A new documentary released this week is rocking Kitchener-Waterloo -- and the box office.
Rock This Town, about the history of the music scene in the region, is already a hit, having sold out more than seven shows at Princess Cinemas, with more shows continuing to be added as long as people are coming.
When filmmaker Betty Anne Keller saw how hard musicians and music venues were being hit during the pandemic, she knew she had to something about it.
“Everybody's so burned out by the COVID experience that there are other bigger issues to deal with. But I've decided this is my issue,” she said. “So I made a film.”
Keller was a concert promoter in the 70s, and eventually ended up working as the culture manager for the City of Waterloo. In 2014, just after she retired, she started recording oral histories from her friends in the music business.
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them. But when the pandemic struck and I realized the impact it was having on the local music scene, I decided to make a film, to try to tell the story of the 60s and 70s, the acts that toured here.”
“It was a different world, of course, but we really were part of the touring picture in Canada at the time. And I thought it was important to tell that story.”
In the 60s and 70s, the region was a hot spot for music, filled with record stores and live music venues, and attracting all kinds of world-class acts, like Led Zeppelin and Rush.
That all started to change when the internet became widespread, and even more so when CDs came into production. As the music industry shifted, there became less of a demand for live shows.
“It was a complete game changer for the music business,” she said.
The bulk of the film focuses on the history of the music scene in the area, but it does get into when it started to change.
“I'm really trying to start a conversation in the community with this film,” she said, adding that she hopes people will see what the music scene was, and what has been lost over the years, like the Rhapsody Barrel Bar and Starlight Social Club.
Seeing this, she hopes, will inspire them to get out to festivals this summer, and support the restaurants and bars who offer live music.
“Because if we don’t, we’re going to lose more,” she said.
“And having a live music scene in a community really adds value to the experience of living here. Everybody wants to move to Toronto, I get it, because there's a scene there. It's kind of built in. But frankly, there's no reason why we can't have a scene here.”
Although she wants to spark a rock renaissance in the region, she’s not sure it will ever return to the former glory that is highlighted in the film. Instead, she expects a new kind of measure for success.
“My measure is that a kid born and raised in Waterloo Region takes up guitar and could spend his or her whole life in Waterloo Region, not having to go to New York or LA or Toronto to make a living,” she said. “Because the more artists that live in our community to stay here, the more interesting this place will be.”
Local musician Matt Weidinger is one of the people interviewed in the film who meets that criteria. He was included in the film, because she wanted to offer the perspective of a young musician making his life as a professional musician.
“And he’s living here,” she said. “And to me, this is a huge success story.”
When asked how to make Kitchener-Waterloo a music city again, he said they are already a music city, listing all the places he gets to play, and all the people who continue to support him.
“And it gives me an optimistic feeling that there is a bright future for the music scene here in Kitchener,” she said.
You can get tickets to see the film here.
It will likely be adopted into the curriculum for students at University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, and she hopes to have it shown after its run in the region in Hamilton, after which she plans on pitching it to screen at the provincial level.