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Rock the Nation returns to showcase Canadian music and history

By Ansharah Shakil, March 11 2024—

Studio Bell’s popular musical revue Rock the Nation has made a highly anticipated return this year at the National Music Centre (NMC), running every weekend from Jan. 27 to Apr. 28. The revue includes local artists performing Canadian hits from the 60s to the present. 

“The show is [a] multi-generational […] journey through the history of Canadian hits that have transcended our borders,” Scott Henderson, music director of the show, told the Gauntlet

Henderson, who was a student at U of C, explained that curious students can attend the show to learn about the Canadian artists and songs that became international hits.

“It also touches on the fact that Canada is such a multicultural country and all the hits come from a wide array of Canadians with all sorts of backgrounds,” he said. “For example in the 90s female Canadians dominated the charts, and it was really interesting for me to put the show together and learn just how diverse the artistry and the people that make our music is.”

Two matinee performances of Rock the Nation will be held every Saturday and Sunday, with each show lasting an hour. 

“One of the things that’s so exciting about the show is that it reminds us that as musicians and people developing our artistry […] and deciding to put that into the world, there is a space for us,” said bassist Lisa Jacobs, a cast member who will be performing in the show. 

Jacobs, who is also a former U of C student, advised students who are interested in the arts to put themselves out there, take risks and make connections with people, for example through going to open mics and jams. 

“This show is a celebration of […] the talent that we have in our city,” Henderson said. “[With] Lisa being one of the musicians in the show, it’s a real tangible opportunity for any aspiring young people or older people to come out and see working Calgary musicians of high calibre putting their talents on display.”

The line-up for the show includes artists like Bryan Adams and the Weeknd. One of Jacobs’ favourites is Alannis Morrisette, while Henderson’s is “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats.

“I really enjoy watching the audience react to the talent that they’re seeing on the stage and to some of the facts that are dispensed about the music [and] to songs they didn’t know were Canadian,” Henderson said. 

“The special thing about being a matinee show is that there’s a lot of kids there,” Jacobs added. “Last weekend a little eight-year-old girl came up to me because she was really excited about my bass guitar, and so I let her try it and I asked her what her favourite song was and she said it was Justin Bieber. So one of the things I’m feeling really excited about is watching all these young children get a chance to see instruments and watch the drums. Some of them are brave enough to come up and hang out with us and try things and talk about the music, and [they get to] experience music with their families and music that their families love.” 

When he attended U of C, Henderson recalls first hearing Maestro Fresh Wes on the radio, who is this year going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at NMC. Many of the artists in the show played at MacEwan Hall, like born-and-raised Calgarians Tegan and Sara.

“I remember when I was at UofC I would see posters for Tegan and Sara all the time,” Jacobs said. “That’s also an exciting part of the university, having been a part of the culture of music and arts in our country. And it’s so wild because [Tegan and Sara] wrote an autobiography and came back and filmed a TV show about their lives here in our city. The trajectory of their career has even come back to this place and created work here for Calgarians in music and the film world.”

For any U of C students who may not have yet experienced Studio Bell, when you come to Rock the Nation, you can also visit the museum to see the unique building and interactive exhibits about Canadian music history and how music has and continues to change our culture.

“Music provides a soundtrack to our [shared and personal] experiences. Music is what, you know, when you’re upset and you go to your room and you turn on to console you or to amplify whatever emotions you’re feeling,” Henderson said. “But music is also storytelling. It provides Canadians from all walks of life stories and sentiments and that’s the power of music, when […] it resonates and it crosses boundaries, cultures, borders. This show really makes that starkly apparent. Music is profoundly important to the human experience and we should be proud about our contribution as Canadians to the Canadian experience of sound.”

Both Henderson and Jacobs encourage students to attend the show to have a good time and be inspired by what they see on stage. 

“Any opportunity where we can experience live music and explore the arts and allow ourselves to be influenced by people doing live things, it causes a reaction inside of yourself and can pull you forward in who knows what kind of ways,” Jacobs said. “I think it’s important to get out and experience life and do things. As a student I feel like it’s hard sometimes to […] find new things to do in the city and so this is an opportunity to experience a new building and come downtown and see some music that is connected to the culture of this country.”

More information and tickets for Rock the Nation can be found on the Studio Bell website

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