Triumphant Long Weekend with Arkells

Budweiser Stage finally reopened its gates for a three-night special headlined by Hamilton rock group Arkells and emotions were at an all-time high.

Arkells performing on the Budweiser stage


Who: Arkells
Where: Budweiser Stage, Toronto
When: Sun. Aug. 15
Vibe: A mix of all-ages friend groups and families with young kids, all buzzing with energy on a warm summer evening perfect for a rock show.
Highlight: A rousing cover of (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life that had fans threatening to attempt the iconic Dirty Dancing lift in the aisles.

I confess that there’s one rule from Sunday’s Arkells show that I didn’t follow—I did not call in sick to work Monday morning, as per frontman Max Kerman’s request to the crowd. A part of me wished I had, if only to recover from staying up far past my pandemic bedtime and to process the emotions of Toronto’s biggest live music moment in almost two years.

After sitting idle for months on end, Budweiser Stage finally reopened its gates and rolled out the red carpet for a three-night special headlined by Hamilton rock group Arkells. Dubbed the “Long Weekend,” these are the biggest concerts the city has hosted since the pandemic started, welcoming just over 10,000 guests each night. While this wasn’t my first show in 17 months—the CityView Drive-In has kept me very entertained this summer—it was my first full-scale production. It was a momentous occasion, one that permeated the city all weekend long. I spotted Arkells merch everywhere I went and overheard fans on patios discussing their ideal setlists. You could tell something special was taking place.

Budweiser stage from across the water

Photo by Amy Lloyd

This show had the added bonus of aligning with a fun anniversary of mine. Ten years ago, I was chosen to write a fan review of a My Chemical Romance and Blink 182 co-headlining tour at the very same stage. It felt serendipitous to return with the opportunity to write again.

A decade later, it’s undeniably bizarre to stand among an audience wearing a face mask and applauding vaccines. The virus wasn’t treated like a taboo subject on or off the stage. Guests disinfected their seats with the free Clorox wipes handed out upon entry, essential workers received countless shoutouts and a giant novelty syringe even made an appearance. I was relieved when the band asked who had been vaccinated and the response was one of the loudest cheers of the night.

It may have been the last of three back-to-back shows and on a Sunday night to boot, but the energy was at an impressive high all evening. You could feel a buzz in the air as you weaved through food trucks and merch stands. Former NEXT cover star Haviah Mighty had an engaged audience as she opened the show, although it’s easy to be enraptured by her talent. The Brampton rapper hit hard with topical tracks like Protest and had the crowd swaying to her new single Flamenco. The highlight was her younger sister Omega Mighty making a guest appearance—keep her on your radar, she’s definitely on ours!

Crowd enjoying Arkells concert at Budweiser Stage

Photo by Amy Lloyd

The electric atmosphere only intensified when Arkells took to the stage and I was overwhelmed by how joyful the band was. The five-piece was joined by three backing vocalists affectionately called the Arkettes and the Northern Soul Horns, a brass ensemble in matching gold bomber jackets. It was a spectacle of colour, from the ever-changing light show to Kerman’s 80s-inspired tracksuit and neon pink “Show 3” t-shirt. A group of adorable young fans were invited on stage to show off their homemade rainbow tassel jackets, one of the band’s most iconic looks. Everyone was positively beaming.

The jam-packed two-hour set had all the crowd-pleasers, including radio hits Leather Jacket and Knocking At The Door. The band shared snippets of their upcoming album Blink Once, playing the newest release Swing Swing Swing for the first time ever and joined by the Mighty sisters to help with choreography. There were plenty of solos—piano, drums, trumpet—and all were impressive. There were also plenty of a cappella crowd-led choruses, which are guaranteed to give me goosebumps. During the encore, we were treated to an energetic cover of (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life that turned the entire amphitheatre into a dance party.

Photo of the jumbotron of Arkells performing on the Budweiser stage.

Photo by Amy Lloyd

It was an overwhelming experience in many ways and while the future of live music isn’t set in stone, I’m left with a feeling of hope. I think Haviah Mighty, Arkells and live music as a whole have futures as bright as the pyro that lit up their stage.

Check out Arkells’ newest release Swing Swing Swing:

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