2020's Best in Entertainment
My favourite picks in music, theatre and more from an unusual year
Well, here we are at the end of another year, and it’s time for us to celebrate the arts in Wood Buffalo and beyond!
I’ll try my best to spare you any “these unprecedented times” lines, but despite the COVID-19 shutdown, we had some phenomenal events in the early months of 2020 and then it was time to get creative and find different ways to celebrate!
Favourite Theatrical Production: Flashdance the Musical - Keyano Theatre Company
Before the lockdown, Keyona Theatre Company pulled off another amazing musical featuring a great collaboration with Generation Dance Studio. Star Helen Killorn put in an absolute workhouse performance, perhaps even more impressive, considering she also opened up her yoga studio in 2020.
Her chemistry with fellow lead TJ Carabeo and scene stealers Camryn Hannigan and Brittany Sutherland was outstanding, but the entire cast came together for a memorable night at the theatre. Who knew it would be our last for some time as a few weeks later, production halted on what would have been an incredible adaptation of The Great Gatsby.
Previous Winners: Lend Me a Tenor (2019) & The Drowsy Chaperone (2018)
In 2021, Watch Out For: Keyano Theatre has cancelled the 2020-2021 season, but with any luck, perhaps productions can resume at some point next year. Theatre; Just Because has also been wonderful in their attempts to resume some sort of normalcy – just check out their virtual Quarantine Cabaret for a taste of the amazing talent.
Favourite Concert: Good Spread at the Blackhorse Pub – January 2020
Although Good Spread has always brought an amazingly-fun high energy show in the past, they really took their show to the next level recently with the addition of second guitarist Troy McConnell. By incorporating further melodies and even a banjo their setlist has expanded greatly.
With the shared lead vocal duties of Corey McKeag and Nathan Robbins plus the always energetic Jacob Welsh on drums, it’s safe to say this great party band is due for even bigger things. A highlight of the set was a stripped-down acoustic cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” showcasing Robbins’ incredible vocal chops.
Honourable Mentions: Surface Below at Wood Buffalo Ribfest, Karman Muir at 57 North, Joe Rebel at Blackhorse Pub, River Jacks/Radium Scouts at Tavern On Main, Craig Moritz and Darryl John at East Village Pub.
In 2021, Watch Out For: Though it may be some time before we get the big MacIsland fieldhouse shows back, we’ve seen a fair amount of venues such as Blackhorse Pub and Paddy McSwiggins construct AHS compliant bubbles with Tavern On Main set to resume their Open Mic nights soon.
Most Unique Concert: Gord Bamford Live at the Drive-In
With a set-up at the Fort McMurray International Airport parking lot, I wasn’t sure how to feel about this show going in. I love Gord, and his band is among the tightest in Canadian Country music, but just how different would a Drive-In show feel? After seeing the success of Brett Kissel’s Drive-In shows in Edmonton, I was cautiously optimistic.
But this show blew me away. Although a little on the short side, country fans had a blast two-stepping with their cohorts in the beds of their pickup trucks. The only shame is this show happened at the end of September when it was getting too cold for more events of its kind to come. Look to see lots of shows like this in 2021.
Best Virtual Showcase: Arts Council Wood Buffalo’s Buffy Awards
Having attended the past three Buffys and enjoying this annual showcase of the artists that call Wood Buffalo home - I, like many others, wondered how this would translate to a virtual platform. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised!
The Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts was transformed (in ways not possible with a full audience) into a full-blown steampunk universe. It featured brilliant puppetry that would put Jim Henson to shame in the set that was built by Ekaterina Petukhova and brought to life by Dianne Pare.
The steampunk segments hosted brilliantly by Zachary Barrett and Elizabeth Wells were only part of the show as many incredible collaborations occurred, featuring outstanding talent like Daisy Mella, All Imaginary and DJ Q-Pid, among so many others. With a heightened focus on Multicultural and Indigenous performers, this proved to be such a unique event that was the talk of the town for weeks following.
Honourable Mentions: The Concert for Fort McMurray – in support of the Canadian Red Cross, this virtual concert hosted by Country 93.3 featured great Canadian Country stars like Brett Kissel, George Canyon, Tim Hicks, The Prairie States, Aaron Goodvin and a surprise performance from Fort McMurray’s own Aaron Lines.
The Borderpines – Twitch streams: Brothers Chris and Andrew Pottie took the scene by storm last year with their debut album Mother By Nature. This year, they were early believers among the Fort McMurray music scene in the streaming platform Twitch. Performing original tracks and great covers, taking requests and even raising money for local charities, the guys made each show unique and interactive. Bonus points for the puppy cam!
Showcase Favourite Local Music: Looking Up by Shantelle Davidson
Inspired by her experience during the 2016 Wildfire, Shantelle put together a fun and upbeat song in her album Looking Up, which was co-written by Dan Davidson and Clayton Bellamy of The Road Hammers. It elicited multiple requests on Country 93.3 as many listeners related to positive lyrics like “This is what we do when we get this low, there’s only one place that we can go.”
Honourable Mentions: There weren’t a lot of full albums released this year, but many local artists took the lockdown as a chance to write and record new music. I suspect we’ll end up seeing much more in 2021 as local companies like The District Recording Studio and AJP Audio Services continue to provide space for recordings.
Here are only a handful of the local singles released in 2020:
- Tyler Whelan - “Get A Newf”
- The Highsides - “Starved”
- Aaron Dean - “Heaven Please Rewind”
- Mychela - “I’m Not Gonna Stop”
- JF Roy - “Now I Know”
- The Bob Ross Quartet - “Roses Are Red”
- Adam MacLeod - “Fate”
(Tribute to Mr. Chi Pig)
Previous Winners - Album: Volt “The Grand Deception”, Olorin “Fringe”, The Radium Scouts “Waterways”, The Borderpines “Mother By Nature” (2019) 3 Fat Daddies “Hangry” (2018).
- Joe Rebel’s Darren Ehler performs in the newly-constructed bubble at the Blackhorse Pub.
- Shantelle Davidson performs at the Virtual Guitar Pull put on by Art Council Wood Buffalo and the Suncor Energy Center for the Performing Arts.
- Good Spread rocks the Blackhorse Pub in January 2020.
- Brett Kissel and many other artists came together to raise money for flood victims in a virtual concert broadcast on Country 93.3’s Facebook page.
- Gord Bamford brought his drive-in concert to the Fort McMurray International Airport and raised over 12k for the Canadian Mental Health Association.
- One of the final shows pre-lockdown featured Edmonton’s River Jacks at the Tavern on Main on March 15, 2020. Photos supplied