June 30, 2005

Small-town Canada under spotlight as Live 8 venue

By Cameron French

BARRIE, Ontario (Reuters) - Park Place in Barrie, Ontario,doesn't quite have the same ring to it as Rome's CircusMaximus, the Palace of Versailles, Hyde Park or the BrandenburgGate in Berlin as the venue for a rock concert.

Located about 60 miles up the highway from Toronto, Barrietypically registers as a blur on the high-speed drive northfrom Toronto to the picturesque cottages in the Muskoka region.

But Barrie's 120,000-odd residents are finding themselvesunder an unfamiliar spotlight these days as the site forCanada's Live 8 concert, and most are happy for the rare chanceto upstage Canada's largest city.

"People are having fun with it, it's all good. It heightensthe interest," Barrie Mayor Rob Hamilton told Reuters.

More than a few eyebrows were raised when concert promoter(and Rolling Stones agent) Michael Cohl named Barrie as thesite for the July 2 show, one of several co-organized by Irishrocker Bob Geldof to raise awareness of African poverty ahead aGroup of Eight summit of the world's richest nations.

Organizers admitted that Barrie, most recently ininternational headlines for a marijuana grow-op bust thatnetted more than 30,000 plants, was not their first choice.

Cohl told reporters that Ottawa's Parliament Hill was thetop choice, but it would have been too difficult to stage theshow just one day after Canada Day celebrations that typicallydraw tens of thousands to the location.

Toronto was also a likely host, particularly after thehighly successful SARS benefit concert in 2003, where more than400,000 fans saw the Rolling Stones, AC/DC and others performin a concert designed to promote a Toronto comeback after theoutbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

But in the end, a tight budget and a lack of preparationtime drew organizers to the Barrie venue.

"It's not easy being world class. And, to be frank, Barriedoesn't have much experience in the field," Jim Coyle of theToronto Star newspaper wrote last week.


Barrie hit the headlines in January 2004, when policeraided what they called the biggest "grow-op" in Canadianhistory. The plants were found in a former Molson's brewerylocated, ironically, adjacent to the Park Place concert venue.

The site is just south of central Barrie, next to thesix-lane highway 400 escape route for Torontonians heading upto lakeside cottages for the weekend.

It holds about 35,000 fans, far less than could have beenhosted by other potential sites.

Some Barrie residents seemed bemused by the idea of thesmall lakeside community sharing the spotlight with the likesof London, Berlin, Rome, and Johannesburg.

"Barrie is representing all of Canada? What is that?"wondered Darcy Murray, who runs the Old Forester Book Shop nearthe town's center, noting that a large chunk of Barrie'spopulation commutes daily to Toronto.

"It's nice to see that Toronto's going to be commuting toBarrie for once."

The show is expected to run from 11 a.m. (1500 GMT) to 8p.m., and will feature mostly Canadian acts such as BarenakedLadies, Bruce Cockburn, The Tragically Hip, and GordonLightfoot, as well as hard rockers Motley Crue and Deep Purple.

Promoters announced Tuesday that Neil Young will close theshow.