Rocking this Town: a Look at Legends Passing through Waterloo and Adding to its Rich Musical History

Waterloo’s epic rock history from the 1960s and ‘70s may be lost to some folks who did not have the privilege of living through it. The Guess Who, Chuck Berry and Tina Turner are just a few of the acts that traveled through Waterloo Region at the start of their careers. 

But never fear: through Paul Campsal and Tom Knowlton’s documentary Rock this Town, audiences can experience the exciting rock music concerts of old. For folks who were around when the town was rocking, it provides just the right amount of nostalgia without being redundant. And for those who are new to the scene, it provides an insider’s look into the building of the live music scene in KW. 

The Princess Twin Cinemas ran select shows of the documentary starting Mar. 24 through Apr. 27. 

The film’s pre-show was commissioned and produced by the Grand River Blues Society to showcase the talented young musicians that call their camp home. 

This week-long day camp has successfully provided intensive learning experiences for aspiring musicians for years. The camp culminates in a highly coveted performance spot at the internationally recognized Kitchener Blues Festival. 

Rock this Town officially begins in November 1969 when Led Zeppelin played at the Kitchener-Waterloo Auditorium, one of only two concert dates in Canada. 

Joe and Betty Reisher are part of the reason why Waterloo, Ontario is on the map for music. In the late 60s, Joe, then the event coordinator at the University of Waterloo, encouraged his engineering class of 1960 to rent out the Seagram Stadium. 

They eventually sold out for a show for The Ardell’s. From this concert onwards, Waterloo gained notoriety for acts big and small to perform at. 

However, although this movie is interesting, it is not without its flaws. Although there are many black artists who have gotten their start in Waterloo that are heavily featured in the film, there is something to be said about Black music being the backbone of rock and roll in general. 

However, the film lacks in explicitly acknowledging the contribution of both artists and fans of colour, and their roles in building live music. As a critic, I would point out the movie’s lack of nuance when it comes to how much the music scene has changed since the 60s and 70s. 

Additionally, Rock this Town praises the music scene for what it used to be while putting down what it has become. Though the music scene is different, there is no need to down-talk how things are now. Artists no longer have to build up their brand from town to town, but they do have to build up their following track by track, from one single release to another. 

It is no secret that the pandemic has caused quite the rupture in the world’s music scene. A musically historic town like Waterloo is not exempt from this. 

There have been a lot of major venues that have had to close because of the constant lockdowns, but that does not mean that every artist needs to hang up their hat. 

In recent years, there seems to have been a rekindled passion for live local music. If there is one thing that people have learned from being kept apart, it is how important it is to support one’s neighbour when given the chance. 

The Jazz Room, Maxwell’s Concerts and Events and the Kitchener Music Festival are just a few big venues for music in the local area. KW is very much a music city, and the folks who run and perform at these shows very much want to keep that legacy alive. 

As many music lovers would testify, there is nothing quite the same as being around a musician playing their song. It breathes life into the words and surrounds the whole room with an appreciation for both the lyrics and the melody. 

Ultimately, Rock this Town is a documentary that encourages folks to support local live music and bring back the vigor that 60’s and 70s era Waterloo brought to live stages. Sometimes the past can teach the present how to make a better future.