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Mike Jones Picks His Favourite Things of 2023

525,600 minutes. How do you measure a year? So asks Jonathan Larson in the classic Broadway production Rent which Swamp Rat Experience premiered in Fort McMurray this year (more on that later).

This was a year that seemed to never stop ticking as the weeks and months started to blend.

Personally, I formed my own concert company in 2023, franchised a trivia company, acted out my dream theatre role on stage and crossed many concerts off my bucket list. I also recoiled in horror as natural disasters affected family and friends, watched helplessly as my father continued to battle cancer, and wept uncontrollably when friends became victims of the Opiates/mental health crisis. But as “Seasons of Love” teaches us, why not measure time in love? The moments we loved, the people we loved – let’s focus on that.

FAVOURITE LOCAL CONCERT

The Trans Canada Highwaymen / Joel Plaskett – Wood Buffalo Ribfest

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After opening up the concert season with Stephen Page at Keyano Theatre back in January, Fort McMurrayites were pleasantly surprised to hear Page would be making an encore performance, but he wouldn’t be coming alone. Packed alongside other CanCon kings of the 90’s Chris Murphy (Sloan), Moe Berg (The Pursuit of Happyness) and Craig Northey (Odds), Page & co. delivered an excellent evening of nostalgia for the large crowd in attendance. The band erupted onto the stage with “Someone Who’s Cool” which was the number two hit for Odds in 1996 before hitting “It’s All Been Done” from Stunt the album which broke the Barenaked Ladies in the United States. “Hard to Laugh” and “The Other Man” from The Pursuit of Happyness and Sloan, respectively followed. The band continued rotating through hits of each of the members’ former bands, with an original and other covers sprinkled in. In addition to sharing lead vocals, all four members rotated other instruments including the drums with Chris Murphy sharing the majority of drum duties but trading off for Page, Northey and Berg for Sloan songs.

Equally talented on the lineup was Halifax, Nova Scotia singer-songwriter Joel Plaskett. Performing as a solo act, a lot of East Coasters had waited a long time for Plaskett to make his return and he did not disappoint. Sticking to mostly his solo work, Joel surprised the crowd by switching from acoustic to electric guitar for “Through & Through & Through” a popular song from The Emergency (Joel’s rock group). Another highlight was teaching the crowd to sing along to his brand-new campfire song, Hey Moon. Plaskett’s biggest singalong came with the set closer “Nowhere With You” which had lots of dancing at the barricades.

FAVOURITE MUSIC FESTIVAL

When We Were Young 2023 Las Vegas

Was it financially responsible to drop almost $2,000 on concert tickets and a hotel over a year in advance of a music festival? No. Was it financially responsible to wait until three weeks before the show to book flights to Las Vegas? Also, no – but at least we know that was our fault! With an absolute star-studded lineup of pop-punk, emo and ska bands from our childhood we knew we couldn’t afford to miss this festival, held at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds next to Circus Circus.

This felt like the warped tour on steroids. We lined up at 9 a.m. in order to pick up our VIP wristbands from will-call. The extra cost of VIP ended up being well worth it with over 85,000 people packing the festival. The wristband allowed us better stage views as well as access to our own washrooms and shaded areas – which proved ever-important with temperatures hovering around 35 Celsius until the evening acts.

When gates opened slightly before 11 a.m., we rushed through the security checkpoints and made our way across the 37-acre site to one of the two main stages to check out Fenix Tx, a band we had wanted to see since high school. Other than a handful of small venue warm-up shows, the band themselves hadn’t played since 2018, but quickly got things started launching into “Phoebe Cates” before abruptly stopping during the bridge. “Oops – we weren’t supposed to start yet!” Music festival attendees know how often stages run late, so it was very refreshing to see one run early. We cracked the first adult beverage of the day (nearly $20 Canadian for a tall boy!!) and walked a few feet over to the second main stage, with alternating bands to catch the start of The Ataris set which earned a giant singalong for their cover of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer”.

The first of many scheduling conflicts hit us as we had to sneak out halfway through their set to catch La Habra, California’s Zebrahead on one of the side stages who started the day’s first circle pit. The festival may have been called “When We Were Young” and our brains and hearts were transported back to high school but our knees and lower backs were not, so we chose to limit our mosh pit activity.

We finally took advantage of the shade in VIP and enjoyed the more mellow-sounding Motion City Soundtrack and Something Corporate off of our feet back at the mainstage. Our group decided to remain for an extra set, but I couldn’t resist getting up close for New Found Glory who were quite possibly my favourite band in grade 10. The pop-punk juggernauts had everyone singing along to “All Downhill From Here”, “My Friends Over You” and a rather unexpected cover (for non-NFG buffs, at least) of Frozen’s “Let It Go”.

