In the ’90s, Canada didn’t have a lot of late night TV show options for bands to perform on. If you weren’t playing under the credits of The Tom Green Show or enduring the Canadian Quiz on Open Mike with Mike Bullard, you might have found yourself hitting that massive Rita and Friends stage on CBC. From 1994-97, Rita MacNeil invited musicians of all sorts (just check out this promo for a quick hit of how diverse the acts were) onto her Gemini award winning program for a Friday night party. Today would have been the JUNO winner’s 72nd birthday had she not passed away in 2013, so we’re going to celebrate her commitment to spreading the word about Canadian music in our favourite era. Thank you, Rita. Friday nights were cooler for pre-teens because of you.
In all of their VHS recorded glory, here are 15 great performances from Rita and Friends.
“Everything You’ve Done Wrong” by Sloan
Canada’s fab four also performed “Penpals” in support of Twice Removed, but we’ll go with their horn-filled performance of this One Chord to Another track.
“Unsound” by Headstones
A killer performance of one of the Kingston band’s signature tunes. Also – Hugh Dillon’s vest!
“He Liked to Feel It” by Crash Test Dummies
I remember seeing ads for this record a lot on YTV and wondering why the guy cut his hair.
“Answers” by hHead
Brendan Canning had to break a lot of eggs before he made a really good omelette in Broken Social Scene.
“Any Day Now” by The Killjoys
“With a musical style they call ‘popcore’.” I love you, Rita.
“Misogyny” by rusty
The members of rusty were going through their cowpunk phase, I suppose. A phase that lasted their entire career.
“I Could Care Less” by The Waltons
Catchy stuff from 1994’s JUNO winner for Best New Group.
“Who Killed Sandy Seale?” by Douglas September
Rita loved to showcase artists who also came from Cape Breton Island, and this Dylan-esque troubadour’s performance is pretty stellar.
“Collide” by Sandbox
Anne Murray’s nephew, everybody.
“Son of a Preacher Man” by Farmer’s Daughter
Hailing from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and … Vancouver? Okay, you can still be farmer’s daughters … I guess.
“You Feel the Same Way Too” by The Rankin Family
I always thought these guys were kinda whatever but now I’m an adult and can appreciate how much ass they kick.
“Shut Up” by The Watchmen
This Winnipeg act brood around the stage and rock out so much that you hardly notice how worn the audio is on this VHS dub.
“Angels” by Realworld
Another from Rita’s hometown, this footnote CanPop group spawned Grammy winner Gordie Sampson, who also played in MacNeil’s band and the Rankin Family before co-penning “Jesus Take the Wheel” for Carrie Underwood.
“Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank” by Barenaked Ladies
This Born on a Pirate Ship cut is as rambunctious as they come. V cool.
“Crossing a Canyon” by 54-40
Apparently this one is about Neil Osborne’s dad dying, but you wouldn’t know it by how much they rock out here. Or would you? Who can say.