June 14th, 2024

RV show brought back memories of concerts at the Ex

By Lethbridge Herald on February 12, 2022.


Al Beeber
Lethbridge Herald

Strolling through the Lethbridge Exhibition last Friday afternoon following an interview with Prairie Sky RV president Attila Braun about the show his company was staging there, I looked up and the old bleachers caught my eye.

I had just exited one of Braun’s amazing Forest River travel trailers and was about to step into another when the sight of those bleachers brought back a flood of memories.

In the 1970s, the Ex may have hosted RV shows – to be honest, I can’t remember.  It definitely wasn’t a site for vaccination clinics but it was a veritable mecca for rock concerts. And I’m pretty sure my friends and I saw at least one Stampede Wrestling show there.

Bands such as Blue Oyster Cult, Manfred Mann and of course KISS on their first Canadian tour, played the Exhibition in the 1970s, drawing fans from across southern Alberta. As I recall him saying, Ron Sakamoto in the early days of his promotion career was responsible for those groups and many others coming to Lethbridge.

In the early 1970s, I saw my first or second rock show at the Ex. I’m not sure which because Crowbar played the Raymond High School gym in the same time frame, its biggest hit “Oh What A Feeling” having made the Ontario group stars at the time.

The show I saw at the Ex around then is one I still remember vividly and fondly to this day. My dad had purchased tickets to Lighthouse for me and a friend because it was a band that everyone wanted to see. Lighthouse was a huge band in the early 1970s with songs such as “One Fine Morning” and “Sunny Days” becoming staples of rock radio.

With as many as 13 members and a full horn section, Lighthouse was sort of Canada’s version of Chicago. Fans to this day will remember some of its players including Skip Prokop and Howard Shore.

For any young music fan, the concert at the Ex was a must-see and dad graciously drove us to the Welling intersection where the two of us got out and thumbed a ride to Lethbridge.

We were probably only about 15 at the time but hitchhiking in that era was considered safe; there was no fear about being harmed or left stranded. It was a totally different era than the one we suffer through now, I mean live through. OK, suffer was right.

Stepping into the Ex for the first time, I was overwhelmed at the size of the grandstand, which to me was impressive. The place was packed with fans in their teens and their 20s and with little security, we had no hesitation buying a pack of Sweet Caporal cigarettes from a vending machine and lighting up from what seemed high above the stage.

The show was amazing and when it ended, we started walking down Mayor Magrath Drive in the dark, hoping we’d get a lift home or we’d be in for a long hike. Walking through the parking lot of the old A & W, which recently had added a sit-down restaurant, I spotted a table-full of Raymond kids inside and jabbed my buddy in the ribs, telling him we might have a ride. Luckily, they managed to squeeze us into the crowded backseat of a big old sedan, which was probably carrying at least six or eight with us and we made it home without having to walk the 20 miles.

When I tweeted about this memory last weekend, I was surprised to see how many people still remember that concert. Former Coaldale mayor Alex Hann was there, Tymen Stotyn – who along with wife Donna follows me on Twitter like Alex – was there, too and Tymen told me on Twitter he met his wife at that concert.

To see how one memory could spark such a positive response was kind of cool given the perpetual turmoil on social media these days. The Seventies were a kinder, gentler era and one where we were lucky social media and cellphone cameras weren’t around to capture every move we made and every exploit we shouldn’t have done.

I’m sure many of us got away with plenty of stuff our parents would have been livid about because we thankfully didn’t have today’s technology where nothing is secret for longer than the few seconds it takes to upload a photo or video.

Granted, I think Google Maps could have come in handy the odd time during late-night cruises down back roads after under-age visits to rural bars like the New Dayton Hotel where we’d pick up six packs of Lethbridge Pilsner in brown paper sacks if we were lucky enough to be served or had someone in the car or truck who looked old enough not to be IDed. 

In high school, we had a pal who definitely looked 18 and managed to secure us some beverages from the downtown Lethbridge liquor store that used to be across from The Herald after the Comets had won their league championship.

To our unpleasant surprise and horror, however, our English teacher recognized my red Dodge Monaco, which had formerly belonged to teachers whose last name was Nalder, and jumped inside the passenger side door to remind me and a pal we had an exam on Monday before wishing us a good evening and safe travels which did take us on the back roads home.

Those southern Alberta gravel roads became second nature after awhile and I’m sure muscle memory might still get me from Lethbridge to Wrentham – a popular high school hangout for some of us – with little effort on the routes where a lot of partying was done far away from the prying eyes of parents, police and thankfully, social media.

Those were fantastic days. Except for the hitch-hiking part. And that English exam.

Follow @albeebHerald on Twitter.

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