If you live in our fair city, you’ve probably seen our historic streetcar, which runs across the High Level bridge. You may have even been fortunate enough to take a ride on it through the summer months, witnessing the beauty of the river valley from far above. But if you haven’t yet seen a musical performance on the streetcar, you are missing out on one of Edmonton’s most beautiful little treasures. Never fear, a new season begins this Friday. Although the first show is sold out, there will be more throughout the summer so you’ll have a chance to get on board and take part in the fun.
I chatted with Tad Hargrave, who founded the Streetcar Shows back in 2012. He told me a little bit about how the shows got started, some of his favourite memories from past seasons, and what he’s looking forward to this year.
“In 2011, my friend Sarah told me that she’d been to a party on a streetcar parked in the middle of the bridge,” explained Hargrave, who added it was “the coolest idea I’d ever heard of.” He looked into it and ended up booking a party for his friends. In the spring of 2012, his friends in the band Picture The Ocean were releasing a new album, and he asked if they might want to do a show on the streetcar to promote it. They liked the idea, and the event — promoted only through text messages and Facebook — sold out in less than 24 hours. A week later, local musician Justine Vandergrift was chatting with Hargrave about her upcoming album, and he pitched the same idea. That show sold out in 48 hours, and by the end of 2012, Hargrave had hosted 10 successful shows. In 2013, local songstress Zizi Lievers joined Hargrave in organizing 15 shows. “This year, Zizi is running most of it and doing a wonderful job with 18 shows,” said Hargrave.
The first sold-out show of the season is coming up Friday with 100 Mile House. Hargrave is a fan of their “pared down, minimalist sound” which is sure to be a treat for audience members this weekend. “The streetcar shows are the best date night you could design in Edmonton,”said Hargrave. “You’re on a charming, wooden, 100-year-old streetcar parked in the middle of a 100-year-old bridge, at sunset, sitting next to someone you love, listening to some of Edmonton’s finest musicians sharing their music with you. And then there’s a top secret that happens at the end of every show that genuinely makes some people weep with the beauty of it.”
In addition to a beautiful musical experience, concert-goers know that they are supporting the Edmonton Radial Railway Society, which is a volunteer-run organization preserving this important part of our city’s heritage. A majority of ticket sales go to support the ERRS as well as the musician playing the show, with a small bit to the show organizers for administrative costs.
“For musicians, this is a dream gig,” added Hargrave. “They love it. To be able to play a sold-out show for people who are hanging on every word and drinking in every nuance of every song is so satisfying. It’s such an intimate kind of show.” When I asked Hargrave about a memorable moment from last year’s streetcar show season, he shared about Alberta singer Joe Nolan’s response. “(Nolan) kept repeating that it was the coolest gig he’d ever done. Many musicians have shared this. It’s hard to describe, but every show is so magical.”
Although the 2014 performer’s list is top secret, Hargrave did share that all the performers are local musicians. “They’re all performers we are so excited to share with the community,” he said. Some of them we tried to get last year and couldn’t. Some will be returning, so that’s a hint. Our promise is that you will leave with a bit of magic and maybe a favourite new band.” The second show of the season has just been announced: June 6 with Billie Zizi. Tickets are available here.
Hargrave said a streetcar show should be on “every Edmontonian’s bucket list.” I can vouch for this, as the streetcar shows I’ve attended have been absolutely breathtaking. The river valley views and the historical setting of the century-old streetcar, coupled with the intimacy of local musicians sharing their hearts in song is a very memorable experience. “These shows are so special,” Hargrave concluded. “And, if you’re looking to impress that special someone, I can’t think of a better date in this city.”