if rock and roll is your religion, the kee to bala is one hell of a house of worship. if your religion, like mine, is heavily based on the musical scripture of the sam roberts band, the kee to bala is heaven on earth.
you can tell there’s something special about the kee before you even step inside. in real life (as opposed to things you just see on the internet) the big, white building on bala bay is larger than life. on both nights of SRB weekend at the kee, the line up outside starts hours before the doors open. a few sad faces linger by the ticket window; on the first night, a tall blonde girl waves a fan of twenties in the air. the show is sold out, but she hasn’t lost hope, and who can blame her? when it comes to these kinda things, there is always hope.
the kee lives up to the hype. it radiates this magical energy so tangible it competes with muskoka’s late summer humidity for air space, and consumes the line of already-excited fans waiting for the doors to open. before long, the line reaches the street. at the front, there’s people who’ve seen the SRB forty (FORTY) or fifty (FIFTY) times. the vibe is amazing, and the collective love for the sam roberts band is absolutely staggering.
over the last eleven years, the SRB’s annual summer show at the kee evolved into a sold-out, make-or-break labour day weekend tradition. these days, summer in bala is not officially over until sam roberts sings. on the 102.1 edge special up close and personal (which is reeealllllllllly great, by the way), sam even says it’s his favourite place to play.
the kee isn’t a bar, exactly, and it isn’t a theatre, and it definitely isn’t outside, where freak show-stopping storms break everybody’s hearts. (i’m talking about you, regina). instead, the kee is the perfect storm in cottage country – it’s an end-of-summer party at a legendary venue, hosted by one of the country’s most talented and beloved rock bands.
live music does not get better than the sam roberts band at the kee, and nobody knows this better than the fans who flock year after year. unsurprisingly, i absolutely love meeting other SRB fans. the first person i see in bala is judy, a super fan from the gta i met at an SRB show in los angeles earlier this year. her description of the kee shows, complete with the breeze blowing in from the water, sealed the deal for me.
upstairs at the bala bay inn, someone is blaring collider, and it competes with the strains of the SRB soundcheck i can hear from across the street. leaning out the window, I recognize mind flood, and briefly lose my shit. outside, a car pulls up and everybody who gets out is wearing an SRB t-shirt. at the kee, i meet chad, who took his eleven year old to see the SRB at SARStock years ago. someone else shows me photos from the lo-fantasy release show at new york’s mercury lounge back in february. it’s official: i love this place.
saturday is the first of two incredible back-to-back performances. the SRB open with shapeshifters, and set the stage for a dance party. lo-fantasy continues with angola, their blistering new live powerhouse. the singalong staples – like hard road – take on lives of their own at the kee. there’s eighteen songs on night one, and eight are from lo-fantasy. between all the song and dance, i punched the setlist into my phone . . . if i’m wrong, you can go to setlist.fm to fix my mistakes (and i’ll buy you a beer next year).
by now, we’ve established the kee is something special. the performances – night two, especially – exceed all expectation. sam comments the energy is different on the second night, and he’s right. again, eight of the nineteen songs played are from lo-fantasy, but everybody’s favourites, like where have all the good people gone?, are completely different with a new crowd singing along. sunday’s encore goes a rare four songs.
the highlights for me? i’m a huge mind flood fan, and i got super spoiled by the last tour, where mind flood regularly claimed the final spot on the setlist, and the riff would echo in your head for days. i loved those days. i’ve never heard the bootleg saint live before, ever, so that’s incredible. and the gate! finally! live after all these years! if you’ve ever wondered if someone would base an entire sam-cation on the strong possibility of hearing the gate live, the answer is yes. yes, i would. here’s the gate from the balcony on night two:
if i heard just those three songs (and brother down, of course) i’d consider the weekend a raging success. throw in a few hockey chants of “let’s go sam-my! let’s go!”, ALL of lo-fantasy spread over two shows, AND a whole bunch of rad, fun people, and you’ve got yourself the best weekend ever.
obviously, there’s no such thing as too much SRB for me, and live SRB? never enough, ever. one day, when i win the lottery, i’ll never miss another show again. i realize this is slightly crazy, but honestly – three consecutive shows is my preference. two shows aren’t enough, and i’m always sad there isn’t a third show – unless it’s two shows at the kee. a weekend at the kee, and even an addict like me is completely satisfied. it is the kee, after all, and just as i’d suspected, the kee – like the sam roberts band – is good for the soul. speaking of good for the soul, here’s brother down. until next year, bala!