That time 15 years ago today 500,000 came together for a SARS concert

Fifteen years ago, the still-new megacity of Toronto had a lot more to worry about than the premier of Ontario slashing city hall and multiple neo-Nazis running for mayorship. Back in the early months of 2003, Canada’s tourist hub was under siege no thanks to SARS.

The acronym stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome in case anyone forgot, a virally-transmitted breathing disease which infected a few hundred people throughout the province but scared the bejesus out of anyone thinking of traveling here, musicians included. Edgefest for one had to be moved to September and was dubbed “The Last Bash in Barrie” with the Hip, Sloan and Our Lady Peace as American artists were still nervous about Toronto as a whole.

The Rolling Stones weren’t afraid of contracting a little flu; they wanted to show support for the city that had been so good to them in the past in terms of things like hosting tour rehearsals. And of course, Keef had a little history with our judicial system. OK, there’s also Justin Trudeau’s mom and the El Mocambo, but I digress…with a little help from celebrity friends such as Dan Ackroyd, the Stones organized one of the biggest benefit events the world had ever seen, let alone li’l ol’ Toronto.

We called it SARSStock. Or SARSFest. Or SARS-a-palooza. Or, most correctly, “The Rolling Stones SARS Benefit Concert”

An estimated half a million people flooded into Downsview Park on Wednesday, July 30, for a full day of music featuring over a dozen acts that ranged from fresh-faced Sam Roberts to francophones La Chicane, perpetual oddballs The Flaming Lips, Rush with working washing machines on stage for some reason, and who can ever forget Justin Timberlake getting bottled? AC/DC arguably stole the show with no less than three songs with “Hell” in their titles, plus gratuitous booby shots caught live by the CBC.

To mark the occasion, please enjoy this “Memories of SARSStock” playlist on Soundsgood, streamable regardless of if you subscribe to Spotify, Apple Music or whatever.

And then there’s this.

Gilles LeBlanc

Gilles LeBlanc literally fell into “alternative rock” wayyy back at Lollapalooza 1992, where he got caught in his first mosh pit watching some band named Pearl Jam. Since then, he’s spent the better part of his life looking for music to match the liberating rush he felt that day, with a particular chest-beating emphasis on stuff coming out of his native Canada. It took him awhile, but Gilles now writes feverishly about all things that rock (and or roll) through his ROCKthusiast alter ego.

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