"Toronto's Woodstock" Won't Be
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“Toronto’s Woodstock” Won’t Be

2003’s SARSstock, which the Imagine Concert once threatened to rival. Photo by Christopher Drost

We’ve got some good news to tell you about the Imagine Concert, and some bad news. Which do you want first? How can we even tell the difference at this point?
Since we were the first to tell you of the huge plans to put together the mega-super Imagine Concert at Downsview Park, and the delays it’s faced, and its being pushed back to Labour Day weekend, it seems only right that we’re the first to let you know it’s still going forward—but only as a shadow of the dream it once was.

Instead of hundreds of thousands coming out to recreate the spirit of Woodstock at ninety dollars a pop, organizers now hope for about forty thousand on each of the two days, and admission will be free with a donation of two non-perishable items for the Daily Bread Food Bank.
We were tipped to the news late last week and were holding off, pending further information, when the concert’s website was unceremoniously updated, spilling the beans over the weekend.
The bands…right. Imagine’s organizers continue to maintain that the headliners are yet to come, but what we’ve seen so far is less than impressive.
Chubby Checker‘s the biggest name so far, and he could be a great undercard act, much as the Isley Brothers were at SARSstock. But it’s not a good sign when he’s virtually the only recognizable name.
Ever heard of Colby O’Donis? Jet Black Stare?
Well, they’re about as big as it gets, unless you count “the Imagine Jam Band,” which’ll feature guys like Steve Lukather from Toto.
The full list includes Ellis Hall of Tower of Power, Rockabilly Legends, Points North, Ronny North, Mick James is Dead, (I am) Isis, Saunders Sermons, Pat Kelly & The Core, The Brilliancy, Atlantis Blueprint, Youngbloods, Nobody Lives Forever, A Thousand Shades of Cold, Stemm, Austin White with DJ Mist…you get the idea.
It’s not that those people aren’t talented, but they’re not names. They’re not Pearl Jam, they’re not Paul McCartney or Roger Waters, and they’re not Radiohead. They’re not even Nickelback.
What do we know about what happened, and what can we tell you? Imagine paid a deposit to Downsview Park and signed contracts with artists, meaning the show basically had to go forward lest the organizers take a massive bath.
Did the organizers have a bit too much hubris and naiveté? No doubt. But a hint at the reason for their lack of success may have come in a tweet by co-organizer David Kam from June 19, saying, “We are the underdogs. Worlds [sic] largest concert organizer and ticketing company out to shut down our event for charity. David vs Goliath.”
Once upon a time, you see, there were hundreds of concert promoters across the continent. Then there were dozens. Now, tickets, venues, and bands are more centralized than ever. Once Imagine’s organizers chose to work on their own terms rather than in tandem with big-name promoters like Live Nation, they likely had little shot at artists like U2, Jay-Z, and Madonna.
From others, we heard that the timeframe was always too ambitious, that it takes two years to put together something of this size. SARSstock came together far faster, but it also had the promotional muscle of Michael Cohl and the immediate support of every level of government. From day one, the dreamers at Imagine were in a hole.
And yet, they thought they could pull it off. They hired a New York PR firm, they put tickets on sale, and they got first-class artists like Damien Hirst to paint guitars for a charity auction—which could still go ahead, still raise millions, and still make something positive out of this mess.
On the off-chance that you already ponied up for tickets you will be reimbursed, and the press release we saw mentioned the continued existence of a VIP package with “front of line access, private food and beverage area, free access to VIP parties, exclusive stage viewing, free downloads, imagine festival program, cool SWAG and a chance to WIN an exclusive meet and greet.” So there’s, perhaps, that.
When Kam, a Montreal artist, dreamed the whole thing up, he named the festival after the quintessential John Lennon song, the one that imagines all the people changing all the world. Now the Imagine Concert reminds us more of another Lennon tune, “God,” with its plaintive assurances that “The dream is over….And so, dear friends, you’ll just have to carry on.”