The White Stripes are one of the world’s biggest rock bands. It’s only fitting that their summer tour includes some of the biggest venues in North America: New York’s Madison Square Garden (capacity: 20,000), Fairfax’s Patriot Center (capacity: 10,000), Whitehorse’s Yukon Arts Centre (capacity: just over 400).
Yes, you read that right. The same band that can fill the most prestigious arena in the country also played a city whose entire population could fit into that arena.
The band is playing all 10 Canadian provinces and the three territories: Whitehorse in Yukon Territory, Yellowknife in Northwest Territories and Iqaluit in the eight-year-old Nunavut Territory.
“We want to take this tour to the far reaches of the Canadian landscape. From the ocean to the permafrost,” Stripes frontman Jack White said in announcing the groundbreaking tour.
It’s either the silliest or the smartest move in years by a top-tier band. It probably cost the band thousands of dollars extra to get that far north, and they must have forgone thousands more in ticket and souvenir sales.
But they’ve gotten many hundreds of inches in publicity and made many hundreds of devoted fans.
To understand just how unusual it is for a band of their stature to play the tundra, listen to the last great shows Northerners have seen.
“Kid Koala, January ‘07. Before that, Hawksley Workman, December ‘06. These are about as big names as we generally get,” says Whitehorse’s Andrew Hoshkiw.
“In the last year or so we’ve had Kim Mitchell, George Jones and Great Big Sea,” says Aaron Foley, who just left Yellowknife. “I think the one that stands out is the Jim Byrnes concert with Steve Dawson and Jesse Zubot … I would say the biggest band was the Barenaked Ladies, who apparently came north on the ‘Gordon’ tour” — in 1992.
Yellowknife’s John Burridge says, “I could have checked out Canadian acts like Little Miss Higgins — out of Saskatchewan, I think — or the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir.” (Who?)
Dave Brosha of Yellowknife has to go back two years to find a truly memorable show, the alt-rock duo Tegan and Sara. “We get the sporadic ‘70s rock band, like Trooper, and some Canadian acts like Kim Mitchell and Great Big Sea, but a really well-known band or artist — pretty much never,” he reports.
Aside from George Jones and Barenaked Ladies, have you heard of any of those artists?
I’ve only heard of a few of them — and I’m from northern Canada. Edmonton, to be exact, the northernmost North American city with a metropolitan population over one million.
I know a bit about the concerts such a city gets. My father, a single dad, didn’t believe in baby sitters. So when the music lover went to a concert, I got to tag along. We weren’t as bad off as the territories. I saw Aerosmith, Genesis, and Def Leppard growing up. (My dad wrote a note excusing me from homework the night of the latter.)
Still, it seemed like the very best artists always passed us by. I remember, as a Beatles-obsessed teenager, when Paul McCartney made his first solo tour in some time. The only Canadian stops were in Toronto and Montreal. We almost made the trek to Quebec, but it was expensive. Instead, we went south to Calgary to see Depeche Mode. Even a synth band couldn’t make the trek north.