National Music Centre’s Rock the Nation offers review of Canada’s most famous songs



It could be argued that Rock the Nation has finally come home. It just took eight years to get here.

From Jan. 28 to March 5, the musical will be based at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre. This was the initial plan for the production, which traces the history of Canadian music through our most iconic songs, back in 2012. That was when Jeff Parry of Annerin Productions and Jeff Parry Promotions had the first glimmer of inspiration for the show.

The Calgary-based producer was given a copy of Martin Melhuish’s Oh What a Feeling: A Vital History of Canadian Music. Parry met with the late Deane Cameron, who had just left his job as president of EMI Canada after the company merged with Universal. Cameron had access to the CBC archives, which included historic clips of Canadian artists. Parry had found worldwide success with Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles and thought he could do something similar on the history of music in the Great White North.

At the same time, momentum was building for a National Music Centre in Calgary. It seemed an obvious fit for the production. Parry had talks with Andrew Mosker, founding president and CEO of the NMC.

“It really never got a lift from that because he still had to build the building and this or that,” says Parry. “It never came together until now.”

Despite being conceived in Calgary, Rock the Nation was launched in Toronto in 2015. It had a short run at the Princess of Wales Theatre in the summer but was not considered much of a success.

“People loved it, but financially it didn’t do well,” Parry says. “In my mind, it was always something we should do at the NMC.”

Three years ago, plans were in place to bring the production to the NMC but it was derailed by the pandemic. Undeterred, the show went on. It just took until 2023 to get here. So now, a seven-piece Calgary band will be taking viewers through more than 50 years of Canadian music history.

The NMC is a perfect home for several reasons. It’s not only the official home of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame and the Francophone ADISQ Music Hall of Fame, but it has also taken the lead in educating the public about the country’s vibrant, if often unheralded, musical history.

Better yet, over the years it has amassed an impressive collection of instruments. Some are technical curiosities and some are notable for who played them.

“They are using Neil Young’s guitar, they are using Alanis Morissette’s harmonica,” Parry says. “So what I see now, and I hope it works, it’s been given a fourth dimension to the NMC … and they have the instruments there and are letting them use them. So it’s more of a natural organic fit, even more than I anticipated.”

The seven-piece band hails from Calgary and includes drummer Ben Montgomery, bassist Lisa Jacobs, Matty McKay and Graham Ko on guitar and vocals, Jesse Peters and Kate Melvina on keyboards and vocals and Zoe Theodorou on vocals.


The production has also been updated since its 2015 Toronto run, which ended with the 1980s rise of Bryan Adams. The new version still celebrates 50 years of Canadian music history with its focus on the songs of Paul Anka, The Guess Who, Young and Joni Mitchell, but has added tunes by hip-hop artists such as Drake and the Weeknd. Songs by Maestro Fresh Wes, k.d. lang, Avril Lavigne and Shania Twain will also be featured. Parry says he hopes the production will continue to be expanded. He hopes there will be a book based on the production and a tour.

That said, it’s not easy whittling down the history of Canadian music for one show.

“We are going to take heat for a lot of things because we probably don’t cover every base that we should, but the bottom line is all of these artists are Canadian but they are international,” says Parry. “It’s kind of like a hockey team. There’s always lots of players but you have to be on the first line to make it. We are talking about Neil Young, the Weeknd, Bieber, Paul Anka. That’s what is amazing to me. When you hear all these songs, you don’t realize what international effect we’ve had until you hear them all together. The coolest thing was that in Toronto, especially younger people would say ‘I didn’t know that was a Canadian band.’ ”

Rock the Nation will run weekends from Jan. 28 to March 5. Shows are 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2023

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