Q104.FM is formally known as CFRQ-FM and first flipped the power switch to their On-Air sign back on November 28th, 1983. The Q is something of a ubiquitous entity in the Halifax region, as it has been one of the major radio stations in the area for decades. You may hear stations such as CBC, and C100 named in that same conversation, but 2023 marked the 40th anniversary of Q104. For such a monumental milestone, the station (with the help of Sonic Concerts) staged a birthday bash and invited some notable Canadian talent to perform. The party was headlined by the Sam Roberts Band, The Trews and local favourites Campbell & Johnston.
When you have a pair of acts at the top of the bill like The Trews and Sam Roberts, you need to find an act that can hold their own, while also being able to warm the crowd up. The dynamic blues-rock duo of (Christine) Campbell and (Blake) Johnston and their talented Black Market Band (featuring Jason Vautour) were more than able to bear that brunt, and hit the stage with the scent of incense hanging in the air. Now, it’s easy to be drawn in by Christine’s bluesy vocals, and scintillating guitar work, but at points during the set, you would see her partner Blake Johnston step into the spotlight and extoll his guitar prowess on those in attendance. This was a great showcase of what Campbell & Johnston bring to the table, and you can bet we’ll see a lot more from them in 2024, you owe it to yourself to check them out.
It was then time for local favourites The Trews to take to the Scotiabank Centre stage. The stop was one that has been long overdue, as the band last played here in 2020 up the street at the Marquee Ballroom. The timing
couldn’t be better, as the band has been readying a 20th-anniversary tour in celebration of their debut album House of Ill Fame for a large chunk of 2024, and this performance would give the band a chance to get reunited with their Haligonian fans. This room holds a special significance for the band as well, as it was in this very room that the decision to pursue music full-time was made while watching the Tragically Hip perform during The Hip’s Phantom Power tour.
On this night, Halifax was in for a treat seeing John Angus, Colin, Jack, Jeff and Chris up on the big Scotiabank Centre stage, whereas the band typically can be found headlining multiple nights at the aforementioned Marquee Ballroom. The band’s Scotiabank Centre set incorporated a ton of the big Trews hits such as “Not Ready to Go”, “So She’s Leaving” “Highway of Heroes” and “Paranoid Freak”. During “Paranoid Freak” the band pulled a page out of The Hip’s playbook and worked Billy Joe Royal’s “Hush” (which was also covered by both Deep Purple and Kula Shaker over the years) into the song. Later in the set, the band disappeared from their posts on stage and appeared amongst the crowd on the floor to perform “Ishmael & Maggie”, during which many patrons hoisted their flashlights high overhead.
The Haligonians in attendance were treated to a new song which bore a distinct Springsteen-esque vibe, a song that will be included on the band’s forthcoming record that is slated to arrive at some point in 2024. During the show, there hadn’t been any mention of the band returning as part of the House of Ill Fame tour, but in the weeks following the announcement dropped that the band would return in March for 2 nights at the Marquee.
After the Trews banner was cleared away, along with the band’s gear, it was time for the evening’s headliner the Sam Roberts band. Much like Q104 was celebrating their 40th anniversary, Sam Roberts and his crew had their own anniversary on their hands. The band’s major label debut We Were All Born in a Flame was released 20 years ago (closing in on 21 years, and 2023 saw the band release their 9th full-length album The Adventures of Ben Blank. For a band that spent a great deal of its time in Halifax early on in its career, this performance ended a nearly 7-year-long absence from the region’s stages.
Partway through its hit-laden set, Sam Roberts took a moment to extoll his gratitude for Q104 and the support afforded to his band over the years, he talked about being in town for the station’s 25th-anniversary bash, where he shared the stage with Matt Mays and Joel
Plaskett (who subbed in for April Wine who was waylaid by an injury). A few moments later, he talked about the long tradition of debuting new material in Halifax and on this night it would be no different, as it would be the first time that the latest single “Cascades” would be played on stage as a band.
Sam Roberts and his bandmates appeared to be having a blast being back on a Halifax stage, and the crowd was more than ready to accept them with open arms. Hearing those early cuts is still as fun as they were the first time, and “Hard Road” especially still crushes live. It was a special night celebrating the Q, and revelling in the massive hit-laden sets of The Trews and Sam Roberts Band. Here’s hoping it won’t be another 7 years before Sam returns to town.