words & pics by Matt Williams
“This goes out to family,” yelled Damian Abraham, wearing a red CBC beach ball on his head that he’d ripped apart with his teeth. “I make babies. At least two of them so far.”
It’s the second day of Field Trip. A little bit darker than the day before, with a spattering of welcome rain, but the music is just as good, or better. I’m here with a member of my extended family, Jack Jonasson. He once ran the best bar and live music venue in Winnipeg, a place called the Lo Pub. Bands like the one I used to be in drank a lot of beers for not a lot of money and became intertwined with staff and friends there in irreversible ways, solidifying relationships that might prove thicker than some blood. They made sure you were never thirsty, that you got paid, that you were taken care of, and that you got home safe, wherever home was.
Jack and his ilk are the kind of people who understand the importance of second families. They’re important for everyone, but there is a specific kind of support that goes on within artistic communities that those communities would not survive without. People who will borrow for you when they have nothing, and show up every time you play. People whose couches are always available to sleep on, and fridges open. People who will risk life and limb for you because they know you’d do it for them.
Those families are why Field Trip exists.
Sorry if it sounds like I drank the kool-aid. It’s because I literally drank the kool-aid: the Drake General Store concocted their own boozy Field Trip drink, and I had a couple.
Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES talked about driving in from the airport, playing a game trying to name as many great Canadian bands as possible. They had to eventually just end it.
“There’s too much good shit that comes out of your country,” she said. Just before that, Constantines had ended their second show in four years with a massive, ear-shattering rendition of “Arizona,” loud enough to compete with the engine of a fighter jet, with the energy of pissed-off teenagers. And stage right was a pair of tiny kids, dancing to every note, almost running out into the middle of the stage. Toward the other stage, youngsters hula-hooped, made crafts, played giant versions of board games. Strollers were parked as close as safety allowed to take in bands like Gord Downie and The Sadies. Small hands held small drinks in small cups.
This might all seem like the antithesis of rock ‘n’ roll. But what nobody tells anybody about rock ‘n’ roll is that you grow up just the same as everyone else. You get older, you gain weight, you have kids. The only difference is that, in a lot of occupations, there is some security in place, some net there to catch you if you fall. That’s something rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t have. And it’s the exact reason why those families are so important. When artists make the choice to create art, they take a very dangerous risk – one that in many cases involves being completely vulnerable to the world, and sharing things with people that most others might take to the grave. Without family, those risks can make it hard to simply just stay above ground.
Winnipeg is full of those families. And it’s those families are growing. It’s important to protect that, but just as important to shout about it from the rooftops. Right now, the closest thing the city has to a celebration of that, to something like Field Trip, is BIG FUN, which has the beautiful potential to be one of the country’s best live music festivals. It’s the most Winnipeg way of doing live music possible: thrown into the middle of freezing January, sometimes ending up in “legions” and curling clubs, screaming as loud as possible to let people know how important something like it is. It’s run by family. And it needs support in every way, because it can’t happen without it.
I can’t reveal how, but I ended up backstage for the heavyweight enders. Broken Social Scene is a band that has understood the importance of this family concept since the beginning, and it helped them define the artistic aura of an entire city. I watched with Amy Millan’s mom while Kevin Drew brought his dad up on stage. More kids ran around the side of the stage, eventually quieting down after the set with hugs from Drew and Charles Spearin. And everyone involved had no trouble remembering just what it was that originally brought them together, because it was always impossible to forget. The same feeling you get when you reminisce with your ex about the Lo Pub or look at that photo you took of The Weakerthans when they played Fallow at the Albert all those years ago. Or listen to that album you and your best friends made.
So when you hold your ticket to BIG FUN or any other show that your friends or friends of friends are putting on, remember what you’re doing: building a family.
Matt Williams, regular Stylus contributor, has made the move to Toronto. Keep up with his antics and writing @MattGeeWilliams