More stage-hopping followed with great sets from Yellowcard, Citizen, Finch and Goldfinger, who brought out Skateboard legend Tony Hawk to sing “Superman”, a song synonymous with the Tony Hawks Pro Skater series. Back on the main stage, All Time Low brought the day’s biggest surprise to date bringing out Avril Lavigne to join them on “Fake As Hell” and her own smash hit “Sk8er Boi”. Sum 41 was up next and introduced pyro to the stage, although I left early to finally catch a glimpse of the ever-elusive MxPx.

The more you travel, the more you realize it truly is a small world we live in and Fort McMurrayites are notoriously well-travelled but I still didn’t expect to run into (literally, in this case) Wood Buffalo Food Bank Executive Director Dan Edwards in the MxPx mosh pit. Even though I had just seen them three nights in a row earlier this year I wasn’t going to miss my favourite band Rise Against so I rushed back to the main stage and politely moved my way as close to the front as I could get for the Chicago foursome’s set, which may have been the rowdiest of the day. Ryan Key from Yellowcard joined lead singer Tim McIlrath for the ever-popular Swing Life Away (my high school graduation song) as the sun set and gave attendees a well-earned respite from the heat. Rise Against obviously drew quite the crowd as getting back to the back of the crowd took almost the entire Good Charlotte set.

Every music festival is bound to have a few disappointments, and that came next. After catching a bit of Saves the Day, I made my way to the main stage to catch 30 Seconds to Mars. Acclaimed Hollywood Actor Jared Leto swung around the stage in a superhero cape but it wasn’t enough to make up for the large amounts of boisterous backing tracks and piped-in crowd vocals which was a stark contrast to the pure musicianship of Rise Against and The Offspring who followed.

I left their set early and caught the end of Canada’s own Simple Plan before having the opposite effect happen. I’ve been a big Say Anything fan since moving to Fort McMurray and hearing “Alive With the Glory of Love” many times at Tavern On Main Open Mic nights, but had also heard the band was going through a rough patch and wasn’t necessarily the best live. Boy, were the critics wrong. Lead singer Max Bemis led the band through what might have been the best set of the entire day. Although it wasn’t 100% polished, the enthusiasm of both the band members and the crowd led to one of the best vibes of the day with a super loud singalong to “Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too” leading into the aforementioned Glory.

Smiling faces were everywhere to be seen but the night was far from over with sets from Thrice, The Offspring, AJJ and Less Than Jake. Having just seen Blink-182 months prior at Rogers Place in Edmonton I opted to go and see Bowling For Soup who had eluded me over the years, but we were fortunate enough to catch Blink’s set on the second, identical day of the festival – and they sure delivered! A rarity for music festivals, Blink-182 played a full 90-minute set complete with a flying Travis Barker (on the less windy Day One, anyways), pyrotechnics, and an encore of their brand new song “One More Time” which made even the most cynical Blink fan tear up. But, the night was still not done.

We jockeyed for position and prepared for the almighty Green Day to take the stage. The band, who have only played sporadic shows since last summer’s stadium tour were fully recharged and ready to go, even debuting new songs “The American Dream is Killing Me” and “Look Ma, No Brains”. For my money, Billie Joe Armstrong is second only to Freddie Mercury in his ability to hype up and control a live audience. We loved this trip of nostalgia and all of the bands were absolutely amazing, but Green Day was on a completely different level. The festival organizers did an amazing job with big screens and booster speakers making sure you could see and hear no matter how far back you were, but with Green Day you could FEEL their performance anywhere on the site. This presence will translate nicely to their 2024 Stadium Tour with Smashing Pumpkins and Rancid, which sadly will only be hitting Toronto and Montreal’s Osheaga Festival in Canada.


FAVOURITE NEW SPOT IN TOWN

  • Drum Brewing

FAVOURITE ALBUM

  • “The Death of Randy Fitzsimmons” – The Hives

Honorable Mention:

  • “One More Time…” – Blink-182
  • “The Mockingbird & The Crow” – Hardy

FAVOURITE NEW MUSICAL DISCOVERY

  • 100 gecs

FAVOURITE MOVIE

  • Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

FAVOURITE TV SHOW

  • Shoresy

FAVOURITE SPORTS STORY OF THE YEAR

  • Jalen Hurts MVP Campaign for the Philadelphia Eagles

FAVOURITE OUT-OF-TOWN CONCERT

  • Wu-Tang Clan & Nas at Rogers Place

Honourable Mentions:

  • Rise Against Metro Residency @ The Metro Chicago
  • Blink-182 @ Rogers Place
  • Gogol Bordello @ Midway
  • Coheed & Cambria @ The Palace Theatre
  • The Flatliners / Audio Rocketry @ Starlite Room

About the author

Author Profile
Mike Jones

Mike has called Fort McMurray home for the past eight years. A true man about town, Mike loves supporting local artists and small businesses by using his platform to promote them however he can. In his spare time, you can find Mike checking out new music, drinking craft beer or managing his fantasy football team!

Mike strives to live life to its fullest and adopts a glass half full perspective. He is a constant promoter of all things positive in Fort McMurray and can’t wait to help share the Good News with you!

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