin the momentum.
DAY TWO PHOTOS by Dan Boshart
Friday Night was a feast of retro artists, including TLC, Aqua, Ja Rule, DMC (formerly from Run-DMC), Jenny Berggren (formerly of Ace of Base), 112, and 2 Live Crew.
The two surviving members of TLC kicked out the jams with a full set of hits, including the opening track Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg. The audience clearly enjoyed the massive hits and swayed back and forth to songs like Creep, No Scrubs and Waterfalls. Loaded with backup dancers and a pretty cool DJ, the duo was a special treat for R&B fans, because London rarely gets R&B of this scale.
Scandinavian band Aqua was the absolute highpoint of the entire festival. The colourful and vibrant main characters of this massive 90s hitmaking band, best known for the song Barbie Girl, were so much more than that one track, they were a full 90 minutes of quirky dance music and flamboyant fun that produced the loudest cheers, the brightest smiles and the biggest dance moves. René and Lene, who were backed with a real band and dance team, will reign as 2022 Rock The Park champs. Let’s hope they return to London for another gig in the future.
Ja Rule was pumped for his show. The American rapper, as predicted, went shirtless for much of his performance, making many of the men his age take note of his finely tweaked muscles and chest – he made it hard to ignore.
Darryl McDaniels, best known as rapper DMC from legendary act Run-DMC, brought his metal band The Hellraisers with him, cranking out an awesome aggressive attack on the unsuspecting crowd, who expected a classic hip hop show. It was a welcomed modern take on classic rockier Run-DMC hits like Rock Box. The set closed with a harder version of Walk This Way.
Jenney Berggren, known for her vocals with Ace of Base, has been performing solo for a few years, performed much of her solo material and gave the fans a couple Ace of Base nuggets, including All That She Wants and The Sign.
DAY 3 PHOTOS by Dan Savoie and Whitney South
The festival closed with a massive country spectacle featuring Dierks Bentley, Ashley McBryde, The Reklaws and Breland.
Bentley and McBryde have been on tour with the Beers on Me North American Tour since late May across the US and this show is the first of two Canadian dates on the tour (the other being the massive Lasso country music festival in Montreal being held August 12-13). As expected, Bentley crams as much energy as humanly possible into one show. Fans that have seen him before, know this well. Tonight, the star was joined by one of his original duet partners for the first time – Breland, for Beers on Me.
Ashley McBryde is a very soulful performer and she didn’t disappoint. She may have “Never Wanted to be That Girl”, but on Sunday, she WAS the main girl that mattered. She also joined Dierks at his show for a moment to sing Up on the Ridge and a cover of The Devil Went Down to Georgia.
The Reklaws are 519 area favourites and although they’re originally from down the road near Cambridge, London has always been one of their performing mainstays. This time, the band enjoyed a set of mainly hits, including Wish You Were Beer, Long Live The Night and closing anthem What The Truck, the fastest Canadian country song to reach 1 Million domestic streams.
Breland was a highlight. The young American performer is the go-to guy for adding some modern sounds to country songs, making him the essential man for a duet. His show was powerful and enjoyable, plus he won new fans when he took to the audience.
DAY FIVE PHOTOS by Whitney South
It’s great to have a festival like this back in action after two years of COVID craziness, especially with the loss of several festivals like Bluesfest Windsor. Londoners, and guests alike, united for the love of music – all kinds of music – in a peaceful and memorable five days of fun and festivities. If you haven’t taken in a week of Rock The Park in years, or you’re still hesitant to attend, it’s the biggest and finest festival in Southwestern Ontario, and we guarantee you’re missing out on some of the most incredible memories you’ll ever have.
Written by Dan Savoie and Dan Boshart