THE WEEK

Benefit rock

JONATHAN DURBIN July 28 2003
THE WEEK

Benefit rock

JONATHAN DURBIN July 28 2003

Benefit rock

THE WEEK

Sympathy for the Toronto concert-goer

“If Jean Chrétien climbed to the top of the CN Tower and declared that Toronto was safe and SARS-free, no one would believe him,” says Liberal Senator Jerry Grafstein. “But if the Rolling Stones come to Toronto, everyone believes it.”

So goes the logic behind the July 30 Rolling Stones-headlined festival at Downsview Park, an abandoned armed forces base dab in the middle of Canada’s largest metropolis. The concert, organized by Grafstein, a voluble Trudeau-era fixer, and the equally loquacious Toronto MP Dennis Mills, along with music promoter Michael Cohl and Molson Inc. president Dan O’Neil, is meant to portray Toronto as a hotbed of fun, not disease. Also, to turbocharge Toronto’s tourism business and pay tribute to the front-line health-care workers who bore the brunt of the SARS crisis. With low ticket prices and $5 million in government seed money, promoters are anticipating an even larger turnout than at Woodstock in 1969. As one of the world’s largest, most politically correct rockfests, it should have no peer.

Profits from tickets and merchandise will be split between the hospitality and nursing

industries. Tickets ($21.50 in Canada, US$16) are capped at 500,000, and 60,000 have been sold south of the border. Grafstein invited the entire U.S. Congress—now there’s a fun group. “But there won’t be any VIP treatment,” says Mills. “Everyone’s going to be drinking out of the same plastic cups.”

The concert features a star-studded lineup, including the aging, but still sexy, Rolling Stones, “Jailbreak” bad boys AC/DC, tweendream Justin Timberlake and acid-hippie weirdos the Flaming Lips. Interspersed are Canadian stars like Sam Roberts, the occasionally Amerophobic Guess Who, virtuoso arena rockers Rush and alt-country goddess Kathleen Edwards. Additional attractions consist of a half-mile-long barbecue pit, where grilling teams from Alabama, Australia and across Canada will burn up a batch of Canadian beef.

Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, who once denigrated Prime Minister Chrétien for being more infatuated with SARS and the

Rolling Stones than the mad cow problem, will take a turn with the tongs. There will be kosher meat. There will be halal meat. The message “Eat the Beef” will be emblazoned on grillers’ aprons.

For security, police Chief Julian Fantino has promised 1,200 of his officers. And promoters are trying to enforce very un-Woodstock-like restrictions, including no blankets (for body-tossing), no umbrellas (for eye poking) and, at one point, no homemade sandwiches. Rules made to be mocked. “Even Mary Poppins wouldn’t be allowed into this concert,” one alderman said.

In a late-hour compromise some previously banned items—like beach towels and softsided coolers—will now be allowed. No one wants a repeat of disastrous concerts past, like the debacle at Altamont when a young man was beaten to death by a Hells Angel (the biker gang was hired as security). But that was 34 years ago when the Stones were young. Now they’re a middle-aged attraction. “This isn’t just a kid’s show,” says Grafstein, “If you’re young, you’ll come to see Justin Timberlake. If you’re older, you’ll come to see the Stones.” And that, folks, is the diseasefree spirit of rock ’n’ roll. Toronto-style.

JONATHAN DURBIN